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

Title: SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

seven brief lessons cover 2

Author: Carlo Rovelli

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 2014

Length: 79 pages

Format I read: Paperback

Rating: 4 stars


THE BLURB

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

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


THoughts

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

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

But back to the subject at hand: science books!

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

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

Allow me to explain. It starts amicably enough:

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

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

OKAY THEN, RIGHT, THAT’S FINE. YOU CARRY ON. I’LL LEAVE MY BRAIN IN THIS PUDDLE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Doomsday Book by Connie WillisAuthor: Connie Willis

Publisher: Gollancz (and various others)

Publication Date: Originally July 1992.

Length: Novel (578 pages approx)

Format I read: Audiobook

Rating: 4.5/5

 


The Blurb

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

Sheldon sprays germs

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

 

On the Edge of Gone coverAuthor: Corrine Duyvis

Publisher: Amulet

Publication Date: 8 March 2016

Length: Novel (456 pages)

Format I read: ARC trade paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

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


 

The blurb

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

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

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

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

My thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date: 13 August 2015

Length: Novel (404 pages)

Format I read: hardback

Rating: 5/5

 


The blurb: 

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

rainbowheart2

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.

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!

Bow before King Neal: Review of Seveneves

Seveneves cover

Author: Neal Stephenson

Publisher: William Morrow

Publication Date: 19 May 2015

Length: Novel (880 pages)

Format I read: Hardback

 

 


What would happen if the world were ending?

When a catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb, it triggers a feverish race against the inevitable. An ambitious plan is devised to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere. But unforeseen dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain…

Five thousand years later, their progeny – seven distinct races now three billion strong – embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown, to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.


 

Stephenson is my KING. Like, for serious, y’all need to bow down before his giant brain! Seveneves is yet another masterwork of epic proportions that still somehow leaves me wanting more.

This is Stephenson turning his eye on the world of hard sf, imagining a complex but totally believable future for a humanity bereft of earth. In fact at one point I was having a total squee because he’s created a world where both the old sf imaginings of the future with their great dumb machines, and the newer sf with its knowledge of computers, come together to form this intriguing vision of the world.

And, for a book that deals with a lot of tech and the annihilation of a lot of the human race this is a book with a lot of heart and a careful focus on the human side of the equation. The characters were interesting and varied, some symapthetic, some heroic, some (very literally) screamingly awful.

Finally, Stephenson’s writing is wonderful; easy to read and yet injected with complex ideas and some lesser known nuggets of vocabulary, I always come out of his books feeling a little bit smarter than when I went in.

To conclude: OMFG, read this book.

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
x

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

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.