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:

I LOVE IT. IT IS AMAZING. IT IS THE NICEST SWEETEST BOOK ON EARTH AND ALL MUST READ IT.

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.

 

hisdarkmaterials

Keep reading, sugarplum.
x

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Room to grow into| Review of The House of Shattered Wings

House of Shattered Wings - coverTitle: The House of Shattered Wings

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Publisher: Orion

Publication Date: 20 August 2015

Length: Novel (402 pages)

Format I read: audiobook

Rating: 3.5/5


Synopsis

In a ruined Paris, fallen angels live together in rival Houses – each vying for power in the crumbling, poisonous city that was brought down by their own war. The fighting has given way to politics but the threat to life is still very real. Angels are hunted for their magical essence, the house leaders scheme and plot in elaborately polite power-games, and the dark deeds of the past will not lie quietly in their graves.

House Silverspires stands tremulous. Its magic is ailing; the founder, Morningstar, has been missing for years; and now a murderous presence, seemingly darkness and malevolence incarnate, stalks them inside their own walls.

Of the many characters whose lives revolve around Silverspires, three become central to the struggle against the darkness: a human alchemist addicted to forbidden and deeply taboo drugs that are killing her, a newly fallen angel with immense power combined with innocent naivety, and the man from Annam whose powers and anger toward the angelic houses are alien to the fallen.


Thoughts

Whilst always enjoyable and readable this book never really gripped me in the way I wanted and expected. The story itself is intriguing and clever – a grand tale of murder, politics, and revenge. And yet for all that bigness it somehow felt small and a bit underdeveloped.

Another reviewer very aptly put it that this is an ‘aftermath story’. It tells us what happened after the fall, and after the war, and after the disappearance of a great leader. It’s a bold move for any writer to make and not one that I think was necessarily pulled off to best effect in this book.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a story that expands beyond its frames. A story that suggests that more happens after the last page is turned, that life was going on in the background of every line, just around the corner. But you do need the present moment of the story to hold my attention at least as much as the elements going on out of sight. It needs to fit inside hole that’s been cut out of the bigger picture and I can’t say that this always did. There was too much gap between the story we were told and the story outside it. Maybe there will be more to fill out the gaps in the future but for now it’s like a kid with clothes too big for them: there’s potential for them to grow into them over time but the excess fabric is going to trip them up.

On a positive note I thought that the character of Philippe – his experiences and interactions with the angelic houses during and after the war – did a phenomenal job of demonstrating how the structures of power – race, class, wealth, etc – are often unseen and continue to be upheld by those who benefit from them. Sometimes it’s easier to face a hard truth through fiction, and Isabel and Philippe’s argument about the necessity of the continued existence of angelic houses prompted some serious reflection.

Clever, beautiful, and big in scope this book is very much worth reading but offered me more story than it could give

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – 3.5 stars.

Baking cake, talking books (Book Cake Tag)

In today’s video I’m baking a book cake!

The idea is to pick books that fit characteristics assigned to each ingredient. I took it a bit further and decided to bake some real cake whilst talking about the books. So if you want to see the baking you’re going to have watch the video. If you just want to read about my book picks and/or see the recipe then skip over the video and keep reading (recipe at the end)!

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ARJ3hWK9r5M


Flour: Slow to start but that really picked up later!

A confederacy of duncesA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is a literary fiction novel that I found really baffling and hard to read at first but then rapidly got sucked in to the wonderous whirlpool of ridiculous horror that is Ignatius J. Reilly’s life and thoughts. It’s a tragicomic tale of wrathful, slothful, ranting behemoth of a man that is truly artful in the telling.

After a life self-indulgent idleness and never-ending study Ignatius suddenly finds himself in the awful position of need to get that most dreadful of things – a job. His (mis)adventures are filled with the beautifully-drawn oddities of New Orleans life and Ignatius is the man you will LOVE to hate; selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life.


Margarine: a rich plot!

His Dark MaterialsHis Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is a a fantasy trilogy like no other. It’s a rich, detailed and marvellously imagined story set across parallel worlds. Epic in scale it combines spellbinding adventure and beautiful writing to create one of the most enduring stories I’ve ever read. 

It tells the tale of Lila and Will, two children in very different versions of Oxford who each find themselves caught up in a web of deception and danger as the old powers of religion and science clash across the multi-verse. It  features armoured polar bears, magical objects, arctic prisons, dying angels, witches and daemons. And to top it off it’s also an audacious and profound re-imagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost. How can you resist?

If you are thinking of reading it soon then why not join me? I’ll be taking part in a readalong of these books in December. It’s being led by author and booktuber, Jen Campbell, along with Holly from the YouTube channel Library at the Edge of the World.

JOIN US…..? 😡

never join - star wars gif

Damn you Skywalker


 

Eggs – assumed it was bad but actually enjoyable!

Goblin Emperor coverI was really reluctant to pick up The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison despite the fact that I heard nothing but glowing reviews for it. I’d be bouncing off a lot of epic fantasy at the time, I think I was a bit done with a lot of the genre tropes and somehow I just felt like this just wasn’t going to be my cup of tea.

HOW WRONG I WAS!

It’s the story of a young prince who very unexpectedly becomes emperor of the elvish kingdom despite being exiled and despised by his father and three elder brothers thanks to his half-goblin heritage. This is heartwarming, a tale of learning and finding your place and voice and people who understand you. That whilst there is turmoil and horror there is kindness and friendship and loyalty. It’s a truly lovely story, well written & well executed with characters I came to love. Enchanting, delightful and totally unexpected.


 

Sugar – a sweet story!

Making of a MarchionessThe Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett tells the story of thirty-something Emily who lives alone, humbly and happily, in a tiny apartment and on a meager income. She’s the one that everyone counts on but no one notices iuntil, in true Cinderella-like glory, she meets the a Marquis and he falls in love with her – just as she is. Plus then there’s a whole murder mystery section and our new Marchioness turns out to be a stone-cold badass! (You may think I am kidding at this point but I am so not. It’s half love story, half deadly intrigue!)

It’s the sweetest, most adorably lovely love story in the world. If you’ve ever read A Little Princess then think of that but for adults. Because it’s literally that – same author!


Icing – everything you enjoy in a book

Ancillary JusticeThere is no other book I could pick. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is my all-time favourite book for a reason. It’s part epic space opera, part intimately written tale of grief and loss. And part adventure, part domestic, part ode to song, part everything.

Broken down to it’s simplest plot it is the story of a warship trapped in a human body and her search for revenge. Formerly the vast troop carrier, Justice of Toren, now simply Breq – a grieving ancillary who we follow as she seeks for a weapon that can destroy her master.  Along the way we learn of her past life and the haunting events that led up to destructive present.

I’m really bad a writing a synopsis of this book. It is beautiful and haunting and clever. It has dramatic and adventure, gorgeous writing, and will make you question the concept of gender to boot.


 

Sprinkles – a pick me up!

darling buds of mayThe Pop Larkin Chronicles by H.E. Bates are a series of novels which started with The Darling Buds of May. They are a gorgeous romping masterpiece about the joys of living, of love, laughter, family, sex, food, fun and friendship. It starts with the Larkin family arriving home at their idyllic farmstead to find a young man waiting in the yard. He’s the tax inspector and has a few questions for Pop. Instead of answers, Charley-boy soon finds himself one of the family enjoying endless delicious dinners, drinks, sunshine, and life with beautiful Mariette.

It is a joyous series and cannot fail to transport you away from even the greyest days and into the warm fields of an English summer evening.

 


Cherry on top – favourite book of the year

Female Man book coverThe Female Man by Joanna Russ is one of the great classics of science fiction and earlier this year it blew my tiny mind.

It tells us of four women living in parallel worlds, each with a different gender landscape. When they begin to travel to each other’s worlds each woman’s preconceptions on gender and what it means to be a woman are challenged.

Written in the 1970s you see the gender roles of the time and marvel at their strange and awful imbalance. And then it becomes achingly familiar and fills you with a rage that we’re still, STILL, dealing with this shit forty years later. The writing is unbelievably good, like freaking genius levels good. It burns like lines of fire in my heart, good. READ ITTTTTTTTTT.


 

Recipe: Vegan Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Cakes

Ingredients – cake

    • 1 cup soymilk
    • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar ( or white vinegar)
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup roughly chopped Oreos (chop and then measure)
    • 1/3 cup cocoa powder ( Dutch processed or regular)
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Line muffin pan with baking cups (paper or foil).
  3. Whisk together soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside to curdle. Add sugar, oil, and vanilla to the soy mixture and beat until frothy.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining dry ingredients.
  5. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in two batches beating until smooth, with no large lumps remaining.
  6. Pour the batter into prepared baking cups, filling them to three quarters full.
  7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  8. Transfer cupcakes to cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Ingredients – decoration

  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plain soy milk or soy creamer
  • 8 Oreos, finely chopped
  • More Oreos for decoration

Instructions

  1. Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.
  2. Add the vanilla and soy milk, and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.
  3. Finely chop about 6 Oreos and mix into the frosting.
  4. Frost the cupcakes generously, sprinkle with remaining Oreo crumbs, top with half a cookie.

What I Read – October 2015

Hello lovely humans, today I’m going to be talking about all the things I read in October which I am still failing to believe is already over. Like the hell, when did that happen? As ever you can watch the video or skip ahead to read a text version.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/adx2Dd2yakI

In October I finished three books and two graphic novels which doesn’t sound like much but I’ve been rather ill for the last half of the month so I’m quite pleased with it. If you don’t follow me on twitter you may not already know that I’ve had labyrinthitis for about two weeks. It was entirely not fun but I seem to be all better so Awoohoo.


Goblin Emperor cover

First of my reads was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This is a fantasy book about a young prince who very unexpectedly becomes emperor of the elvish kingdom despite being exiled and despised by his father and three elder brothers thanks to his half-goblin heritage.

It follows him from the discovery of his new position into the first few months of his reign as he come to terms with the memory of a father who didn’t love him, a government that doesn’t believe in him, and court of nobles about as easy to understand or trust as a nest of snakes.
I’ve become so used to fantasy books that are all violence and betrayal and general awfulness. Even when there’s romance or triumph in the end the main thrust is always a protagonist at odds with everyone, misunderstood or downtrodden or alone. And I kept expecting that and it never happened. This is heartwarming, a tale of learning and finding your place and voice and people who understand you. That whilst there is turmoil and horror there is kindness and friendship and loyalty. It’s a truly lovely story, well written & well executed with characters I came to love. Enchanting, delightful and totally unexpected.


 

Lock In by ScalziThen came Lock In by John Scalzi, a total change of pace to a fast-reading detective story set in a future where a percentage of the population are locked in their bodies because of a disease but are able to operate in the world by using future neural technologies that allow them to control other human bodies, with agreement, or human shaped robots knowns as threeps.
Our protagonist is a Haden starting his first day as an FBI agent and he’s thrown into a mystery that starts with a murder where the suspect claims to have been under the control of another and then gets way more complicated and dangerous when the murder starts linking to a much wider plot of corporate intrigue and somebody hacking the neural technology to take control of people’s minds.
Like all of Scalzi’s books this was a fun read, his writing is consistently good and damn readable. It’s a simple classic detective story with ideas about internet security and privacy and personal integrity and control all woven into a great future concept. It’s not going to blow you away with its complex literary ideas but that is so not the point. It’s damn good at what it wants to be.


 

Ancillary MercyAnd then, and then, oh my goodness, then came Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. This is third and final book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series and I am both happy and sad to have read it. It’s really impossible to tell you any of the plot without totally ruining the first book but I will tell you that it was a wonderful ending to the series. As a whole they have blown me away.

Leckie has a way of creating characters and worlds that you come to know intimately and that reach far beyond the story that takes place on the pages. It was a relatively neat ending which was not necessarily what I expected but worked in that there was clearly more to come that we won’t ever see.

And that’s the magic of these books – there’s a huge universe of cultures and politics and ideas and people that we learn about and are inspired by and it’s just a taster of the many stories in that universe, it’s a beginning, even though this is the end. Goddamn it’s like Harry Potter all over again. I can’t cope.

Mourning the book

If you want to get schooled in elegant writing that can confront social and ethical issues with grace, and give you all the emotions about spaceships then read these books immediately.


 

Saga Vol. 5And the first of my two graphic novels was Saga Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples – the continuing epic which continues to be epic. The art is still lovely, still inspires moments of laugh out loud holy shit am I glad I’m not reading this in public like I did that one time because ohmygod that’s a big picture of a….lizard. I still really like it but I can’t deal with having my stories broken up so much. I need to know what happens.


 

 

Sex CriminalsAnd then for continued not to be read in public enjoyment there was Sex Criminal Volume 1 by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky. This is the story of a young woman for whom time stops after she orgasms. And then one day she meets a man for whom the same thing happens and they decided to use this amazing superpower to rob banks. Because of course. It is witty and clever and so so funny. The creators have obviously just taken these ideas of what you might do in that situation and when that situation might come up and it’s just cringingly, hilariously awful and yet amazing and sweet. Definitely worth a read – if you’re over 18.


 

And that’s it, that’s all she read! Thanks for reading.

A queer rainbow TBR

rainbow rocketI decided very last minute to join in with the #rainbowthon readathon that’s happening on booktube this week (15th-2s1t June). The basic idea is to read 4-6 books that are the colours of the rainbow (some books can serve for two colours). I decided to put a twist on it and make my rainbow book a pride rainbow and put together a TBR of queer SFF reads. Double the rainbow for your money!

 


Red

Darker Shade of Magic coverA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is my choice for red. The book centres around Kell, one of the last Travellers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. Grey London is ruled by mad King George and has no magic. Red London reveres magic and Kell is raised with the prince himself. White London is a land of intrigue and murder where magic fights its users. And once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now….

The book features a canonically bisexual character which is rare enough to make me squee with joy when I discover such a thing.


 

Orange

Infidel book coverInfidel by Kameron Hurley is the second book in the Bel Dame series following Nyx Nissa a government assassin turned bounty hunter living in a world divided by a centuries long war. The world that Hurley has created in this series is brutal, dark, horribly believable, and wonderfully readable. Nyx is bisexual in the books and Hurley also identifies herself as ‘not the straightest arrow in the quiver’.  One of my favourite writers of the moment, her strongly spoken views on feminism, ethics, publishing, and more are always worth reading.


 

Yellow & Green 

Babel-17 cover

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany is my pick for yellow and green. Samuel Delany is one of the great masters of science fiction and is gay. Babel-17 is set in a distant future where humanity hes begun receiving strange communications from an alien race. It’s all about the power of language, (mis)communication, and understanding. One of those been-meaning-to-read-it-forever books!

 


 

Blue

Lightspeed QDSF coverLightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction is a bumper-sized special edition of Lightspeed magazine that I help kickstart a few months ago. It’s been entirely written and edited by queer creators and is filled with original short fiction, flash fiction, and non-fiction essays that encompass a great swathe of the QUILTBAG spectrum. I may have sneakily already started this one and, let me tell you, it’s fantastic.


 

Purple

Heiresses of Russ coverHeiresses of Russ 2014 by Melissa Scott and Steve Berman (eds.) is an anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. It includes eighteen stories that vary from shapeshifting sidekicks to magical fertility rites to the delayed gratification of soulmate countdowns. The thing I like the most about the descriptions is that it promises that the women in this books “will find themselves tested not because of their sexual identity but rather the identity they have composed, constructed, and spun”.


 

And there you have it – a double rainbow of pride month fabulousness. Long may it shine.

rainbow rocket

7 Thrilling Adventure Novels (for a rip-roaring good time)

Hello lovely humans. This week’s video was all about adventure novels! I recently read Harry Harrison’s Deathworld, a ridiculous but also ridiculously fun, science fiction book about a mysteriously murderous planet. It reminded me of how much I really enjoy an uncomplicated bit of thrilling adventure time and so I wanted to recommend great adventures to read when you also need some thrills, spills and chills. Watch the video or read on for the extended text version.


Cover of Love and Romanpunk

Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a collection of short stories that shows us the monstrous secrets of an ancient Roman family and the line of hunters who must chase them down through history. The stories stretch from a 1st century AD bestiary all the way up a fight to death aboard an airship in future Australia. Pure good fun. You may never think about Mary Shelley in quite the same way ever again.


Cover of Old Man's War

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi is a fantastic military science fiction adventure. In a distant future humanity squabbles with alien races to populate the few habitable planets and so the Colonial Defence Force recruits soldiers from Earth to help the cause. But the CDF don’t want young people, they recruit you on your 75th birthday. How it works nobody knows but our protagonist signs up and begins his military career and the adventure of a new lifetime. Lot’s of tension, lots of excitement, and if you like it there’s a whole bunch more in the series.


 

lovelace and babbage coverThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua pretty much chose itself for this list. It’s a graphic novel about Charles Babbage who invented one of the early forerunners of modern computers, The Analytical Engine, and Ada Lovelace who basically invented coding. Starting with the very true story of their lives it then pops us over into a pocket parallel universe where Lovelace and Babbage use their giant steam powered computer to fight crime and have adventures. As is only right and good. Possibly the most perfect book ever.


Hundred Thousand cover

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison is about a young woman, Yeine, who is, to her shock, named as the heir to the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But this is a kingdom whose power comes from their control of gods whom they enslaved in the distant past. Yeine struggles in the treacherous environment of the castle – making dangerous deals with the strange gods and fighting to stay alive in the political power struggle for control of the kingdom. Surprising, tense, and thoroughly enjoyable.


 

Enter the Saint coverThe Saint books by Leslie Charteris are some of my favourite old fashioned adventures. The series started back in the 1920s following Simon Templar, a vigilante better known by his alias The Saint. He steals from criminals and he does it in style. This is James Bond before James Bond was invented. Perfect tailoring, car chases, fisticuffs, x marks the spot, and few detours to fight the nazis. Forget James Bond, forget Robin Hood, meet The Saint.


 

Rat Queens #1 coverRat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe is a comic book graphic novel series about a gang of hard drinking, bad-ass mercenary adventurers in a fantasy world full of dark elves, vampires, trolls, and evil squid gods. Not one for the kids, the Rat Queens must fight to save themselves from being banished and then to save their town from the mysterious evil forces threatening it with, well, evil. Hilarious, irreverent, and deliciously violent.


 

Throne of the Crescent Moon coverThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is a fantasy adventure following an old ghoul-hunter, Adoulla Makhslood, who just wants a quiet life and a nice cup of tea. Unfortunately he’s kind of sucked into a huge adventure as a series of supernatural murders spread across his city. As Adoulla and his assistants discover terrible political connections to these unearthly killings their lives and lives of the entire kingdom are suddenly at risk. If you like your cup of tea with a side order of blood and magic then this the book for you.


 

So those are some of my favourite books to go to for some pure fun adventure time. What are yours? I’d love to know.

What I Read in May

Today’s post is a quick roundup of my thoughts about all the things I read in May. May was the first month where I was relatively free from university deadlines and so I had plenty of time to read, In fact I’ve got 14 titles to cover about so I best get a move on. You can watch the video version or scroll past to read the extended text version.


Dawn cover

First up I finished off Dawn by Octavia Butler. Butler is an author I’ve been meaning to read forever and this was an intriguing place to start. The dilemma of Lillith, deciding the fate of humanity and resigning herself to be the betrayer, was tense and well thought out. The characters themselves were nuanced and made me seriously look at how I thought about prejudice, human-ness, and my attitude to the new and unknown. I look forward to seeing how she moves the world forward in the next book. A reflective and meditative, yet dramatic, read. 


 

Female Man book coverThe Female Man by Joanna Russ is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Uncomfortable, frenetic, literary, and GODDAMNED MAGNIFICENT. I really haven’t figured out a way to explain quite why I loved it the way I did but I was in awe of this perfect thing I was reading the entire way through. The way Russ seems to paint a scene with the barest of strokes and yet conjure up perfectly vivid characters was astounding. Within the space of two pages I’d go from tears of laughter to a gut-searing rage watching the horrors of the world move before me. I cannot say much beyond: read it.


Irregularity coverThen I picked up Irregularity by Jared Shurin (ed.), a collection of short speculative fiction stories all themed around the idea of the Age of Reason and the history of scientific enquiry.  It’s not often that I can read short fiction collections straight through (I need a break between each one) but I flew through this. From strange sea clocks powered by bodily fluids to a murderous time-travelling bohemian rhapsody quoting Isaac Newton, every story is a strange individual snowflake and yet they come together under the theme just perfectly. Evocative, sickening, amusing, haunted, and haunting – a joy to read. 


Annihilation coverAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer is classified by the author as weird nature fiction and, well, it’s pretty damned weird! The plot centres around the mystery of Area X – a section of land abandoned by human beings for no known reason. Previous explorations have all ended strangely and from the outset nothing is quite right. It’s uncanny and unsettling in the best of ways. It was a clever book as an exploration of the gothic trope but something about it just didn’t gel with me and I never got further than appreciating its cleverness. Clever concept, not my cup of tea. 

Disclosure: received for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Seveneves coverFinally, after months and months of (im)patient waiting, it was time for Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. This is a hefty beast of a book; 861 pages long and weighing nearly 3lbs. But, oh my goodness, it’s worth hefting around. Split between a near future where Earth is beset with natural disaster and humanity flees to space, and a distant future where the space-faring descendants of humans must return to this alien world of Earth, the story is as detailed and clever as I’ve come to expect of Stephenson’s work. His writing is a joy and you always come out of his books feeling smarter than when you went in. I never knew that learning about orbital velocity could be so much fun!


 

Lord of scoundrels coverIn the middle of Seveneves I had a little bit of a break for something where 7 billion people hadn’t just been wiped out and indulged in some romance. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase tells of a mad, bad and dangerous to know lord marrying a clever, witty lady and, well, you know how it goes. It was fun but a little over the top even for me – in one short novel there was the hate, love, hate, love, scandal, marriage of a standard romance plot but also a whole extra section of angsty love-child side plot and villainous frenemies that felt kind of superfluous. Either cut it or add two hundred extra pages and turn it into a sequel.


 

Love and other scandals coverLove & Other Scandals by Caroline Linden was a thoroughly enjoyable story of the wallflower determined to get away from the wall, and the scandalous (but nice) lord with whom she has some rather, shall we say, heated, arguments. The running thread of the series is a steamy ladies magazine/sex guide that provides the female characters with a positive attitude to, and knowledge of, sex that is often lacking in historical romance. Real history was not short of smutty books and explicit sex education and it’s nice to see romance novels play with this. No ridiculous angst, plenty of frocks, good attitude toward sex.


 

Cover of Runaways Vol. 1The Runaways by Brian K Vaughn was a series of comics/graphic novels about a group of kids who discover that their parents are actually all supervillains so they run away and become teen superheroes. It was cancelled after a few years but has since been resurrected by different Marvel authors. I read the first three collected volumes: Pride and Joy, Teenage Wasteland, and The Good Die Young. The first volume was a cute concept, with cute art, and the cutest pet dinosaur all interspersed with some rather shocking violence. Unfortunately I got gradually less interested over the next two volumes and remain uncertain about continuing.


 

Cover of deathnote v.1-2 (Black edition)Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba is an insanely popular and extensive manga series about a teenage boy who finds the notebook of a death god. Anyone whose name he writes in the notebook will die exactly as he specifies and so he decides to rid the world of all evil and create a utopian society by going on what can only be described as a killing spree. I can see why the series is popular, there was some great detective versus killer cat-and-mouse games going on, but it’s also filled with ridiculously illogical actions and way too much sexism for me to really enjoy it or want to continue. Not so good. 

(I read Black Edition: Volume 1 which combines the ordinary volumes 1 & 2)


 

Cover of LumberjanesLuckily I also read Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson which is just the most perfect and wonderous comic every created. Seriously, I think I’m in love. Every boy’s own adventure book I read as a kid has been expertly transformed into this totally fantastic badass lady-types, rip-roaring, fun never stops, comic of perfection. The characters are just screamingly fabulous; the art – a breath of fresh air; the story- hilarious. If you know anyone who is, or loves, a badass lady-type then make them read this because they will love it forever. Perfection. 


Cover of deathworldDeathworld by Harry Harrison was my last read in May chosen purely because of the best blurb on earth: “The settlers on Pyrrus were supermen…twice as strong as ordinary men and with milli-second reflexes. They had to be. For their business was murder…”  So much yes.  And it really is just like that. It’s every ingredient of pulp and golden age science fiction stirred into 150 pages of adventuring, drinking manly booze, a sexy lady, monsters, telepathy, spaceships, and guns. High literature this is not, original, ethical and unpredictable – also no, fun – YES. James Bond has an angry interplanetary adventure – you can’t say no. 


 

How was your reading month in May and what on earth are you reading in June?

Oh an don’t forget to put your nominations in for the BooktubeSFF Awards!

BooktubeSFF Awards Announcement

A couple of months ago an idle conversation on twitter led to an idea, which led to some emails being exchanged, which led to some organising, which led to…this.

The BooktubeSFF Awards!

We want to know which SFF books the booktube community loves and so we’re starting our awards. Because why not?!

This year the awards are being run by me, Nicole, Lindsey, Thomas, & Kaitlin.

Categories:

  • Best Novel
  • Best YA Novel
  • Best short work
  • Best graphic work

Timeline:

  • June 1st-30th: Nominations are open – fill in your choices on the nominations form.
  • July: Shortlist of 3 per category are calculated from nominations.
  • August-October: Readalongs for all items in the shortlist.
  • November: Winners announced in a glittering and wonderous liveshow.

For more information about eligibility criteria, timelines, rules and so on you should check out the BooktubeSFF Awards site and there’s also a goodreads group where we’ll be running the read along and where you can ask any questions. Also feel free to bug us on twitter or whatever – we’re all there!

Now just go and vote!

 

 

On Hugos and keeping the faith

I wrote this on Tuesday and didn’t publish it in a vague hope it wouldn’t be relevant and could all be brushed off as paranoia of the community. It wasn’t. It came true.

Speculation, commiseration

There are a lot of rumours circulating around the SFF world about the Hugo Award shortlists. They won’t be announced until Saturday (4th April) but with nominees informed ahead of time the gossip mill starts in earnest weeks before.

And the general tone is, to put it lightly, hella bleak. The suspicion seems to be that the ‘Sad Puppy Slate’ has succeeded in their quest to game the nomination process and dominate several categories. How true this is won’t be known until Saturday but there has been plenty of speculation in various places chatting about how it might well be the case.

Hundreds of forums posts and extensive blog entries seem to have been dedicated to ‘how we we can stop it happening’, ‘how we can fix the Hugos’, and how ‘the Hugos are broken’. But just how broken are they?

What’s the problem?

Last year, the success of Sad Puppies at getting just a few entries into the shortlist engendered huge amounts of anger but it gave those who opposed their political and gaming stance something to unite against. Their slate was soundly defeated and we rejoiced.

a work placed below no award

Right prevailed, the system proved its worth, and all was good with the world. :/

Perhaps we were too confident. Yes, everyone knew Sad Puppies were at it again this year but, well, it would be just like last year. Except that now it seems like that’s probably not going to be the case. That defeat energised SP (I’m sick of typing their name so many times) and provided a cause to rally around. If they manage to fill an entire category with only SP nominees then they’ll win because that’s the only choice. So goes the theory.

Party politics

Here’s the thing: Yes, the Sad Puppies gamed the nominations, but they did nothing that was outside the rules (and much do they delight in this). They purchased memberships and voted as a relatively cohesive block. The only thing that surprises me here is that it hasn’t happened before. This isn’t illegal, it’s party politics.

There are many who will, and do, bemoan political situations happening in fandom. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s meant to be a true reflection of what a group of SFF fans really loved. The Hugo Awards belong to the WorldCon (they literally, legally, do), and through that, to the supporters of WorldCon.

Well sure. But you know what makes a supporter of WorldCon (and thus a Hugo voter) – $40. That’s it. I pay my $40, that helps run WorldCon, and I am as entitled as anyone who has been doing it for 40 years. Any system that is open to anyone to join is open to this kind of play.

And what exactly is the problem with what’s happened? That one group chose something that another group don’t like? No. The problem is that the system has been played in a way that feels disingenuous. It might not be against the rules but it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s in the spirit of the rules either.

Despair

People are kind of pre-emptively despairing. Discussions about changing the nomination and voting processes, fixing the Hugos, not being excited by the Hugos this year, glad to not be attending, focusing on other awards.

My issues with this:

1 – Changing the rules.

Any kind of rule change would need to be done very carefully and with great consideration. New policies must be careful not to discourage new voters, disenfranchise those on low incomes, or target specific groups (even SP). It’s an incredibly complicated problem and not one that’s going to solve anything going on this year.*

More importantly, just because you don’t like those in power (or the threat to your own power) doesn’t mean the system is broken. Playing the system, however, is bad times for everyone.

2 –  Ignoring it. 

No matter how much I might try to ignore it, the Hugos are the most visible of the SFF awards to those outside the genre. Others have cachet but the Hugos are the one that people see and hear about. They’re recognisable. Kameron Hurley wrote a post recently about the literal value that a Hugo Award can have. Ignoring or abandoning the award means the SP succeeded. The Sad Puppies might make me sad by gaming the nominations but be damned if that means I will just sit back and let them win.

Fight with honour

One option for fighting back would be to form an alternative slate for next year and for anything not SP this year. The SP want party politics, someone makes the Rainbow Unicorn party. A few key people can agree on a list of things they really do think are good and suggest (via a lot of promotion) that others also vote exactly this way just to make sure that those others don’t win.

Unicorn farting rainbows

The problem with this is that it’s exactly the thing that I dislike about the Sad Puppies – voting with an agenda other than rewarding that which I believe to be deserving. It sets up those with opposing views as the dreadful other, homogenising them into a supposedly single voice. It removes the plurality and complexity of what may be, in reality, a varied group of people with lots of different opinions. Should the Rainbow Unicorns come to be, they would also fail to represent an opposing plurality of opinion. If what you want is an honest open vote on people’s favourite/best works then party politics doesn’t work.

The other option is to fight back using the system we have. I bring your attention back to that lovely image of the results from Best Novelette last year. No Award placed 5th.

No Award

You’re entitled to rank the No Award at any point in each category. It can be your only vote in a category or you can rank any works you want to and allocate No Award a spot in the list. So use your No Award Award. If you honestly believe every single SP candidate doesn’t deserve an award you have the option to try and make that happen (and I mean honestly – give them as much chance as you feel is fair). Vote No Award and you can actually knock every nomination out of the running.  So many more people vote in the final ballot than in the nomination stage that the 60 or 70 ballots needed to get a shortlist place can become inconsequential.

We cannot banish those we do not like from fandom. We are not a club that gets to decide who is worthy of nominating or voting or calling themselves a lover of SF.   The Sad Puppies may have messed with my shortlist but, you know what I do do get to do? Vote against them.


*  We like to think about the future and that’s what a lot of the speculators about rule changes are doing. I’m only addressing this years’ awards with the No Award answer. They are thinking about next year, and the years after. How can we prevent gaming of the system and block voting in the future? Is it even possible? If they can make that be the case without it being done in a way that shuts out new voters or new SFF fans then it could be good . It’s not something I want to tackle within the scope of this post but it is something that’s being discussed elsewhere.

March Reads – Mini Reviews

Hello lovely humans. This week’s video/blogpost is a roundup of all the amazing things I read this month, and there were some seriously amazing things! As ever you can find a readable version below.


Female Factory coverThe Female Factory by Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter.

A collection of short stories all themed around ideas of reproduction and the female body and the ways these are controlled, taken apart, and constructed by people around them. It is gloriously weird and gothic.

Some stories are more fantastical like that of the shape changing rebirth in the billabong, some are more science fiction like the future where only a few women have the ability to bear children but can do so many at a time, and some blur that boundary between genres like the workhouse children desperate for a mother who try to build one for themselves. Something in each story feels very familiar despite their fantastical nature giving them a little hook back to real life that leaves you wondering, worrying, waiting for it all to come true.

4.5/5 


 

God's War coverGod’s War by Kameron Hurley

This is the first book in the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy but it stands very well on its own. And dear god I am in love with this world. And it’s not even the kind of world I would normally love.

It tells the tale of Nyx Nissa a government assassin turned bounty hunter living in a world divided by a centuries long war. It’s brutal and dark and nasty but so amazingly imagined that I couldn’t stop reading.

All technology is based around insects which is at once gruesome and amazing, the society is based around Islam which was so refreshingly different to see, and the cultures are female dominated which just felt so cool but wasn’t at all nice. The characters themselves are unpleasant but very human and actually horribly understandable.

 5 out 5 stars


 

Lagoon cover imageLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

My copy of this book is covered with a veritable explosion of post-it notes because it made my brain very excited.

The story is told from multiple points of view but centres around three people who are all in the same place in Lagos when aliens arrive. But this is not your average first contact story. The aliens are just the beginning.

This is a blending of science fiction and fantasy and fairy tales and mythology and urban legends and media reporting and every other way that we tell stories.

If you’ve ever read Angela Carter especially Nights at the Circus then imagine that but updated, moved to Nigeria, and with aliens. It’s uncanny and unsettling and makes you want to know more about Nigeria and Lagos and the rich world of stories that you might not be so familiar with.

5 out 5 stars


 

Saga #1 cover imageSaga by Brain K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

A couple of weeks ago I asked you all for graphic novel recommendations and that’s what I’ve been reading since then. So my very first one was Saga by Brain K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. Everyone seemed to love this so I figured it was worth a go though I’m always dubious about hype.

Totally worth it guys. It is actually really really good. The story and the characters are so clever, the art work was lovely, and the way the story is told is very easy to get into even if you’re not so familiar with the way comics read which, y’know , I’m not.

4.5 out 5 stars


Rat Queens #1 coverRat Queens by Kurtis Weibe and Roc Upchurch

So that was a good start but I’m a dubious person I was not expecting the next thing to also be amazing and perfect.

I was so wrong. So wrong wrong. Because Rat Queens is….I just love it. I feel like it’s everything I was subsconciously asking for in media and someone’s just given it to me in comic form. SO GOOD.

The story followss an all female gang/adventuring group of mercenaries in a fantastical world with orcs and dwarves and and elves and giant squid-gods and magic mushrooms and sarcasm. It’s basically Discworld with more girls. I feel like Violet might be my cosplay destiny and all-around bro.  Can’t wait for the next one.

5 GIANT STARS


 

the wicked + the divine coverThe Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act

The premise of The Wicked + The Divine is that, every ninety years, twelve gods from across human history come to earth and inhabit the bodies of teenagers. They quickly become inspirational, famous, and notorious figures – celebrities, actors, and popstars in the current cycle. But within two years every teen is dead and the cycle continues on for another ninety years.

The artwork is completely gorgeous but I was a little bit squicked by the ‘live fast die young leave a beautiful corpse premise’. It’s very macabre: worshipping the cult of youth, and the perfect dead celebrity, tokens of our messed up society. But actually this weirdness, wrongness, was explored eventually which made the whole thing a lot more interesting.

4 out 5 stars


 

Serenity coverSerenity: Those Left Behind

This is the first of the Firefly graphic novels continuing on from the TV series. Whilst it was fun to return to that world, and the dialogue and story felt true to that, the artwork just was really varied and just couldn’t live up to comparison with memories of the actual people that were meant to be depicted. Fun but not something I’ll be continuing.

 3 out of 5 stars

 

 


 

So that’s been by reading month for March a varied but extremely good month overall!

And a huge thank you to those who recommended things for my first graphic novel explorations. I couldn’t have asked for a better start!

Love and rockets
EJ
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