Cthulu Mama! Review of The Female Factory

Female Factory coverAuthor: Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter

Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press

Publication Date: December 2014

Length: Short story collection (146 pages)

Format I read: Paperback

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

An excellent little collection of short stories, The Female Factory is the eleventh in Twelfth Planet’s eponymous Twelve Planets series – twelve books of short stories by some of Australia’s best female SFF writers. I’ve read a bunch of the previous twelve and they’ve all been excellent. This one’s definitely in the running for my favourite so far!


 

Hopeful mothers-to-be try everything. Fertility clinics. Pills. Wombs for hire. Babies are no longer made in bedrooms, but engineered in boardrooms. A quirk of genetics allows lucky surrogates to carry multiple eggs, to control when they are fertilised, and by whom—but corporations market and sell the offspring. The souls of lost embryos are never wasted; captured in software, they give electronics their voice. Spirits born into the wrong bodies can brave the charged waters of a hidden billabong, and change their fate. Industrious orphans learn to manipulate scientific advances, creating mothers of their own choosing. From Australia’s near-future all the way back in time to its convict past, these stories spin and sever the ties between parents and children.

I was once taught that, in the gothic, the grotesque body can be encapsulated by things that are ‘of the body and yet not of the body’. Hair on your head is good, cut hair on the floor of the barbershop is repellant. The female body is accordingly a more grotesque body than the male. It is a leaking vessel – bleeding, producing milk, and, worst of all, birthing children. Pregnancy is a very literal moment of a body containing something that is of the body and yet not of it and children are the walking, talking embodiment of it.  The female body is thus a creator of gothic.

As a theory it’s at once hideously sexist and incredibly cool. Because who doesn’t want to be Cthulu-mama?

teeny octopus

 

Anyway……The uncanny nature of reproduction is captured in these four stories in a way that leaves you feeling like they really could just come true at any moment. They are gleefully, creepily, almost normal.

The IVF treatments controlled by giant corporations, unwanted embryos captured in software, risking death to change our trapped selves, female bodies controlled, taken apart, and constructed by those around them. Something in each story feels very familiar and despite their fantastical or science fictional settings. It’s that little hook back to real life that leaves you wondering, worrying, waiting for it all to come true.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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The best thing ever? Uncanny Magazine #2

Cover of Uncanny 2 by Julie DillonFirst on my list of ‘things I should have reviewed ages ago’ (aka never do an MSc) is Uncanny Magazine #2.

I reviewed Issue One back in January and enjoyed it a lot so I had high hopes for the second issue.

Imagine my hopes, if you will, as shiny little glass ornaments, sitting quietly on the mantelpieces occasionally shining in a bit of sun. And then Uncanny #2 comes along and it smashes them. Shattered them. Ground them down into sand.

And then remade them into sparkling shining pillar of shimmer wonderment and art. What I am clumsily trying to say here is ZOMG, SO GOOD, SO DAMNED GOOD.

Six stories, three poems, two interviews, and a handful of articles = 5 gleaming stars of perfection.


The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History by Sam J. Miller 

A strange history of the Stonewall Riots that brings a touch of that eponymous uncanny to the telling. What if those events were even more revolutionary than we know? What if strange things were sparked in heat of the battle? I enjoyed how Miller managed to keep this story focused on the importance of the real events whilst simultaneously adding a layer of weird uncertainty. Clever, engaging, well told. 5 stars.

Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu
This was one of the science fiction stories that conjures up an idea so totally intriguing that I find myself thinking about it weeks and months later. Set in a future Beijing that rotates and folds in on itself to allow for three separate versions of itself to exist – with citizens of each placed in a kind of hibernation whilst their city is folded away. The concept and description of it alone are brilliant on their own. But, Jingfang uses the strange manipulations of physical space and time to highlight the inequality of life that exists in this city, and in our own world, and it just blew me away. Totally magnificent. 5 stars

Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained by Sunny Moraine
A story narrated by an amputee to their new artificial arm, this may well be the most unusual story I’ve read for a while. I found the narrator’s struggles to accept this strange new limb to be really thought provoking – it’s something so often held up as a purely positive experience but one which must require huge mental readjustment. Plus the gradual creep into the weird uncanny finish was masterfully done. 5 stars

Anyone With a Care for Their Image by Richard Bowes
A strange future world where people appear in public via the means of lifelike robot dolls whose actions are recorded as part of the person’s online presence. It’s playing with a very literal version of the idea of avatars and how we chose to represent ourselves online. 4 stars

Pockets by Amal El-Mohtar
A sweet story about someone who keeps finding the strangest things in their pockets. And I mean the strangest: antique maps, flintlock pistols, trombones, definitely not things that live in pockets. Beautifully written, as one would expect from a poet, this was a light and lovely piece. 4 stars

The Nalendar by Ann Leckie
A classic piece from Leckie this is a reprint of one of her stories from 2008. But it way my first read and, damn, it’s good! A young woman travelling along a river in a world overflowing with gods is drawn into a quest and forced to face the one person she was trying to run away from. It tackles ideas about power – in terms of both supernatural and the power we hold over ourselves and others. Leckie manages to tackle this big idea whilst keeping the tone of the story remarkably light and playful. 5 stars

Poetry
I didn’t mention the poetry in my last review but I feel like that was a mistake. The three poems in this issue are so very good. Each deals with an aftermath and each left my heart aching.

  • After the Moon Princess Leaves by Isabel Yap
  • After the Dance by Mari Ness
  • archival testimony fragments / minersong by Rose Lemberg

There are also interviews with Ann Leckie and Hao Jingfang and non-fiction essays about nerd rock, women in conventions, and the politics of writing comfortable characters. All very much worth reading.


This is a magazine that really feels like it has an identity already. The sense of uncannyruns through all the selected pieces and brings them together – that (un)familiar feeling, the need for a second glance, the known become unknown. Issue #3 is already out and ready for reading so get over to Uncanny Magazine and spread the joy.

Great Science Fiction Authors

 

Hello lovely humans. Today’s video is all about some great SF authors. I’ve spoken briefly in a previous video about how I’ve found that familiarity with author’s names or books can help us want to pick them up or spot them in the bookshop. Well, today I want to share with you a whole bunch of well known and not so well known SF authors and tell you a little tiny bit about them to share the love and introduce those new SF to some great names. And if you’re interested in trying some new things maybe you’ll pick them up too. Plus I’d really love to know if you’ve got any recommendations for more SF authors that I should know about or missed out. But enough ramble, let’s get going (a written version of the entire thing is below the video).

Ursula Le GuinUrsula Le Guin – the obvious. No list is complete without her. An American born in 1929 and first published in the 1960s she is the undisputed queen of science fiction and fantasy. Her Hainish cycle of interlinked but standalone works incorporate some of her very best science fiction novels including The Left Hand of Darkness and Planet of Exile. Read her for beautiful prose and ideas bigger than the books.


 

AlietteAliette de Bodard is a French-American author who writes some of the most enchanting but often dark short works of science fiction. In particular her Xuya universe set in an alternate history future of mindships and space stations controlled by human minds implanted into the technology.

 


CJ Cherryh

 

C.J. Cherryh is an american author who has published over 60 novels since 1970s. Just woah. Her original degree was in classics and I feel like this shows through with the really deep way her worlds are drawn with histories and beliefs and languages that inform the present of their situation. One of her best known book is Downbelow Station which won the 1982 Hugo Award and is very good.

 


octavia

Octavia Butler is another one of science fiction great names. She published from the early 1970s until just before her death in 2006 exploring ideas about society, race, gender, alienation, all kinds of things and often using science fictional themes to reflect the lives of african-american in the 20th century.

 


Joanna

Joanna Russ was an american writer of science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction best known for her strong feminist stance. She wrote a lot of short fiction and literary criticism and was extremely critical of the male-dominated science fiction industry. Two of her best known works are The Female Man set on a world much like ours but with only one sex, and How to Suppress Women’s Writing a terrifyingly still relevant guidebook.


 

KameronKameron Hurley is an american writer I only discovered recently and her work is just so interesting. It’s this amazing combination of science fiction and fantasy brought together in brutal and cleverly imagined worlds that play with your ideas about society and technology and what science fiction and fantasy can be all at the same time.

 


James Tiptree Jr

James Tiptree Jr was an american science fiction author who is held up as the person who broke down the idea that science fiction writing was inherently gendered. Because James was actually Alice Sheldon. In addition to smashing people’s preconceptions when her identity was revealed her works also have astrong feminist voice and she has a literary award named in her honour.

 


Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie – moon of my life, my sun and stars, writer of the all award winning Ancillary Justice AKA the best book ever. Ever. In addition to the nearly complete imperial Radch series Leckie has been writing short fiction for many years and it is very very very good.

 


 

LoisLois McMaster Bujold is an american multi-Hugo award winning superduper star of SFF. She’s well known for both her fantasy series and her science fiction work. The Vorkosigan Saga is a huge sprawling series of space opera novels about an intergalactic mercenary spy detective guy. Fun times.

 


Pat CadiganPat Cadigan has been a science fiction editor and author of both novels and short fiction. She is usually known as a cyberpunk author – her writing is all wrapped up with the ideas of the human brain and its interaction with technology and how that affects our perceptions of reality.

 


Connie Willis

Connie Willis is a science fiction author with a whole lot of awards to her name. 11 Hugos, a handful of Nebulas, and a bunch more. Probably best known for her works incorporating time travel she creates big seriously studied worlds that question the effect of technology on society but whilst also maintaining a sense of fun.

 


Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author of both science fiction and fantasy and works that blur the boundaries between. She brings in elements of mythology, fairytale and folklore and incorporates them into strangely familiar visions of the future.

 


 

Well there you go. That’s quite a long selection but far far from complete. Yes, I’m aware that this list turned out to be all women – and? It more than stands up to any other list of great authors I could have made so don’t even try and sulk. I’d love to hear your suggestion for great science fiction authors that I failed to include or don’t yet know about or if you’ve read any of these guys and want to squee about them then please talk to me in the comments or over on twitter.

Ciao

EJ

x

Friday Reads – 6 March 2015

 Long time, no see!

looming shark

I feel like I’ve forgotten something important…

Oh my goodness, hey there.

Yeah, first up huuuuuuuuuuge apologies for slacking on the blog front. Thanks for sticking with me. Still not quite got a handle on balancing  blog, videos, assignments, and work. It’ll happen, I’m sure. Just keep swimming right?!

 

On the plus side of things I am finally settling into some books and reading them all the way through. This in contrast to last month where I started six different books and didn’t finish a single one of them.

 So what am I reading at the moment?

Strange genre-blurring books of wonderment, that’s what! Read on my precious, read on.


Lagoon cover image

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor 

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

So far I am adoring this story. It mixes science fiction, fairytale, and a disturbing look at reality to create a very weird world for the reader to inhabit. Plus, that cover. Squiiiiiiiiiiiiid.

Lagoon is currently shortlisted for the BSFA Award.


God's War cover

God’s War by Kameron Hurley

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx is the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war–but at what price?

Brutal and fast paced this book has had me gripped from the first line.  Hurley’s worlds are like nothing else in SFF. Part fantasy, part science fiction, they are horribly, vividly believable. Religion, science, planetary colonisation, war, blood, and bugs. You can’t look away.


Et tu, darlings?

What about you guys? What are you all reading at the moment or planning to read over the weekend? Anything super exciting I neeeeeeed to know about? (I may have acquired an amazon voucher that needs spending…)

Happy reading!

EJ

 

February – Not enough reading?

My video on Wednesday was meant to be my standard end of the month wrap-up of everything I’d read until I realised I’ve actually hardly finished anything this month. I was all set to abandon that plan and do something else when it got me wondering about why I felt it necessary to conceal how little I’d read. Why is it shameful to have been busy, for other areas of my life to have taken priority for a few weeks? It’s really not. So in the video I talk about that very briefly before showing the things that I did finish and a bunch of books I started but haven’t completed. As ever, a transcript is below the video.

 

So often when you’re in the world of book blogging and book tubing things are very much focused on quantity. How many books have you read this week, this month, this year. How many have you bought. How fast can you get through a book. How many pages can read in this sprint.

Well fuck it. Congratulations I finished two books this month and they were mostly started in January anyway. But you know what I also got a whole bunch of assignments done and wrote my thesis proposal and had a birthday. And that’s a good thing.

I don’t want this to turn into a rant about whether or how we put pressure on ourselves and on the people who watch these videos to read more and faster and competitively which I don’t think are good thing. I just wanted to not put out this false image that I am someone who is always reading. I’m not.

But this is a book blog/channel so for the rest of the video I’m going to show you the magnificent two things I finished this month and all the things I did not read. You’ll see.


 

Ammonite cover A new planet

First up there was Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. This won the Lambda Literary award for LGBT fiction and the James Tiptree award that’s given out for SFF that expands our understanding of gender. So as you can probably guess this book explores some interesting issues. It’s based on a planet that for hundreds of years has only been populated by women. Earth’s armed forces attempted to make contact and lost half their forces to the disease. Now an anthropologist called Marge Taishan is risking death by testing out a new vaccine and trying to find out how these women survive and continue to reproduce. As her examinations begin to reveal much of the dark hidden histories, Marge realises that her actions are threatening to change the entire society just as it is already changing her.

It’s well written and exciting and such an interesting way of completely taking apart societies into their composite pieces and just having ago at rearranging them and building some new.
Ammonite – 4 out of 5 stars.


 

Golem and Djinni cover A new world

Then there was The Golem and The Djinni by Helene Wecker. This book was just enchanting. It’s set in 19th century New York where a thousand year old Djinni and brand new masterless golem woman are both arriving along with the thousands of immigrants who began new lives in America during this period. Both can pass as human with some difficulties and during the course of their adventures they meet and strike up an unlikely friendship.

It is a beautiful and fantastical read but also full of big ideas. I felt like it was very much rooted in ideas about duology of the self. One of these is the idea of immigration and the two selves that brings. For the golem and the djinni this is their supernatural selves and their human facades but they are surrounded by characters who must do the same with their old national identities and their new american ones. And then there’s the internal self with it’s anxieties and terrible thoughts and the face we must present to society. It’s brilliant and clever and I loved it.

The Golem and The Djinni – 5 out 5 stars.


 

All the things we cannot read

So that’s all things I actually finished this month but I thought I’d also show you what happens when I am stressed and feel like I should be reading. I start things. And then I start other things. These are all the books I did not read this month.

  • Half of The Female Factory by Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter. It’s a collection of short fiction all about reproduction and so far it’s really amazing and it’s ridiculous that I haven’t just finished it because it’s only 146 pages long.
  • The first few pages of An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay. Put down because I know it’s going to be hardcore emotionally harrowing and that was not what I needed in the middle of having a breakdown about my thesis.
  • About 50 pages of Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold. A fun fantasy romp about an ex-sword for hire turned brothel mistress who is forced to take up her sword once again. It sounds great but it just didn’t happen because I’m a big fail.
  • And the first two chapters of Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins which I got out of the library after a recommendation from Steph over at Stephanie Spines and Tim and oh my god they were two amazing amazing chapters. I will read this entire thing soon. I just couldn’t at the time. but seriously check it out.
  • And 50 pages of God’s War by Kameron Hurley. Yet another fantasy about a badass female mercenary. Seeing some kind of suppressed rage issues going on here with the choice of books. Anyway it’s excellent so far.

I’ve also read a metric ton of Avengers fan fiction because that’s all my brain is good for after a day of writing about research funding but the less we say about that the less likely I’ll have to put an adult rating on this post. Because oh my.


 

In conclusion…

Looking back that’s actually a month full of reading but just not finishing things. Oh me. You are a one.

My plan for March is to definitely finish God’s War because I’ve now got it on audiobook which is a lot easier to fit in around work and stuff. And I’m also meant to be joining in with a read along for Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor which is being led by Nicole of Nicole’s Adventure’s in SFF. Who knows how that’ll go. And maybe I’ll try and finish some of this lot.

Things I Like Thursday (on Friday)

Joyful salutations and happy things. Things I Like Thursdays is a new semi-regular feature where I can point out things that have caught my eye over the past week or two and I invite you to tell me other fun things that you’ve been loving. These might be new or upcoming books, interesting articles from around the web, videos from other booktubers, what-the fuck-ever.

The fact that the very first one of these is coming out on a Friday should illustrate the current state of organisation in my life.

Anyway, let’s get loving. [That sounded way dodgier than intended!]


Ammonite by Nicola Griffith

AmmoniteYou can actually blame this book (I am) for this post not going up yesterday. I sat down to read it for ten minutes and then eight chapters later it was time for bed! It stole my whole evening and I can’t even be mad because it’s so good!

I wrote about it the other week for Friday reads.

 

Queers Destroy Science Fiction essays

All our rockets are powered by sparkly gay feels.

All our rockets are powered by sparkly gay feels.

I backed this amazing Kickstarter campaign for a special edition of Lightspeed magazine dedicated to queer SFF without a second of hesitation. What I hadn’t noticed in my rush to the ‘take my money and give me all the queer goodies’ button was that they’re already publishing a series of essays to support this campaign by a whole host of Queer authors, editors, creators and bloggers.

Every single one has been making me smile and/or cry and that can only say good things about how amazing the actual anthology is going to be. A new one is being added as an update to the kickstarter every few days. There are only 10 days left in the campaign and I totally suggest backing it, reading all the essays, and getting very excited for the release date in June.

 Marvel’s Announcement of an All-Female The Avengers

Holy crap you guys. For this I really will start reading comics. I’ve watched almost all the Marvel movies and enjoyed them (though I’m still waiting impatiently for a fucking Black Widow movie, I mean seriously). And every so often I wonder if I should try reading some of the comics. I never actually picked them up though.

Me and graphic novels don’t get on very easily as I have trouble paying sufficient attention to the images without totally pulling myself out of the words but we try and get along from time to time. But for this I will damn well learn how to do it.

My bae Ronnie and the uncanny world of digitisation

Ron Lit is the best book channel and person on YouTube. She is a queen who can take academic critical theory and make it more fun than kitties and rainbows. Most of her content focuses on the classics, particularly 18th century badasses, but her most recent vid goes straight into the realms of science fiction: What happens when books go digital? 

I’m lucky enough to call Ron a friend and we talked last year about the ideas behind digitisation that I’m more familiar with from my escapades in SFF and my time working in libraries so I feel like I’ve got a little stake in this video. ❤

 Many Ancillary Justice related things

It’s official. I’m totally obsessed with all things Ancillary Justice (and Sword, and Mercy). I’ve already read Ancillary Justice twice and I’m contemplating another go so I can then re-read Ancillary Sword because I am looking at the calendar and realising quite how long it is until Ancillary Mercy comes out and I need more Breq in my life before October.

So to fend off the worst of my Ancillary-related cravings I’ve been enjoying the fruits of the fandom. Including:

This gif explanation of Seivarden:

Every other character discussing Seivarden: “Her speech is so old-fashioned and elegant! They just don’t speak like that anymore, todays youth ought to follow her example!”

Seivarden:

It's just so lyrical.

It’s just so lyrical.

This amazing piece of fan art.

Seivarden and Breq

Seivarden and Breq by isozyme. Click the image to go to their blog and see the full size wonderment.

The cover of the Subterranean Press printing of AJ.

It was very limited edition and is already totally sold-out. Not that I don’t adore the original covers but this is so close to my mental image of Breq and Seivarden. ❤

Ancillary Justice Cover

From subterraneanpress.com

This tiny little ficlet set in the world of Ancillary Sword

Without Means by tanyant [493 words]. I just love how it’s a minuscule glance back into the world of Breq and it certainly feels like it could almost be part of it. Teeny tiny not-really even a proper spoiler warning for book two (just in case you’re one of those people who likes to know nothing before they read the book).


 

So my lovely humans, tell me, what have you been loving this week? And what should I be checking out over the weekend?


 

Sparkly rocket love

(because I just found this clipart and it’s too cute)

EJ

Rainbow Rocket

Review – Clarkesworld #100

Issue 100

Issue 100

Late last year I backed the Clarkesworld Chinese Science Fiction Translation Project and my reward was to get a bunch of issues. The first of those, the bumper-sized Issue 100, arrived on 1st January and it was filled with some tasty SFF goodness!

Clarkesworld is pretty well established as a damn good place to get good short fiction and this issue didn’t disappoint. You can read (and listen) to all the stories and non-fiction pieces in this issue for free over on the Clarkesworld website or get an ebook subscription for a small fee.

Overall this issue gets a 4.5 stars from me. Some truly excellent stories from a few of my favourites but a couple of odd ones too. Individual stories (but not the non-fiction) are rated below.


Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight by Aliette de Bodard
One of de Bodard’s Mindships stories – a loose collection of works that all take place within the same universe but each stand alone. This is a beautiful tale of death, grief and mourning but also of life continuing along and thriving. It captures that essence of grieving – that moment when something so dear to us is ripped away that we feel that the entire world should have stopped in recognition. Bu it doesn’t. It never does. Because no one person, no matter how important or vital they may be to us or to a community, is vital. Life goes on. de Bodard has a light touch is this tale and I’m left tantalised and wanting to spend more time in this unique world. 4.5 stars

A Universal Elegy by Tang Fei
I don’t really know what to say about this one. It’s so very damn weird and that it left me kind of creeped out and I couldn’t say that I enjoyed it but it was clever and it was intriguingly written. Letters sent to a dear brother tell the story of a hopeless romantic who constantly falls for abusive men suddenly whisked away by a handsome alien to a world where creeping plants might be in charge and memory is held in the body. Strange, strange, strange. 2.5 stars

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer
What if the reason there’s so many cat pictures online is because Google likes them? And I mean Google as in the search-engine become sentient, obviously. That’s the premise of this wonderfully funny little story told from the computer’s perspective. Given that it knows pretty much all about our lives but can only help us through search results and adverts, how will it choose to help those who give it the best cat pictures? Cuteness embodied. 4 stars

The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary by Kij Johnson
An A-Z of fantastical creatures that dwell in the modern-day apartment rather than the dungeons and forests of yore. Through the descriptions of the creatures’ habits and the story-tellers experiences with them we learn about life, love, and loneliness in the big city. An intriguing concept that was touching in places but felt a little too long by the time we got to the end of the alphabet. 3 stars

Ether by Zhang Ran
In a world where everything is just, well, kind of boring and normal, one man begins to question if maybe things didn’t used to be this way. Didn’t people used to argue about things on the internet? And weren’t protests held about things other than polite suggestions for lawn maintenance? So he starts to look, and question, and wonder. And then the shit doth hitteth the fan…eth. This was good thriller/sf combination that managed to combine fast action, a fun ‘scientific’ premise, and some interesting thoughts about protest and freedom of communication. 3.5 stars

The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild by Catherynne M. Valente
A stunning, wonderous rainbow of a story that is nigh on impossible to describe because it’s all about the language and the descriptions and the pacing. Masterfully written, it tells us about the life of Violet who lives in the land of purple (everything’s purple, just go with it) that also happens to be the wild west (it makes total sense when she tells it, I promise). There are also family tensions, pictures that give advice, a unicorn of grief, and the intriguing lands of blue and red beckoning on the horizon. 5 Perfect, magical, shiny rainbow stars. 

An Exile of the Heart by Jay Lake
Like Romeo and Juliet except on a space station. And with lesbians. And they don’t kill themselves like nitwits. Actually not really like Romeo and Juliet at all then. Except, you know, an epic love story across two houses. Whatever. It’s pretty damn cool. 4 stars

The Wind Blowing, and This Tide by Damien Broderick
An alien spacecraft has been discovered on one of Saturn’s moons, preserved behind a forcefield, covered in a blanket of flowers. It’s quite the image to start with and sets a thoughtful solemn tone for what could otherwise be at time slightly funny. Set in a science fictional future with space bases across the solar system, this future also has psychics and a theory that dinosaurs were intelligent space-faring beings. It sounds funny but somehow it’s carried perfectly seriously and you’re entirely focused on the far more human tale of the narrator’s history and emotions. A reminder that no matter the grandeur and weirdness of SFF we only ever see it on our own human scale. 4 stars

Laika’s Ghost by Karl Schroeder
This felt like a cross between classic science fiction and one of those old cold war spy novels. A UN weapons inspector must help to escort a American political refugee to a hiding place in Europe and investigate reports of worrying activities on former Soviet nuclear test sites. The two obviosuly turn out to be connected and then there’s bad men from Google and the government and a die-hard USSR splinter group and chases and mysteries and FUN. A really well paced and enjoyable story with characters who managed to feel very real despite the short word count and plot that felt straight out of the golden age. 4 stars

I’m not reviewing the non-fiction but I wasn’t overly enamoured with any of it in this issue though #PurpleSF by Cat Rambo was a nice inspiring piece.

Don’t forget you can read all the stories for free on the Clarkesworld website or subscribe to the ebook versions for a small fee.

Rereads – The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere by John Chu

Water drops splashing I first read The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere last year when it was announced as a nominee for the Hugo Awards.

It floored me with its simple and elegant telling of a man trying to come out to his family. The SF-nal twist is that, at an unspecified point in the past, water began falling from nowhere onto the heads of those who told lies. The concept is strange and somehwat unsettling on first meeting – why, you want to know, has this happened? I don’t know, my sweets, it’s never explained and I never thought to ask. Because soon enough the thing you care about isn’t the fantastical but the human. The sweet, sad, achingly familiar dilemma of having to reveal a part of yourself to people whose judgement has the power to hurt you very deeply.

Add to this the problems of crossing cultures and generations, of (mis)translation and (mis)understanding and you can probably see why I fell in love with this story, put it at the top of my ballot, and cried actual tears watching John Chu’s acceptance speech when he won.

I decided to re-read it recently because I wanted to introduce my lovely friend Jason to the wonders of SFF. And so I read the entire thing out loud over the phone and fell in love all over again (and Jason did too). It’s amazing what just a few months distance can do to your memory of things – I’d completely forgotten the heart-achingly familiar ending, my own mind had inflated the amount of time I thought was spent on scenes I saw as important, and the added layer of misunderstanding provided by untranslated Chinese characters – gone.

The story I’d been remembering was good but I’d changed it somehow, perhaps to be something more similar to my own experiences, perhaps to cut out the quivering uncertainty I felt as I reread the ending and came close to tears. I don’t know. But it’s made me wonder about just about every other book I’ve read – what have I forgotten, what have I rewritten to suit my own narrative, and what should I reread next?

 

Review – Uncanny Magazine #1

Issue 1

Issue 1


[This post was edited as I wrongly stated that Michael was editor of QDSF. He contributed an essay but is not editing. He did co-edit Queers Dig Time Lords though which is very shiny.]

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I helped to kickstart a new SFF magazine called Uncanny. The first issue shipped way back in early November and I FINALLY got around to finishing it just the other day. My bad.

Because, obviously, Uncanny Magazine is a shiny jewel of wonderousness. There was no way it wasn’t going to be because it’s edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas who have an amazing history of editorship (Is that even a word? Am I just making shit up now?!) and who, from their twitter feeds, appear to be two of the nicest humans on earth. Incidentally Michael has contributed an essay as part of Queers Destroy Science Fiction, a Lightspeed special edition issue that is kickstarting RIGHT NOW. I highly recommend backing it and also reading Michael’s essay in the updates section which had me in tears yesterday.

The magazine they’ve put together is something rather special and most certainly lives up to its name. Each story and poem was pleasantly odd – definitely science fiction and fantasy, but strange and slippery like they don’t want to be held to those definitions too tightly, their shapes shifting and blurred at the edges. Interviews and non-fiction also provided lots of a food for thought. I’m intrigued to see how this style is carried over into another issue and if it continues to shape the magazine’s content in the future.

Individual stories get mini-reviews below. Overall rating: 5 stars.

If You Were a Tiger I’d Have to Wear White by Maria Dahvana Headley 
Weirdly dark tale set in Jungleland, a Hollywood retirement complex for the celebrity animals like Leo the MGM lion. Think of the song The Piano Has Been Drinking by Tom Waits, add in the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas darkness and sleaze, some faded and chipped Hollywood glamour, and then let the animals start talking. Grimy and beautiful and heart-wrenching. 3.5 stars. 

Presence by Ken Liu 
A son cares for his dying mother through the means of a remotely-operated care robot – allowing him to be present, yet absent. In such a short piece Liu manages to cover so much that I wonder how to get it all into a review let alone how he turned it into a beautiful story. The benefits of technology and their amazing ability to connect us across the world whilst simultaneously failing to do exactly that. It is also the story of emigration, of families divided by distance, by culture, and generations. It is beautiful. 4.5 stars. 

Late Nights at the Cape and Cane by Max Gladstone
Supervillains in their off-hours congregate at the Cape and Cane for few beers and commiserations between colleagues. Except this time it’s a bit too real, and one villain has to face up to the consequences of his actions and his emotions. A wonderful bit of superhero life that you don’t usually get to see. 4 stars. 

Celia and the Conservation of Entropy by Amelia Beamer
At first just a cute little story about a girl who manages to time travel back to see her Grandfather when he was writing a book about time travel. The style stays sweet and simplistic but the concepts start making your head loop. But the concepts start making your head loop. pool daeh rouy gnikam trats stpecnoc eht tuB. 3.5 stars

Migration by Kat Howard
A strange and beautiful tale of two dying women in a world where souls are carried to the afterlife and then back to their reincarnated bodies by different birds. The plot is simple but the telling is elegant. 4 stars

The Boy Who Grew Up by Christopher Barzak
A strange little tale about a teenage boy who runs away from problems at home only to find Peter Pan who takes him away in a boat to Neverland. A story of growing-up and the tragedies of children’s lives that make them want to never do that. 3.5 stars

Her Fingers Like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors by Jay Lake
A stunning piece from the late Jay Lake that tells of the guardians of the door of death, of cancer, and loss, and is filled with so much anger and joy and passion for the world that I just don’t know how to tell you about it. 5 stars

Additionally I totally recommend Tansy Raynor Roberts’ piece Does Sex Make Science Fiction Soft?. A wonderful look at some of the things SFF could (and should) learn from the romance genre.

Go forth and get it for yourselves – Uncanny Magazine is available for free and for subscribers (subscribers get content earlier – yay!).

Review – Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

coverThe first part of the 10-book Malazan Book of the Fallen series this novel is pretty notorious among fantasy fans for being a complex world to get into. I was warned multiple times that it would “baffling” and “crazy” but to keep going and trust the author because all would become clear. I mean,with warnings like that I was expecting the damned Voynich manuscript (seriously, look it up, it’s amazing). So I put on my big girl socks and prepared myself for an intense reading experience…….

…….……. Seriously you guys, WTF? This isn’t weird or crazy or difficult or complicated. It’s standard drill, dragons and assassins, taken to pieces by Terry Pratchett,  epic fantasy. That’s it. All those warnings about complexity are because the author doesn’t really do much in the way of info-dumping, instead relying on you to pick up information through dialogue and descriptions of things that characters see. And without meaning huge amounts of offence to my fellow readers – was that really so difficult for you?

What, like it's hard?

All this should not suggest that I hated the book, I didn’t. I just don’t understand the hype. But let’s move on to a discussion of what the book is rather than what it is is not. Gardens of the Moon is based around the vast Malazan Empire whose massive armies are conquering neighbouring cities and states in a seemingly never-ending reign of terror. We follow a host of different characters who come together in Darujihstan, next on the Empire’s list for destruction. There’s grizzled soldiers, possessed teenage killers, gods, monsters and demons galore. It is, to be fair to all those aforementioned fans, pretty damned epic in scale. And this one book is just a tiny slice of what’s to come. So much is hinted at, so much is set up ready for a vast unraveling plot of wonder, that you can practically feel this giant world unfolding in front of you.

But, my sweet darlings, this promise of things to come is not an entirely good thing. 700+ pages is not a length I find acceptable for a setup. There was action, there were story arcs that arc in a fairly satisfying manner but goddamn there was a whole mess of unanswered questions just left in a big tangled heap. I’ve been promised by those who have read the entire series that many of these things will be answered but too many of them were introduced far too late for me to be satisfied with that as my answer. One particularly grating example came at the denouement when the big bad is (of course) defeated by the appearance of a never before seen or mentioned god tree thing. Fucking deus ex machina. Well, deus ex abore really. You get my point. I have been assured that it is explained in later books but my dissatisfaction remains. Long plot arcs rock, clunky individual parts do not.

I think that the characters and world that have were begun in this book are wonderful in their detail but I’m not sure that the detail can make up for what was essentially a pretty standard fantasy world with some boilerplate characters and settings – assassins guild, night-watchmen, master spy in plain sight, mysterious dark anti-hero, grizzled soldier with true honour and a tight knit crew – did you read Discworld? Yes, it’s likely better written and more complex than metric fuckton of fantasy out there. But writing the same damn fantasy novel in more detail does not a perfect read make.

Maybe I’m being overly harsh, maybe I need to read more of the series to give it a fair go, but this one book didn’t do it for me.

But everybody likes me

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5