Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy | #LadyVaults

Hello lovely humans today I’m going to be talking about the author Marge Piercy and specifically her book Woman on the Edge of Time. This was the November pick for the LadyVaults book club and it was phenomenal.

You can watch this review as a video or continue to read the full text below.

Can’t see the video, try clicking this link: https://youtu.be/4T66Vhiwhlc

If you’ve no idea what the Lady Vaults Book Club is well it’s a monthly book club, read along buddy read thing where we explore works of speculative fiction by women. More information is in the launch video and the goodreads group.

But without further ado, let’s talk about Marge Piercy.

Marge Piercy is an American author born in 1936. She has published 17 novels some speculative fiction and some not, along with a veritable library of poetry.

She is notable for her involvement in political and social activism throughout the decades and was a significant feminist voice in 1960s and 70s new left movements including anti-war protests and women’s rights. Her fiction is very much informed by her political activism, her biography notes that she “always knew two things she wanted with regards to her writing career: she wanted to write fiction with a political dimension (Simone de Beauvoir was her model) and she wanted to write about women she could recognize, working class people who were not as simple as they were supposed to be”.

Her first published novel from 1969, Going Down Fast, a story following a group of young working class people who live in an urban slum set to be demolished, encompasses both of these aims. A New York Times review said it burned with anger and conviction, and those feelings carry through many of her works, including the one we are here to talk about today Woman on the Edge of Time.

Woman on the Edge of Time is an amazingly powerful book that is both utopian and dystopian, a vividly painted criticism of the contemporary world and an escapist fantasy, it is equal parts comforting and rage inducing, heartbreaking and yet offering hope.

First published in 1976, Woman on The Edge of Time follows Consuelo Ramos, a 36 year old Chicana woman living in the then contemporary New York city. Her husband is dead, her daughter has been removed from her for child abuse and adopted by another family, she has previously been institutionalised for mental health issues, and she is barely scraping by. But then at the start of the novel things get worse. Connie is trying to protect her pregnant niece from the niece’s pimp who wants her to get a back alley abortion. He beats Connie, calls the police and gets her institutionalised for attacking him. As opening chapters go it’s pretty brutal and bleak. The rest of the novel takes place within the mental hospital and is partly a searing criticism of the treatment of patients at the time.

But then the science fiction part kicks in. It turns out that Connie is able to communicate with the future, she is contacted by an androgynous person called Luciente who lives in 2137. Through conversations and then some weird kind of mental projection, Connie is able to explore this utopian future society which is essentially the 1960s left wing dream – sexually liberal, ecologically sound, deeply socialist and feminist.  But it is not the only possible future. Connie learns that without work other, less idyllic futures, may be in wait.

This is an amazingly powerful book, one which I think would appeal to readers regardless of whether they enjoy science fiction or not. Science fiction fans cannot help but love the detailed consideration with which 2137 has been imagined. Economic, technological, agrarian, political, societal and familial concepts are all brought out for our, and Connie’s, consideration, and inspired in me several hours of rapt contemplation of how such ideas might work, might feel, how they could be brought to be or maintained. Though at times this utopia feels a little dated in terms of racial and cultural ethics it is a strikingly well thought out in others with wonderful queer representation and found families along with a host of other delightful little details.

And for non sf readers the social and political commentary is much more central than the science fictional conceit of time travel. The time travel is a device to demonstrate how the two societies differ, of what a better society could be, a mirror showing our own world’s dark reflection. Piercy deliberately leaves the book ambiguous on whether Connie’s visions of the future are just that, the visions of an abused brain desperate to escape hellish reality, or a real future that may come to be and holding that dichotomy in your mind as you read is quite something.

And it is this clever ambiguity that gives the book its power. It is both a utopian and dystopian story. It’s just that the dystopia its the contemporary world, our world and what allowing it to continue without change may bring. Because whilst mental health care has improved somewhat since 1976 there are still so many elements of Connie’s world that ring true for us now. The heartbreak of it is the familiarity of the stories of women and queer people and people colour and those with mental and physical disabilities, and those like Connie whose identities intersect there, being crushed and discriminated against by society. In a 2016 article celebrating the book’s 40th anniversary Piercy noted that inequality has in fact greatly increased since the early 1970s.

It’s rage inducing. And it’s meant to be.

Remember when I said Piercy’s earliest novels was described as burning with anger. Well here she is kindling the flame of that anger in us. Piercy wants us to be angry. because anger is better than defeat. Anger means you believe there’s something better, anger and hope intertwine to create action. By showing Connie, and us, a possibility of a different future, even if its one Connie will never see, she gains hope that a different existence, a different way of being is possible. And this gives her the strength to survive, to fight back. She is willing to fight for a future she doesn’t even know is real. But then, as one reviewer pointed out, how do any of us know that the things we campaign for will come to be in future? We don’t. We hope for them, and so we fight for them.

What Piercy shows us, in the end, is that a little hope is a mighty thing, and never give up the fight because another world might just be possible.


Slytherin Books – Hogwarts House Recommendations #2

[I’m trying to resurrect the habit of posting stuff over here, apologies it’s out of the blue and not the first in a series but baby steps.]

Hello lovely humans, today I’m doing part 2 of my Hogwarts House recommendations with Slytherin. If you’d prefer to read rather than watch the video the transcript is below!

Let’s face it, Slytherin is pretty notorious. It’s got a horrendous reputation of like lets sort all the kids into 4 characteristics smart, brave, kind and totally fucking evil. Basically people think if you’re slytherin you’re gonna be bad. Which is of course ridiculous because there’s so much more to the slytherin character – they’re creative, determined, ambitious, loyal, resourceful, cunning, all kinds of nice things. But, all anyone sees is snakes are evil. I feel like we’ve branding issue there.
But in the spirit of Slytherin I’m embracing that reputation to bring you a selection of books featuring morally dubious characters because sometimes it feels good to be bad.
Gif from 10 Things I Hate About You with female character listening to Bad Reputation by Joan Jett

godswarLet me start as I mean to go on, babies, and introduce you to God’s War by Kameron Hurley. I’ve chosen this because the lead character Nyx Nyssa is, to put it nicely, a piece of work. She’s a bounty hunter who kills off men who have run from the front line of a never ending and brutal religious war in a strange and alien bug-filled society of future humanity on another world.
I picked Nyx because she is an amazing bounty hunter, soldier, and survivor. Through the novel we see her use creativity and resourcefulness and cunning to survive the most awful situations. But she is also not nice. Not one little tiny bit. She cheats, she lies, she steals, she screws over anyone who gets in her way. But she’s also loyal to her team, to a point, loyal to the institutions of faith and government around her, as far as she believes in them, and will die protecting them, or not. Basically she’s a horrible person but you definitely want her on your side, just maybe a safe distance away.

six of crowsYou see the thing with Slytherins is that like Gryffindors they’re loyal. They’ll protect and support their chosen people or idea or cause but perhaps with a little less morality than the chosen people might appreciate.
I think we see this well in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Our protagonist, Kaz Brekker is a thief and a conman leading a gang of misfits on the heist of a lifetime in a fantastical version of 19th century Amsterdam. Kaz is your basic evil genius, he’s a pretty messed up character but as we learn more about him especially in Crooked Kingdom we come to see how he’s often motivated by the need to protect his crew. And his big overall masterplan, his raison d’être, is revenge for someone he lost. He is loyal and he’s not letting morality get in the way of that.

You could also include Artemis by Andy Weir here. The main character Jazz is a thief and a con artist in the first colony on the moon. Her life of crime is for a purpose that isn’t revealed until the end. But that purpose, that loyalty to an ideal, drives her, drives all her actions.
Plus the pit your wits against evil and the danger of space adventure is always a good time.

the-magicians-lev-grossmanSometimes Slytherins aren’t quite so likeable. Like in the The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This is the first book in a trilogy where basically everyone i’ve known who has read it, came out it hating the characters. Like, all of them. They’re all horrible people. Which is what makes it all the weirder that it’s actually a series that I, along with a lot of other people, love dearly.
At the start of the books our main character Quentin discovers that magic is real when he is accepted into a magical university. But that’s only the start of a much bigger, darker adventure. Quentin thinks he is the hero like Harry Potter but we soon learn that this is not the case. It’s a series about being privileged and powerful in the way that the rich clever kids of Slytherin are and then seeing them mess up and abuse that power and be self-centred and make mistakes. And then to have to figure out how to clean up after themselves because they don’t actually want to be evil. Basically it’s about growing up Slytherin and then learning how to be human.

ninefox gambitI think some of the best morally dubious characters in science fiction and fantasy come from this very Slytherin combination of loyalty to an ideal with the ambition and cunning to carry out whatever is needed to achieve it. The end justifies the means and all that. Take for example Shuos Jedao in Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. In the first book we see a young military captain have her body taken over by the spirit of an undead general who is kept alive only to serve as a weapon for his government. He was a man who used his every resource, every scrap of cunning to build his reputation, to become the greatest general, only to commit immense evil, to slaughter hundreds of thousands, even his own friends and comrades.
But as we learn in the books, maybe there’s more to it, a bigger picture that the rest of us just haven’t seen yet. Is he in fact not a madman but simply loyal to an idea whose end justifies these horrendous means?


But sometimes there’s a character who makes you question if the end really is worth the means. The Traitor Baru Cormarant by Seth Dickinson is definitely one of those people.
Baru’s home, family and culture is destroyed with the arrival of a conquering empire. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free. And Baru is ruthless in her tactics and nothing and no-one, not loyalty or love, will stand in the way of her loyalty to the ideal of revenge.
You will sympathise with Baru, you will back her ideals and believe in them and her actions. And then you will find yourself screaming ‘Why are you doing this?’What is it acheiving? Stop it, you dark-hearted sociopath!’ It is a beautiful, dark, and painful book and you will love the pain that it brings you. Because that is the Slytherin way (you kinky bunch of snakes).

So there you go, a selection of morally dubious characters to suit any Slytherin’s heart. I hope you enjoy some of these books. Whether you identify as Slytherin or not, they are great novels. Bt it should also reveal to you some of that mixed bag of characteristics that give Slytherins there reputation of being a little bit on the dark side (whether that’s deserved or not).

I’ll be back soon with the next Hogwarts House Book Recommendations. But in the meantime happy reading!

Never so much blood | Thoughts on Lost Boy by Christina Henry


Author: Christina Henry

Publisher: Titan

Publication Date: June 2017

Length: 318 pages

Format I read: ARC

Rating: 4 stars

This is Lord of the Flies meets Lord of the Lost Boys; you really aren’t going to like Peter Pan any more.

Taking oh so familiar story and making you rethink the logic of it from a grown-up perspective is a common trope but this one was so clear, so painfully true-to-life and logical that you wonder how you’d never seen it before.

As a child I used to do all those ridiculously fearless things that children do. I leaped before I looked and it all turned out fine. And as a child I could think of nothing more fun, nothing more innocent and free than such an adventure as one with Peter Pan.

But I grew up and now I look before I leap because not everyone makes it safely over those rocks and maybe there’s a safer way around if only we thought to find it. And now I wonder what kind of a monster steals children from their homes to fight pirates and monsters and calls it a grand adventure? It’s Peter Pan; “full of fun and heartless with it”.

This book is a dark mirror of Peter Pan, telling the story of that time when we grow up and must suddenly start to see things differently. When we wobble at the precipice and learn to fear because, unlike Peter Pan, we cannot fly. And so we learn the story of Peter from the eyes of the first boy who loved him. And then grew up.

“Peter smiled and made me think there was only joy. Even when there was blood he made me think it was only play, until there was so much of it even Peter couldn’t pretend any more.”

One song spins round and round my head now I’m finished. Like the book itself it’s sweet and pretty and utterly horrifying. Enjoy…

It hurts so good… | Review of The Traitor Baru Cormorant

traitorbarucormorantTitle: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (some editions published as The Traitor in the UK)

Author: Seth Dickinson

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 15 September 2015

Length: Novel (400 pages)

Format I read: ebook

Note: I requested and received this book for free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

The short version: Clever, cunning, and dark as hell. Do not fuck with Baru Cormorant.

The long version:

This book hurt me in two ways. The first was a familiar pain so let’s just get it out there: queer characters die tragically. FFS, again?

The other pain, well, some people pay for that kind of thing.

How do you fight the system? That’s really the question this book asks. How do you fight a culture that broke you into pieces and reshaped you in their mould? Is it possible? What do we lose when we hide a part of ourselves? What do we gain with power? So many questions and, really, so few answers. Like the best stories The Traitor tells a story but doesn’t tie it up too neatly. It leaves you thinking, puzzling over its horrible philosophy lesson.

Baru Cormorant is the perfect hero. Or antihero. It’s hard to tell. I sympathise, I ache for her pain, I want to scream at the trap she’s been put in by an empire of heartless masks but, DAMN ME, is she a dark-hearted sociopath.

Why? I was screaming that at her in my head as I read. Why the fuck are you doing this? But you can’t reason with revenge. Everything must bow down before revenge – not love, not loyalty, not family, or self can be allowed to take precendence.

There is nothing here but pain. And you will suffer it beautifully in this book. The slow twist of the plot will wrack you, , the sweet sting of the emotion will flay you, and the betrayals will hurt you. And yet you will turn the page for more.

You kinky motherfucker.

Morticia Addams - Again



The Traitor Baru Cormorant – 4 stars


Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon | TBR

Hello lovely humans! In today’s video I’m talking about the things I’m aiming to read this weekend as part of Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon.

If you’d rather read a text version then skip below the video and get started.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/GQFSEEp1QXo 


About Dewey’s Readathon

According to the official readathon website: “for 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs, Twitters, Tumblrs, Goodreads and MORE about our reading, and visit other readers’ homes online. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October.

It was created by the beloved Dewey (her blog has since been taken down, so the link won’t work). The first one was held in October 2007. Dewey died in late 2008. We’re still saddened by her absence, but the show must go on. The read-a-thon was renamed to honor its founder in 2009.”


The readathon is always great fun with lots of youtubers and bloggers joining in and chatting about what they’re reading.

For the eighteen month’s I’ve always ended up not joining in with any of the various readathons and challenges that have happened on YouTube because I’m always busy with something (essays, work, etc). And this weekend is no different to be honest (I’m in the process of writing up a dissertation chapter) but I just realised that if no time is ever good then I’m just going to join in anyway!

To make it a little easier on myself I’m going to be reading a TBR made up of entirely short fiction! The hope is to read 24 short stories over 24 hours. Which, to be honest, is fairly ambitious but I figure it’s worth a go!

I’ll be picking and choosing stories from a few different books and websites depending on what takes my fancy over the day. So here are some of my picks:


Accessing the FutureAccessing the Future by Kathryn Allen & Djibril Al-Ayad 

A collection of speculative stories of disability and mental illness in the future. From space pirates to battle robots every story and image is a quality, crafted work of science fiction in its own right. These are stories about people with disabilities in all of their complexity and diversity, that scream with passion and intensity.

Get it from Book Depository: http://goo.gl/yr9Vuw 



Book Smugglers

Book Smugglers Publishing

Book Smugglers have now released two collections of short fiction under the themes of First Contact & Fairytales Reimagined. I’ve read a few of them but now is the ideal time to catch up with the ones that I’ve missed!

Find them at: http://booksmugglerspub.com/ 


Uncanny Magazine 

Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny Magazine has been a favourite of mine since it started last year. I reviewed both Issue 1 and Issue 2 on the blog (sneaky preview: I LOVED them) but I’ve been falling behind on recent issues. Now seems that right time to catch up with some of their great authors.

Read Uncanny here: http://uncannymagazine.com/


I’ll also probably check out a few stories from both Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons – both consistently publish amazing short stories that I love.

strange horizons Clarkesworld


If you have any suggestions for other great sources of short fiction then do let me know. And let me know if you’re joining in with the readathon – what’s your TBR for the weekend?

Review – City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of StairsAuthor: Robert Jackson Bennett

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Publication Date: 02 October 2014

Length: Novel (420 pages)

Format I read: Library Hardback

A compelling and action-packed novel that manages to make you think about some serious issues at the same time. Part murder-mystery, part fantasy, this is pure fun. It’s set in the city of Bulikov, previously the centre of magic and divine powers, now a wrecked shell of a land. When the mysterious divinities that ruled Bulikov and the surround provinces were destroyed large parts of it disappeared with them and the city folded in itself.

Now staircases to nowhere and strange merged buildings linger and the once powerful land is ruled by its former empire. We’re following a spy sent to investigate a murder who finds herself stumbling into far more secrets about the past of this divine city, and her own family history, than might be healthy. Oh and there’s an old love interest, a naked Norse bodyguard wrestling with a giant squid, and enough tea to float a small navy.

The story largely revolves around Shara Komayd who arrives in the city as a lowly diplomat, but is in reality a highly trained spy and descendant of the man who killed Bulikov’s divinities a few generations back. Her old friend Dr Efrem Pangyui has been murdered and as she looks into the mystery she begins to find that it’s all twisted up with the death of the divinities, a political campaign to rebuild the city, and the political power, of Bulikov, and maybe, just maybe, some hints that those gods aren’t quite as dead as previously thought.

This is one of those books that just drags you into the action and gets you hooked immediately. There was so much intrigue, political machinations, and interesting personal histories to find out about that I really didn’t want to put this book down. The world that was drawn got me thinking a lot about imperialism, conquest and devolution – it felt something like a twist on the British Raj era but with more magic and a reversal of fortunes. There’s a lot of tough ideas to get your teeth into, but Jackson really doesn’t make it feel like heavy going. Sure, it’s a simplified idea of a real world so it won’t have the same weight but that doesn’t mean that the difficult thoughts are skipped over. Shara and various other characters spend a considerable amount of time discusssing and thinking about imperialism and empire, the responsibilities and problems of political power, and the ethics of religion.

And the characters, oh, how I loved them. The book features not one but at least three significant female characters who are all over thirty (or fourty maybe?) and in positions of power and responsibility. Fantastic. Plenty of guys too, don’t you worry. And all of them felt well developed, with interesting back stories and character traits.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars. A thrilling romp of a read but without that certain something.

Goals and Resolutions 2015

In my latest video I talked about the resolutions I made for 2014 and whether I achieved them, and then set out my goals for 2015. For easy reading and extra context the 2015 aims are all written out under the video:

1 – Improve my diversity stats
I want to read more authors of colour (25% or more), more translated works (more than 1), and increase my male/female/other gender ratio (50/50 split minimum but more female/other than male preferred). In order to this I’ll be paying a lot more attention to these numbers and I’m aiming to do a post at the end of each month to look at my stats so far. This should help me pay more attention to what I’m selecting to read.

2 – Read the Hugo Nominees
I did this last year and I think it should be easier this year as I’ve probably read at least one or two of the nominees already if early buzz is correct. But, this year I won’t be worrying about reading prequels or whatever as that was a huge waste of time. I’d love to go to WorldCon again and watch the Hugos live because they’re a wonderful occassion but Spokane is a bit more of a trek than London, not to mention significantly more expensive, so we can but dream. Luckily livestreams and twitter are still a thing.

3 – Write a review of everything I read
Now there’s a challenge. I’ve been trying to write more reviews and to push myself to write more thought pieces and things to go along with my videos so hopefully by challenging myself to write something about every single thing I read I will get in the habit of writing as well! Plus now I have this place to put them all.

4 – Read more short fiction
I only really started reading short fiction in 2014 and I have loved discovering the amazing breadth and depth of work out there. There are heaps of great places published short fiction both paid and free (see this video for my current favourites). I’ll be tracking all my short fiction on the Short Fiction 2015 page and writing reviews of each work (hopefully) as set out in Goal 3.

5 – Make a big costumed multipart series on Books and Pieces YouTube channel
My Science Fiction History series still stands as one of my favourite things I’ve made. I’d love to create videos like that every week but I just don’t have the time whilst I’m still in classes and working. Luckily classes finish in June so over the summer I will do something big and dramatic!