Aether by PandaFried
On a dull little planet called Earth, seventeen Winston Privet dreams of another life of magic and adventure, in comparison to which his own mundane existence feels pointless, wrong and incomplete. That reality, though, is about to change.
First, an in-progress one, so it fits with ‘snippets’ – a mix of a fairy story and Harry Potter with some added bite! I’m really enjoying this one and looking forward to seeing where it goes…
Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life.
It awaits her.
This is a mix of a personal story and snippets of film description; it mixes Amelia’s day-to-day life with the heroine’s exploits. But Amelia’s day-to-day life seems trapped in an endless cycle – where once she wanted to go to Mars as a colonist, she had to give up her studies to care for her mother, and now floats from cafe to cafe earning tiny amounts as a befriender or blood donor. Even an ex coming back into her life isn’t much of a release – but I loved how all the threads came together.
It’s a simple story, a gentle story, but it’s got teeth underneath: it’s a story about hopelessness and the endless cycle of frustration, but there’s some lovely moments of hope – and the film wound through gives it a silver-screen glow.
Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
“If you live near the jungle, you will realize that what is real and what is not real is not always clear. In the forest there is not a big gap between the two.”
A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an annoying landlord, and Chang E spins off into outer space, the ultimate metaphor for the Chinese diaspora.
This is a mix of 15 shorts, ranging across fantasy to horror. My absolute favourite was The House Of Aunts, a romance about a teenager meeting their crush while also being a vampire and dealing with an entire houseful of aunties! I also adored Liyana; it’s a sweet and gentle story with a bucketful of tears underneath. The characters were complex and brilliant in The Mystery of the Suet Swain, and Prudence & the Dragon is also great fun and definitely about the two figures at the centre of the story – even if it doesn’t exactly turn out how one of them had planned!
Throughout the collection, I loved the extra winding details, the way the author tells the stories; One-Day TravelCard to Fairyland is a good example, and Lion Bows is also very atmospheric; I loved the characters and the concept of a lion eating ghosts – until they find one that maybe they don’t want to eat! Balik Kampung is also a heart-tugging and gentle story about a shade returning to the world for the Festival and trying to get back to her husband, but remembering what happened to her along the way.
While all of the stories are easy to read and interesting, some needed extra details – but then that’s part of the joy of coming from a Western background to a different tradition – as the author notes, everyone knows the story of Hang Tuah and Chang E! It’s a nicely varied collection, too; every story has a heart-tug, but every one handles it in a different way.
Overall, a lovely collection; varied and interesting and haunting.
The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal
Thirty years ago, Elma York led the expedition that paved the way to life on Mars. For years she’s been longing to go back up there, to once more explore the stars. But there are few opportunities for an aging astronaut, even the famous Lady Astronaut of Mars. When her chance finally comes, it may be too late. Elma must decide whether to stay with her sickening husband in what will surely be the final years of his life, or to have her final adventure and plunge deeper into the well of space.
A short novelette based after the end of The Calculating Stars – sweet, sad, and hopeful! You don’t need to have read The Calculating Stars (I’ll do a review soon!), but it’s definitely more poignant if you have. Worth a read.