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.

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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!

 

 

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.

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
x

Where to get started with graphic novels?

This week’s video comes in two parts. As ever you can read a text version underneath the video.
  • Part 1: A Hugo Award readalong!
  • Part 2: Graphic Novels.

Part 1 – Hugo Award Readalong!

If you were watching my videos as far back as last year then you may remember that I read all the Hugo award nominees between April and August (when the ceremony happens). I was planning on doing so again and now the lovely Nicole over at Nicole’s Adventures in Science Fiction has organised a read along group on Goodreads. So if you want to join in and chat with me, and everyone else, about the awards and the books, then come over and say hi!
Myself, Nicole and a few other youtubers will also be doing a live show about the nominees on Saturday April 11th – I’ll keep you posted.

Where to start with Graphic Novels?

graphic novels covers

I have noticed with my sleuth like senses that there’s a whole world of books that I’m missing out on. They’re creeping into my library rubbing shoulders with the science fiction section, they’re in the bookshop with their back to front covers, and apparently all of you are already reading them. I am talking of course about graphic novels and comics. They’re everywhere and everyone reads them. Except me.
The extent of my graphic novel experience, if you can call it that, is Garfield and Our Wullie. Newspaper cartoons. Oh and I once tried to read an Arkham Asylum graphic novel years ago but apparently Batman just isn’t my thing.
Saga #1 cover imageBut then I got given a Star Trek: The Next Generation graphic novel omnibus which I never knew was a thing so now I’m kind of interested to try it out and while I’m there I might as well try a few other things!
So today’s post isn’t really me talking to you about graphic novels (because I know nothing), it’s me asking you guys questions about graphic novels. Where do I start? How do I know what sort of stuff to try out? Like I don’t even know if there are like different genre names or something. Oh sweet universe I hate being the noob. Be nice.
Mostly it’s can you give me some recommendations? Please! I’m looking for things in my areas of interest already – so science fiction, a bit of weird fantasy, and things with cool female characters. But mostly science fiction. Things that will hold my attention because I have a tendency to just read the words which kind of misses the point of the whole exercise. I’ve already had a recommendation from Amanda, whose comics channel is very lovely, for Locke & Key by Joe Hill. And also before you all tell me – yes I will try Saga.

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.

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

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