Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy | #LadyVaults

Hello lovely humans today I’m going to be talking about the author Marge Piercy and specifically her book Woman on the Edge of Time. This was the November pick for the LadyVaults book club and it was phenomenal.

You can watch this review as a video or continue to read the full text below.

Can’t see the video, try clicking this link: https://youtu.be/4T66Vhiwhlc

If you’ve no idea what the Lady Vaults Book Club is well it’s a monthly book club, read along buddy read thing where we explore works of speculative fiction by women. More information is in the launch video and the goodreads group.

But without further ado, let’s talk about Marge Piercy.

Marge Piercy is an American author born in 1936. She has published 17 novels some speculative fiction and some not, along with a veritable library of poetry.

She is notable for her involvement in political and social activism throughout the decades and was a significant feminist voice in 1960s and 70s new left movements including anti-war protests and women’s rights. Her fiction is very much informed by her political activism, her biography notes that she “always knew two things she wanted with regards to her writing career: she wanted to write fiction with a political dimension (Simone de Beauvoir was her model) and she wanted to write about women she could recognize, working class people who were not as simple as they were supposed to be”.

Her first published novel from 1969, Going Down Fast, a story following a group of young working class people who live in an urban slum set to be demolished, encompasses both of these aims. A New York Times review said it burned with anger and conviction, and those feelings carry through many of her works, including the one we are here to talk about today Woman on the Edge of Time.

Woman on the Edge of Time is an amazingly powerful book that is both utopian and dystopian, a vividly painted criticism of the contemporary world and an escapist fantasy, it is equal parts comforting and rage inducing, heartbreaking and yet offering hope.

First published in 1976, Woman on The Edge of Time follows Consuelo Ramos, a 36 year old Chicana woman living in the then contemporary New York city. Her husband is dead, her daughter has been removed from her for child abuse and adopted by another family, she has previously been institutionalised for mental health issues, and she is barely scraping by. But then at the start of the novel things get worse. Connie is trying to protect her pregnant niece from the niece’s pimp who wants her to get a back alley abortion. He beats Connie, calls the police and gets her institutionalised for attacking him. As opening chapters go it’s pretty brutal and bleak. The rest of the novel takes place within the mental hospital and is partly a searing criticism of the treatment of patients at the time.

But then the science fiction part kicks in. It turns out that Connie is able to communicate with the future, she is contacted by an androgynous person called Luciente who lives in 2137. Through conversations and then some weird kind of mental projection, Connie is able to explore this utopian future society which is essentially the 1960s left wing dream – sexually liberal, ecologically sound, deeply socialist and feminist.  But it is not the only possible future. Connie learns that without work other, less idyllic futures, may be in wait.

This is an amazingly powerful book, one which I think would appeal to readers regardless of whether they enjoy science fiction or not. Science fiction fans cannot help but love the detailed consideration with which 2137 has been imagined. Economic, technological, agrarian, political, societal and familial concepts are all brought out for our, and Connie’s, consideration, and inspired in me several hours of rapt contemplation of how such ideas might work, might feel, how they could be brought to be or maintained. Though at times this utopia feels a little dated in terms of racial and cultural ethics it is a strikingly well thought out in others with wonderful queer representation and found families along with a host of other delightful little details.

And for non sf readers the social and political commentary is much more central than the science fictional conceit of time travel. The time travel is a device to demonstrate how the two societies differ, of what a better society could be, a mirror showing our own world’s dark reflection. Piercy deliberately leaves the book ambiguous on whether Connie’s visions of the future are just that, the visions of an abused brain desperate to escape hellish reality, or a real future that may come to be and holding that dichotomy in your mind as you read is quite something.

And it is this clever ambiguity that gives the book its power. It is both a utopian and dystopian story. It’s just that the dystopia its the contemporary world, our world and what allowing it to continue without change may bring. Because whilst mental health care has improved somewhat since 1976 there are still so many elements of Connie’s world that ring true for us now. The heartbreak of it is the familiarity of the stories of women and queer people and people colour and those with mental and physical disabilities, and those like Connie whose identities intersect there, being crushed and discriminated against by society. In a 2016 article celebrating the book’s 40th anniversary Piercy noted that inequality has in fact greatly increased since the early 1970s.

It’s rage inducing. And it’s meant to be.

Remember when I said Piercy’s earliest novels was described as burning with anger. Well here she is kindling the flame of that anger in us. Piercy wants us to be angry. because anger is better than defeat. Anger means you believe there’s something better, anger and hope intertwine to create action. By showing Connie, and us, a possibility of a different future, even if its one Connie will never see, she gains hope that a different existence, a different way of being is possible. And this gives her the strength to survive, to fight back. She is willing to fight for a future she doesn’t even know is real. But then, as one reviewer pointed out, how do any of us know that the things we campaign for will come to be in future? We don’t. We hope for them, and so we fight for them.

What Piercy shows us, in the end, is that a little hope is a mighty thing, and never give up the fight because another world might just be possible.

How to make a sentient spaceship: some suggestions from the literature

Somebody recently commented on one of my videos that thanks to some of the books they’d been reading they now kind of expect every spaceship in science fiction stories to be able to hold a conversation.  And if you watch a lot of my videos you may have noticed that the trope of the sentient ship is probably one of my favourite tropes at the moment. So I thought maybe today it might be interesting to explore how one might go about making a sentient spaceship, just in case that’s something that you’re also looking to do in life.

Watch the video or scroll down to read the text version.

So obviously the first consideration is that you’ve got to invent true artificial intelligence. And the problem is that that’s apparently quite hard to do.
Cover of lightlessIn Lightless by CA Higgins we see the computer scientist Althea trying to manage and maintain the extremely advanced computer on a secret government research vessel the Ananke. Unfortunately the ship is boarded by some kind of pirate saboteurs who do *something* to the computer and things start to get glitchy and weird. While the tiny crew tries to deal with the intrigue and deception caused by the now captured pirate, Althea is worrying about what the hell is going on with her ship’s computer and how it’s connected to chaos on board. So according to Higgins take one very advanced computer, do something weird to it, and hope it thinks you’re on the right side or, well, best not think about the alternatives.

Illuminae coverUnless of course you’re Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff whose book Illuminae explores the ramifications of an AI getting free reign over a ship in distress and doing its very best to ensure that there are survivors. Aiden is the intelligence running an advanced military ship that gets caught up in a rescue mission after a distant settlement is attacked by a vicious corporation. Unfortunately Aiden is damaged in the course of this mission and, as a result of the damage manages to heal his code in a way that somehow causes him to become rather more self-aware than anyone intended. And as it turns out, trying to save people means considering what counts as acceptable loss. And computers are very good at calculating the odds but slightly less skilled at mercy. So I guess according to Kaufman and Kristoff truly artificial intelligence is going to be an accident which really doesn’t help us with our plans but that the result might not be as good for humanity as hope so maybe we should probably plan for it a bit.

Cover of Long WayAnd thus we must consider the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. Starting in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and becoming the focus of the story in A Closed and Common Orbit, Chambers suggests that AI for running ships that could be sentient will develop out of software a bit like the limited AI we have now. It will be a generic programme installable on ships with certain baselines for what it’s intended to do, i.e. care for crew, navigate safely, avoid harm where possible. But that it will slowly learn and customise itself to a ship and its crew over time so if you want to have a chat with it, it will learn to do that well. And in the world that Chambers creates, AI are intended to be treated as very much being like Siri or Alexa, they are programmes, software, and no more. But Chambers shows us the potential problems, that software that is advanced enough, that can learn and develop, could count as true sentience. That ruling AI to be non-people could be problematic when your AI has feelings and develops relationships. So according to Chambers, if you want a sentient spaceship, you better start treating it nice.

Cover of Ancillary JusticeIf you’re familiar with my videos you may have noticed that there’s one obvious world of sentient spaceships that probably started me on this whole obsession that I haven’t mentioned yet and that’s the Imperial Radch series starting with Ancillary Justice. So what does Ann Leckie suggest we do?
First, develop an incredibly advanced system of AI that can inhabit multiple bodies and communicate across them and across vast tracts of space. Then it takes over a galactic empire and rules it as the leader whilst inhabiting seemingly infinite instances of the same cloned body. And then have similar intelligences installed on ships with the ship mind able to be installed on cybernetic ally modified human bodies to act as its ancillaries and troops on the surface of planets, and you have the Imperial Radch. It sounds like a great idea…if you want to be ruled over by a malevolent dictator.

So perhaps we shouldn’t go down the fully AI route, they do seem to all be having some issues in the whole feelings and ethics department. Even if they can all have nice chat. Instead, what if we flipped that around and started with a biological spaceship. Biology is all about the feelings. That could be interesting….

Cover of BintiIn the Binti trilogy (Binti, Binti: Home, Binti: The Night Masquerade), Okorafor writes of ships known as ‘Big Fish’. They are creatures of the stars, that look like enormous shrimp, who love to travel and whose bodies contain plant filled chambers to produce the gases that enable them to breathe in the depths of space. They are capable of shaping their bodies and adjusting these chambers into spaces that can useful for other races of aliens to travel in, and so they developed a symbiotic relationship with them and have become the universe’s spaceships. But far from a beast of burden being passively moulded and used by more intelligent species, we come to learn that Big Fish and her species are highly intelligent and fluent in the deep mathematical understanding of the universe that Binti is learning about. So according to Okorafor, to make a sentient spaceship, first you have to make friends.

Cover of Ninefox GambitIn Yoon Ha Lee’s superbly weird, Machineries of Empire series (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun) we see a similar biological basis to space travel. The spaceships used by the military are called Moths. In the final book of the trilogy we discover that as if the empire wasn’t horrendous enough, the moths are in fact living creatures, they’re an intelligent race that has been slaved into ship form by the surreal mathematical manipulations of reality that form the technological basis for this world. So they are a kind of biological-AI cyborg hybrid thing but in the world of Ninefox Gambit it’s hard to draw the lines between technology and biology because everything is just so damn weird. So how to make a sentient spaceship? Enslave and mutilate a race of giant intelligent space moths. I think we’ll give that method a miss.

But in terms of sentient ship manufacture methods, this has brought up an interesting new possibility: hybridising the biological and technological!
Embers of war coverOn which note, let’s chuck in a suggestion from Gareth Powell in Embers of War.  In this universe, somebody wanted a warship that had the calculating and navigational abilities of an AI along with instincts for things like tenacity, loyalty, absolute devotion to protecting crew members, along with an innate understanding of violence. All very biological feelings and instincts, so rather than try to programme an AI to understand these feelings from scratch, much easier instead to combine the intelligence of AI with DNA from dogs. Who but a dog could be so ferocious in service of its pack. And so we meet Trouble Dog, an ex-warship who has retired from service after a horrendous war and now works to rescue ships in distress. But her latest mission quickly turns into something far more dangerous and our ship and her crew find themselves at the centre of a potential new conflict that could engulf not just mankind but the entire galaxy. If Trouble Dog is going to save her people from this, she’s going to have to remember how to fight like a dog!

This method seems quite good really, way less murdery than the AIs and way less evil than enlsaving the giant moths. But what if we tried to make it better…what if the biological element was human!
Tea Master coverThat idea comes from the brain of Aliette de Bodard in her Xuya universe. This is a collection of short stories and novellas that take place in the same universe but can each be read independently and it features the concept of Mindships. Mindships appear to be a special kind of human-AI hybrid. From what I gleaned from the stories they begin as a special kind of baby, presumably genetically altered to allow this hybridity, which are gestated and born like human babies though apparently the pregnancy is particularly hard on the mother so it’s considered a great and noble thing to have done, but then when they’re born these special babies are implanted into a ship where they grow and develop. Mindships are very much people in this world, because they are people, they are part of their families and have jobs and personalities.
Two stories I would particularly recommend are Three Cups of Grief by Starlight (free on Clarkesworld) where we see siblings dealing with the death of their mother and one of those siblings happens to be a mindship. And The Tea Master and the Detective, a gender flipped retelling of Sherlock Holmes, where Watson is a mindship known as The Shadow’s Child who is persuaded by the human detective Long Chau to return to deep space in search of bodies to study. So how do you make sentient spaceship according to de Bodard? You give birth to it.

So there you go a selection of methods for creating a spaceship that you can have a chat with. Please be aware that the management take no responsibility for any new forms of intelligent life you may or may not produce, and the interstellar ethics committee will need to approve your chosen methodology before you can create and release your chatty intergalactic pals into the wild.
Also these also happen to be some of my very favourite books so I totally recommend each of them! Don’t forget you can now support this channel on Patreon, I will be back soon with another video, and in the meantime, happy reading and thanks for watching.

Slytherin Books – Hogwarts House Recommendations #2

[I’m trying to resurrect the habit of posting stuff over here, apologies it’s out of the blue and not the first in a series but baby steps.]

Hello lovely humans, today I’m doing part 2 of my Hogwarts House recommendations with Slytherin. If you’d prefer to read rather than watch the video the transcript is below!

Let’s face it, Slytherin is pretty notorious. It’s got a horrendous reputation of like lets sort all the kids into 4 characteristics smart, brave, kind and totally fucking evil. Basically people think if you’re slytherin you’re gonna be bad. Which is of course ridiculous because there’s so much more to the slytherin character – they’re creative, determined, ambitious, loyal, resourceful, cunning, all kinds of nice things. But, all anyone sees is snakes are evil. I feel like we’ve branding issue there.
But in the spirit of Slytherin I’m embracing that reputation to bring you a selection of books featuring morally dubious characters because sometimes it feels good to be bad.
Gif from 10 Things I Hate About You with female character listening to Bad Reputation by Joan Jett

godswarLet me start as I mean to go on, babies, and introduce you to God’s War by Kameron Hurley. I’ve chosen this because the lead character Nyx Nyssa is, to put it nicely, a piece of work. She’s a bounty hunter who kills off men who have run from the front line of a never ending and brutal religious war in a strange and alien bug-filled society of future humanity on another world.
I picked Nyx because she is an amazing bounty hunter, soldier, and survivor. Through the novel we see her use creativity and resourcefulness and cunning to survive the most awful situations. But she is also not nice. Not one little tiny bit. She cheats, she lies, she steals, she screws over anyone who gets in her way. But she’s also loyal to her team, to a point, loyal to the institutions of faith and government around her, as far as she believes in them, and will die protecting them, or not. Basically she’s a horrible person but you definitely want her on your side, just maybe a safe distance away.

six of crowsYou see the thing with Slytherins is that like Gryffindors they’re loyal. They’ll protect and support their chosen people or idea or cause but perhaps with a little less morality than the chosen people might appreciate.
I think we see this well in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Our protagonist, Kaz Brekker is a thief and a conman leading a gang of misfits on the heist of a lifetime in a fantastical version of 19th century Amsterdam. Kaz is your basic evil genius, he’s a pretty messed up character but as we learn more about him especially in Crooked Kingdom we come to see how he’s often motivated by the need to protect his crew. And his big overall masterplan, his raison d’être, is revenge for someone he lost. He is loyal and he’s not letting morality get in the way of that.

You could also include Artemis by Andy Weir here. The main character Jazz is a thief and a con artist in the first colony on the moon. Her life of crime is for a purpose that isn’t revealed until the end. But that purpose, that loyalty to an ideal, drives her, drives all her actions.
Plus the pit your wits against evil and the danger of space adventure is always a good time.

the-magicians-lev-grossmanSometimes Slytherins aren’t quite so likeable. Like in the The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This is the first book in a trilogy where basically everyone i’ve known who has read it, came out it hating the characters. Like, all of them. They’re all horrible people. Which is what makes it all the weirder that it’s actually a series that I, along with a lot of other people, love dearly.
At the start of the books our main character Quentin discovers that magic is real when he is accepted into a magical university. But that’s only the start of a much bigger, darker adventure. Quentin thinks he is the hero like Harry Potter but we soon learn that this is not the case. It’s a series about being privileged and powerful in the way that the rich clever kids of Slytherin are and then seeing them mess up and abuse that power and be self-centred and make mistakes. And then to have to figure out how to clean up after themselves because they don’t actually want to be evil. Basically it’s about growing up Slytherin and then learning how to be human.

ninefox gambitI think some of the best morally dubious characters in science fiction and fantasy come from this very Slytherin combination of loyalty to an ideal with the ambition and cunning to carry out whatever is needed to achieve it. The end justifies the means and all that. Take for example Shuos Jedao in Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. In the first book we see a young military captain have her body taken over by the spirit of an undead general who is kept alive only to serve as a weapon for his government. He was a man who used his every resource, every scrap of cunning to build his reputation, to become the greatest general, only to commit immense evil, to slaughter hundreds of thousands, even his own friends and comrades.
But as we learn in the books, maybe there’s more to it, a bigger picture that the rest of us just haven’t seen yet. Is he in fact not a madman but simply loyal to an idea whose end justifies these horrendous means?


But sometimes there’s a character who makes you question if the end really is worth the means. The Traitor Baru Cormarant by Seth Dickinson is definitely one of those people.
Baru’s home, family and culture is destroyed with the arrival of a conquering empire. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free. And Baru is ruthless in her tactics and nothing and no-one, not loyalty or love, will stand in the way of her loyalty to the ideal of revenge.
You will sympathise with Baru, you will back her ideals and believe in them and her actions. And then you will find yourself screaming ‘Why are you doing this?’What is it acheiving? Stop it, you dark-hearted sociopath!’ It is a beautiful, dark, and painful book and you will love the pain that it brings you. Because that is the Slytherin way (you kinky bunch of snakes).

So there you go, a selection of morally dubious characters to suit any Slytherin’s heart. I hope you enjoy some of these books. Whether you identify as Slytherin or not, they are great novels. Bt it should also reveal to you some of that mixed bag of characteristics that give Slytherins there reputation of being a little bit on the dark side (whether that’s deserved or not).

I’ll be back soon with the next Hogwarts House Book Recommendations. But in the meantime happy reading!

Never so much blood | Thoughts on Lost Boy by Christina Henry


Author: Christina Henry

Publisher: Titan

Publication Date: June 2017

Length: 318 pages

Format I read: ARC

Rating: 4 stars

This is Lord of the Flies meets Lord of the Lost Boys; you really aren’t going to like Peter Pan any more.

Taking oh so familiar story and making you rethink the logic of it from a grown-up perspective is a common trope but this one was so clear, so painfully true-to-life and logical that you wonder how you’d never seen it before.

As a child I used to do all those ridiculously fearless things that children do. I leaped before I looked and it all turned out fine. And as a child I could think of nothing more fun, nothing more innocent and free than such an adventure as one with Peter Pan.

But I grew up and now I look before I leap because not everyone makes it safely over those rocks and maybe there’s a safer way around if only we thought to find it. And now I wonder what kind of a monster steals children from their homes to fight pirates and monsters and calls it a grand adventure? It’s Peter Pan; “full of fun and heartless with it”.

This book is a dark mirror of Peter Pan, telling the story of that time when we grow up and must suddenly start to see things differently. When we wobble at the precipice and learn to fear because, unlike Peter Pan, we cannot fly. And so we learn the story of Peter from the eyes of the first boy who loved him. And then grew up.

“Peter smiled and made me think there was only joy. Even when there was blood he made me think it was only play, until there was so much of it even Peter couldn’t pretend any more.”

One song spins round and round my head now I’m finished. Like the book itself it’s sweet and pretty and utterly horrifying. Enjoy…

Hello darkness, my old friend | Thoughts on SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS by Carlo Rovelli


seven brief lessons cover 2

Author: Carlo Rovelli

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 2014

Length: 79 pages

Format I read: Paperback

Rating: 4 stars


Everything you need to know about the beauty of modern physics in less than 100 pages.

In seven brief lessons, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli guides readers with admirable clarity through the most transformative physics breakthroughs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This playful, entertaining and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, already a major bestseller in Italy, explains general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role of humans in the strange world Rovelli describes. This is a book about the joy of discovery. It takes readers to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds.


In those moments of life when the grim figures of anxiety, stress, or panic grip me tight and threaten to never let go, I have learned that the one thing sure to scare them off is a nice little face-off with the end of the universe.

That’s my super casual way of saying I’ve been having a bit of a hard time with anxiety recently. Anxiety is a fucker because it messes with my ability to concentrate which is something very necessary for actually reading and enjoying books rather than continually picking them up and putting them down and wandering around the house worrying about the fact that you haven’t read any damn books to talk about on your book-related social media and feeling like you should be doing something productive instead but not actually being able to do it and then worrying about that as well. BASTARD.

But back to the subject at hand: science books!

When none of my fictional favourites can hold my attention I find that often a little non-fiction does the job. And so on my latest foray to the book shops I spotted SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS by Carlo Rovelli and snapped it up. It’s such a wee little thing and yet so intriguing with its evocative title that it seemed perfect. 78 pages of basic science, what could possibly be more innocuous. Little did I know.

The tiny size of SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS belies the size of the utter mind-fuck that is held within.

Allow me to explain. It starts amicably enough:

“These lessons were written for those who know little or nothing about modern science.”

That’s me, right there. Little to nothing; me and Jon Snow are with you. The principle of the book is to give a tiny “overview” of the revolutions in the understanding of physics that have happened in the past century or so. It begins with lesson one – Einstein that fluffy haired moppet, who changed the world by suggesting that space isn’t, well, space. It’s not an empty area populated by waves and forces and things – it literally IS those forces. There was some visualising of rubber sheets which left me a little cross-eyed but essentially getting the gist of it. But then Rovelli happily hopped onwards to lesson two where he calmly announced that quantum mechanics means that reality only sometimes exists.


By lesson five time itself had gone out the window and the entirety of the universe followed shortly thereafter. Physics, it seems, does not fuck around. But it was the seventh chapter that really leaves you staring into the void.

Rovelli uses this final lesson to grapple with the relevance of physics to our lives. Or, more accurately, of the relevance of our lives in the vast and uncaring strangeness of the cosmos. With the same sparse simplicity of words that he used to set out the mind-bending reality that is revealed by physics, he touches on the concepts of thought, learning, philosophy, ethics, and, of course, of death. Like many of the books where science meets philosophy, the wording gets close to religious in its solemn beauty.

We are born and die as the stars are born and die, both individually and collectively. This is our reality….

That’s dark stuff, man. COLD. But actually I found myself weirdly comforted. Rovelli takes pains to explain that however dark and weird the universe may seem, we are not alien to it, but part of it. We are at home in its weird unreality. It’s quite a moment when you can look into the void and the only thing that comes to mind is that old song by Simon and Garfunkel…

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube. 

It reminded me of THE GOOD BOOK, that strange and lovely conglomeration of scientific ideas, literature and philosophy compiled and presented by A.C. Grayling as a secular bible. Like a religious person seeking succour in a religious text I find my calm in the place where science meets philosophy.

Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.

The concepts set out in this book are mind-bendingly weird. I’m not sure I really comprehended the full meaning of it all (which is probably the point, temptations to learn more and all that) but it was completely and utterly engaging. My only criticism was, really, its brevity. For some of the more complex concepts just a little more time spent trying to give me a better mental grasp of these slippery thoughts would have been perfect. A page, maybe two. No more.

The writing style is excellent – elegant, flowing, and measured. And a translated text I can only suppose that this is a sign of both an excellent author and some damn fine translators. It balances the need for simple explanations of complex ideas with evocative, beautiful prose – it’s a science book written for readers, not scientists after all.

It’s worth reading for the madness of the physics alone but for my anxious brain it was the strange, warm bath in the restaurant at the end of the universe that it needed. And for that,  Carlo Rovelli, I thank you.

Buy it here: SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS by Carlo Rovelli 

We’re not in Kansas anymore | Thoughts on THE DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie WillisAuthor: Connie Willis

Publisher: Gollancz (and various others)

Publication Date: Originally July 1992.

Length: Novel (578 pages approx)

Format I read: Audiobook

Rating: 4.5/5


The Blurb

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

My Thoughts

A really wonderful in-depth story of time-travel and the very real difficulties of trying to survive in the past. Remember that old adage – “the past is a foreign country” – well if nothing else brings that home then this book will. The uncanny similarities and differences of life in the middle ages, the horrible reality of a world without modern medicine – they’re just for starters.

Because then there’s that extra layer of cleverness. In the 1990s Willis wrote this book in an imagined future of the 2050s and we can read with amusement how the comparatively recent years of the 1970s were already becoming misremembered (and fearsome because of it). But through the joys of time actually passing the additional pleasure of a strangely alien future also emerge. Willis’s vision of a future with video phones tied to landlines and almost impossibly small file-sizes seems charmingly naive now but only serves to emphasise the sheer impossibility of the historian’s (and futurist’s) task of understanding another era. It is only Kivrin, who ventures into the 14th century who can understand it, and only then through total, terrifying, assimilation. She does not simply learn about the past, she becomes part of it.

And, damn me, if it isn’t also entirely heart-wrenching.
P.S. If you’re prone to hypochondria I’m going to give you a heads-up: this is not the book for you. I am now totally paranoid about every sneeze and considering investing heavily in antibacterial gel.

Sheldon sprays germs

So you want to watch some booktube?

I was recently asked by the lovely Renay (from the Lady Business blog & Fangirl Happy Hour podcast – both favourites of mine) for some recommendations of science fiction and fantasy booktube channels. I started to compose a tweet of names and then realised that this was something that might take a bit more than 160 characters to get through. And so here, for Renay and anyone else in need of some speculative fiction vlogs, is my hastily put together master list.

Obviously there are channels who I will have inevitably forgotten and I will add them as and when I remember. Or if you want to remind me feel free to comment or tweet me. Remember babies, I love you all very much!

[Addendum – already edited to add a few more!]

you and me


In no particular order: 
Just in case you forgot where you were. Youtube is where I’m at.
The person who I see at every convention, super SFF knowledge. The SMOF I wish I was. ❤
Nicole – Nicole’s Aventures in SFF –  https://www.youtube.com/user/NicoleBookAdventures
Loads of SFF, prolific video maker and a key organiser of the booktubeSFF community. Actual science ninja as well as science-fiction person. Could probably take over the world.
Reads all genres, kicks all asses. YA librarian by day, badass lady warrior by night.
Probably the most prolific reader you’ll ever meet. Reviews everything, makes more videos than seems humanly possible. Probably has superpowers.
Loves genre fiction, Sanderson, and making videos. Will fight you for talking smack about YA and then school you in the true art of knowing things.
Booktube is just an extension of his long-running SFreviews.net site. Reviewer extraordinaire, maker of mailbag Monday the best bookish unboxing on both sides of the Atlantic.
Paul – Common Touch of Fantasy – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMuiX9vgRtIXtO7NY-zk92g
Fantasy lover with an open mind and open heart. Live catchups with magic picture swapping that I still need to figure out how to do because they’re shiny.
Reads prolifically in literary and genre fiction. Doesn’t judge me when I get drunk and eat all the flying saucer sweeties at publisher parties.
Fantasy, Dr Who, cute puppies and much geeky joy. I want her weekends.
Sanaa – Ink Bones Books – https://www.youtube.com/user/InkBonesBooks
Geek lifestyle goddess – books, gaming, manga and movies. Plus so many gorgeous headscarves it’ll make your head spin.
Sam – Thoughts on Tomes – https://www.youtube.com/user/ThoughtsOnTomes
Flawless makeup, on-point assassin style, and a voracious reader of YA and epic fantasy. Could I want anything more? Well, she’s also making her way into science fiction. *Fans self*.
Brianne – Stories from the Shelf – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmTKGq0LnoybKSMk0PYCF-g/
Sayer of things in ways I wish I’d thought of in my reviews, reader of every book I’ve got in my TBR, general SFF ninja.
Otavio – The Galilean Library – https://www.youtube.com/user/thegalileanlibrary
Happiest lad in all of booktubeSFF, reacts to my favourite SFF books the same way I do. Possible mind twin?
Rachel – Rae of Books – https://www.youtube.com/user/RaeReadsBooks
Actual ray of sunshine, reader of fantasy, haver of many beautiful tattoos.
Very new channel but already making great videos. Smiles for days.
Another new channel making their SFF mark. Urban fantasy fun times, and rocking boob-safety, body positivity videos.
Great SFF content combined with the best tattoos, every geeky accessory you ever wanted, and kitty cameos. Actual dream-time tbh.
Rachel – Kalanadi – https://www.youtube.com/user/Kalanadi
Flawless SFF taste, knows her shit, wise in the way of the books. Strong review game. Everyone loves Rachel.
Actually knows how to pronounce Rajaniemi and will school you in all the Finnish SFF. Has the best scary teacher look but is actually the sweetest human.
Jane – Yes Miss Jane – https://www.youtube.com/user/yesmissjane
So chill, such SFF love!
Says very clever things about very good books.
Wit so dry the Sahara gets jealous.
The comic book master and most precious of all humans.
Owns more than one sword and not afraid of a good costume. Suspect she is queen of a magical realm.
Both reads and writes books. And games. And has amazing hair. Life, it is not fair.
Reads all the books, says good things, makes me laugh.
Aoife – Fred Weasley Died Laughing – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC25ZpRKmmLL7RyopVEOqYgQ
Has the channel name that makes me cry and smile at the same time. Which is really bloody evil.
Master of wit, maker of clever animations, and creator of the reading spreadsheet of doom that gives everyone statistics joy.
A queen of YA with a good SFF quotient. Strong community figure. Rules the kingdom of Top 5 Wednesdays with a benevolent hand.
On an infrequent schedule at the moment but always worth watching. Says clever things with wit and a honesty.
Exploring the depths and breadths of magical realism and literary fantasy and sending out her findings so that us mere mortal readers can enjoy the plunder.
Another new channel full of enthusiasm for SFF.
Bringing a writer’s perspective to booktubeSFF and asking questions that perplex my brain every week.
SFF is in her mix of reads though not the focus. But she is the queen of thoughtful discussion videos, great insights, and self reflection. Plus potentially nicest human being on booktube.
Literary fiction and science fiction mixed together and examined with a critical eye. Just back from a few months off learning how to conquer the world. We await the second coming.
Michael – Bitten by a Radioactive Book – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaqri6yb-dGzmfw8SHMo0yw
The epic fantasy maestro, noticer of every subtle pattern and moment of foreshadowing ever, made a giant guide to fantasy sub genres.
Mostly SFF and literary fictions with occasional dips into young adult/children’s books, romance, non-fiction, comic books/graphic novels and poetry. Strong glasses game.
Reader of so very much SFF, friendliest book tuber you ever will meet.
Your man on the ground for middle grade fantasy, also has the most adorable puppies and does good beer drinking. Good man, good man.
Katherine – The Android’s Conundrum – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoIDm0e3vc9SlKNnZ2_8UmQ
Not your typical book tube channel, more like a podcast with some nice pictures of books as Katherine prefers not to be on camera. But excellent reviews nonetheless. A much loved lady of mystery.
Knower of so very much stuff. Like fantasy that came before Tolkein. Because contrary to popular belief that one old dude isn’t the be all and end all of the genre (a fact for which we are very grateful).

The great grey inbetween | Thoughts about On The Edge of Gone by Corrine Duyvis


On the Edge of Gone coverAuthor: Corrine Duyvis

Publisher: Amulet

Publication Date: 8 March 2016

Length: Novel (456 pages)

Format I read: ARC trade paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

Note: I requested and received an advanced reader copy of this for free from the publisher but all views are very much my own.


The blurb

January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

My thoughts

Fast paced, well-written and kept me gripped to the end whilst making me ask some very pointed questions about the value of life. Opening minutes before the big comet hits, this book makes you a very different look at the apocalypse and what it means to survive.

In fact, my overwhelming sense of this book was that it asks you to think beyond the binary of so many disaster stories.

There is no tale of pre-disaster panic and preparation, but nor is it the story of survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is the vast grey inbetween.

This is not a story that ends in fire. This is not the survivor’s tale, spoken in noble but tragic isolation as they leave behind the dead earth and the humanity that was unable to escape. Those stories are easy to tell, easy to cry a poignant tear over the death of millions when you’re boldly going where no man has gone before.

Instead this story keeps us on earth and asks us to imagine that maybe the end of a civilization doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life. It asks difficult questions about the ease with which we accept that the survival of the lucky must come at the price of the complete sacrifice of all others. It asks what it means to survive if there is no place for help, for community, for a middle road. And this large scale struggle is replicated in the smaller story of Denise and her family, and the decisions she must make to stay alive, to protect her family, and to protect herself from her family.

It’s a fascinating book where the plot keeps you flying through but the ideas stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. All in all, a damn fine read.

What I read – November 2015

In this week’s video I’m talking about all the lovely things I read in November. You can watch the video below or keep scrolling to read the text version.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/gAcr9u3dftM

Lets work from least favourite to favourite so I can work my way up to the serious levels of emotion I’m going need at the end!


darkforestTo begin we have The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu.

I was super excited to get to this book – it was in my priority TBR for the end of the year, I’d been told it was even more amazing than the rather excellent first book in the series The Three Body Problem – and I couldn’t read it. Seriously.

I do not know what is up with the writing style in this book but it is jarring as hell and just unpleasant to read. Maybe it was down to a change in the writing style from books 1 to 2 in the original Chinese version or maybe it’s to do with the changed translator but reading this made me sad. Somebody please tell me what’s going on with this. I swear it’s not just me.


House of Shattered Wings - cover The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard.

The story is set in a fantastical version of Paris where fallen angels waged a huge war destroying most of the city. The war is over but the factions remain locked in elaborately polite political power games and the dark deeds of the past are emerging to haunt the angelic houses and destroy everything the hold dear.

You can read my full review in an earlier post:

Room to Grow Into| Review of The House of Shattered Wings 


theawesome The Awesome by Eva Darrows is all about Maggie, a seventeen year old apprentice monster hunter in a world where all the supernatural beasties have come out of the proverbial closet.

Maggie is badass and awesome, or at least according to Maggie she is. The only problem is that Maggie is stuck being an apprentice until she can rid herself of her rather pesky virginity. So now Maggie has to negotiate the rather trickier world of social skills and dating all the while dealing with ghosts, and zombies, and monsters, oh my.

It’s hilarious, honestly I was laughing out loud within a couple of pages. Maggie is the narrator so we see the world through her eyes and it’s a gloriously uncomfortable experience that had me squirming in cringey delight at the memories of my far less awesome teenage self. It’s not perfect, there were a few moments where I felt some of the language was a bit problematic, but it was largely delightful, romping fun.


traitorbarucormorantThe Traitor Baru Cormorant by Set Dickinson

Well damn me. This was clever, cunning, and dark as hell.

It tells of Baru Cormorant whose homeland is invaded when she is a child. She swears to revenge herself on the empire that destroys her country’s way of life but chooses to do this by working her way into a position of power. In order to gain this trust and power Baru is faced with a life of betrayals and lies to her family, her country and to herself.

You can read my full review in an earlier post:

It hurts so good… | Review of The Traitor Baru Cormorant


Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetAnd finally came The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This book is about the crew of a small spacecraft on a long journey. That’s it. And well, I’ve already done a separate review post and I’ll be putting out another review video for this one (extended review) but here’s the the short version of that:


You can read my short review in an earlier post:

Love Wins | Thoughts on A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet



And that’s it for November. What did you read last month?  I’m off to keep reading my December reads starting with His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.



Keep reading, sugarplum.

Love Wins | Thoughts on A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetTitle: A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date: 13 August 2015

Length: Novel (404 pages)

Format I read: hardback

Rating: 5/5


The blurb: 

Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

My Thoughts

I tried to write a coherent review but all I can say is I LOVE IT WITH ALL MY HEART.

I love the universe that has been created, the elegant way it is created through little details of life and habits. I love the food and the soap and wine and small intricacies of life in space rather than just war in space.

I love the interaction of the alien species, the coming together, the falling aparts, and the (mis)understandings.

I love the characters, their complex lives outside the plot, the expansive ideas of what a person can be, and their beautiful, beautiful relationships.

And I love the love; the many ways of different people being together – as friends, as family, a colleagues and collaborators, as lovers, pairs, triads, and more. I love that love so much; that love for the universe, for the potential offered by the future, love for all kinds of love.

This book won my heart. Because, in the end, love wins.