A queer rainbow TBR

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

 


Red

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

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


 

Orange

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


 

Yellow & Green 

Babel-17 cover

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

 


 

Blue

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


 

Purple

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


 

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

rainbow rocket

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Things I Like Thursday – 11th June 2015

It’s been a long day at work so I thought I’d count my ducklings (who doesn’t love ducklings) and talk about all things that I’ve been loving recently.

duckling

Women in SFF

I love discovering and celebrating SFF writers. I mean, obviously, that’s why I’m here writing blog posts and making videos. I will eternally be in awe of those people who can weave words into worlds.  To this end I’ve been happily discovering a host of great women writers.

Twitter love

The #femmeSFF tag on twitter has been joyous this evening. Hundreds of posts dedicated to reminding us of the great women authors of SFF who are all too often ignored and pushed to the side while their male counterparts’ names are repeated ad infinitum.

I have some reservations about the appropriation of the word ‘femme’ in this context (removing it from the queer context seems inappropriate and kind of blind to the intersection of lesbian authors and readers) but I do appreciate the sentiment behind the movement. If you’re looking for a new book to read then get your eyeballs over to the tag on twitter.

SF MistressWorks

On a similar note I’ve also been browsing through the archives of the SF Mistressworks blog. Dedicated to reviewing and promoting great female authors of SF, this blog is a goldmine for discovering quite how many female authors there have always been in SFF.  Go there and let them blow your tiny mind with the pure greatness of the mistresses of SFF.

Mistressworks logo

The Martian gets a trailer

adored The Martian by Andy Weir when I first read it. This was science fiction that got my heart pumping, that made me stare up at the stars and look for Mars, it was man versus nature on the most extreme of scales.

Luckily it appears that just about everyone in the world agreed with me and they started making the movie. Adaptation is a scary business for fans. The ways in which you can fuck up my favourite things; LET ME COUNT THEM FOR YOU. Luckily this trailer looks gooooooood. I am cautiously optimistic. Let’s science the shit out of it.

 

Queers Destroy Science Fiction

Many moons ago (okay not that many) I wrote about backing the Lightspeed: QDSF Kickstarter. And on the 1st of June those darling humans delivered my copy. It is magic. The introductory essays had me in tears, happy and sad. I’m not finished reading it yet so I won’t go into any details but the fiction is fantastic. It makes me extraordinarily happy that there is both new fiction and old re-prints. Just like with the female authors that get forgotten, it’s so easy to say that SF history was largely straight and fail to mention the queer authors that were there all along, even if they were fewer in number. There have always been queer authors writing genre fiction and there always will be. Go read some of them over at Lightspeed Issue 61!

lightspeed


 

There are more squee-worth things to be discussed, of course, but these will suffice for today.

Until next time lovely humans.

x

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.

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

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!).

Friday Reads – 9th Jan 2015

I’ve just finished reading Jo Walton’s new book THE JUST CITY and about to get back into GARDENS OF THE MOON by Steven Erikson (as part of a booktube group read) but between the two there’s just enough time to fit in some short fiction. So here’s what I’ll be reading this weekend.


Issue 1

Issue 1

I helped to Kickstart the wonderful Uncanny Magazine back last year. Issue 1 came out in November and I started it but totally forgot to finish it and I’m missing out on so much. Even better Issue 2 arrived this week and OOOOOOOOOMG such a good contents page.

There’s a classic short by Ann Leckie (I LOVE HER), a translated piece from Hao Jingfang, poetry from Isabel Yap (whose short story A Cup of Salt Tears was one of my favourites of 2014), essays on nerd-rock & cosplay, and interviews with both Hao Jingfang and Ann Leckie. And that’s just a SAMPLE. This is an epic magazine people. You can get all the content for free over at their website though you’ll get it earlier if you’re a subscriber!


Issue 100

Issue 100

Another my recent Kickstarter funds has also borne fruit! Clarkesworld’s campaign to fund the publication of more Chinese SFF stories in translation caught my eye. Especially when they added the stretch goal for an additional fund for translating works in all kinds of other language as well!

I just received my first issue (#100) and it’s already amazing. The first story, Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight, is from Aliette de Bodard’s Mindships universe and was beyond beautiful. There’s also a story from Catherine M. Valente and, of course, a translated piece; ETHER by Zhang Ran.

You can get the whole issue over on their website for free. Or you can get an esubscription in all kinds of formats for a small fee.

Review – Skin in the Game by Sabrina Vourvoulias

Author: Sabrina Vourvoulias

Publisher: Tor.com

Publication Date: 3 December 2014

Format: Short story

Read it: free online at Tor.com


Starting 2015 right – an amazing story by Vourvoulias and one that is so very relevant to current events.

This short tells us about Jimena Villagrán, a police officer in Zombie City – a grimy downbeat precinct home only to addicts, dealers, and the homeless. But this is a city with magic and monsters of the supernatural variety as well the as the mundane kind. A spate of gruesome murders brings up a personal history that Jimena would rather stayed hidden and forces her to confront her heritage and question her place in her community.

First up, this is unquestionably a beautifully written piece. Vorvoulias is masterful is her creation of vividly realised characters and settings within such a short space. The story unfolds gradually, slowly leading you through each revelation until you see the whole. There were a remarkable number of characters but not one was under-described or without purpose, not one line felt out of place. Such is the beauty of short fiction.

The themes that this story deals with are difficult; racial and cultural heritage, identity, police relations to non-white characters, corruption and brutality, racism. That’s not a list of issues that I’d like to try and encapsulate in just a few thousand words. But I think this story manages to capture so much and with surprising delicacy and elegance.

One of the overwhelming images was that of complex identities, of multiple, layered selves that escape definition. This related to both the characters (” It’s not my name, but what she calls me…I’ve got more nicknames than I can keep track of”), the places (“…maps are pure fantasy. What is real doesn’t fit on a grid.”), the language, and the histories. And it made me think about how the news, and other stories we tell ourselves, seek to represent these things simply. But again and again things defy simplicty, they deny easy labels. Things are fluid, multiple and complex.

Rating: 4.5 stars