Tag Archives: bookreview

Review: Shorts and Snippets


Aether by PandaFried

Aether coverOn 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

Prime Meridian coverAmelia 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

Spirits abroad cover

“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

Lady Astronaut coverThirty 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.

Review: Updraft

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever-if it isn’t destroyed outright.

I have had this on my TBR pile for a year…just to give you some idea of how crazy it gets!

This is a mix of bleak and hopeful wrapped up in a coming-of-age tale; it’s a story about someone trying to find their place and wanting a different life, looking up to a parent – but also trying to work out how they fit in a society and realising that maybe the society doesn’t fit them because it needs changing…

And there’s horrible monsters. And flying. So it’s a pretty good story in terms of the world, too!

I really liked the world and worldbuilding; the details and intricacy feed into the story but don’t overwhelm it, and it’s tiny things like the wing-fabric or the Laws that lend a rounded feel to the story. I also loved the way Kirit’s hopes and dreams stem from the society around her, but also run counter to it, and the way that plays out to the conclusion – which is satisfyingly dramatic and shattering! Everything builds nicely, and I liked the mix of personalities – the Singers and Spire-folk have a complex mix of motives and politics that I really enjoyed.

It was definitely worth the wait to read; not one I’ll likely re-read, but a satisfying and interesting read in a unique and enthralling world.

A bucketful of reviews

A selection of shorts and randoms!

In The House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns by Elizabeth Bear

A man has been turned inside-out.

Fifty years in the future, in the sleek modern city of Bangalore, a scientist working on revolutionary bioengineering techniques has been discovered inside his own locked home, his body converted into a neat toroidal package of meat. It’s up to Police Sub-Inspector Ferron to unearth the victim’s complicated past and solve the crime, despite the best efforts of the mastermind behind the murder, aliens beaming signals from the Andromeda Galaxy, her overbearing mother, and an adorable parrot-cat who is the only witness.

This is a mix of detective fiction mixed with weird sci-fi, and it works very well! It’s unusual, readable and a good mix between characters, mystery and the somewhat strange (and cute!) world. Ferron has to discover who would want to murder the victim, how they were murdered, and how the brand-new parrot-cat that the victim owned is actually a much-loved pet… the first in a series, and the next is definitely on my list!

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

When a familiar-looking woman arrives at the Los Angeles offices of Raymond Electromatic – PI turned hit man and the world’s last robot – he takes on the case of a missing movie star, and is soon plunged into a glittering world of 1960s Hollywood: fame, fortune, and secrecy. But when he uncovers a sinister plot that goes much deeper than the silver screen, this robot is in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

This has a very noir feel; it’s a detective mystery set in Hollywood, featuring a robot detective with a 2-hour memory, and who also is a hitman in his spare time…

Which sounds like a really cool concept, and it was actually the third one in the series that flagged this series to me; however, I just could not get into this. I read the first 5-6 chapters and found myself not going back to it when I had the chance to read, so I skimmed ahead and it still didn’t grab me. I think it’s a mix of the mystery not being particularly grabbing immediately (as we know pretty much nothing about any of the characters) and the two main characters not hooking me. It’s well-written enough, and for fans of the noir and mystery genres, it might be perfect – but it’s just not my genre/feel.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, the boys develop a tender friendship, a bond which blossoms into something deeper as they grow into young men.

But when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Achilles is dispatched to distant Troy to fulfil his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

I have to hold my hands up and say that, unusually, it was actually the story that meant I couldn’t get into this one…and not for the usual reasons! The writing’s lovely, and I can entirely see why it’s made the friend who leant it to me rave. But…I know the story, and I just couldn’t get into it. I know the tugs, the twists, the ending – and while I liked the new aspects of the characters that Miller’s brought to the story, it wasn’t enough to make me want to re-read the Iliad again. So, good, but not for this classics student!

Sir Gawain & The Green Knight

I picked the 1903 Charlton Miner Lewis version, which has been translated into modern verse, and…it’s ok. I’ll probably pick up another one or two of the versions, as some of the English is a little clunky and I want to get a range of ideas of the text (having said that, I’m not even going to try to read the original!) – I want to try the Simon Armitage version, I think.

Review: Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack

Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack, edited by Paige Daniels and Mary Fan

Welcome to the sci-fi worlds of brainy teen heroines who hack not just computers, but whatever puzzles come their way. A scrappy mechanic on an oppressed planet builds a device she hopes will be her ticket to a better future. A fledgling chemist uses her skills to catch a murderer. A teen inventor creates a weapon to battle the mysterious beasts attacking her city. A superhero-in-training puts her skills to the test when attackers strike her compound. A self-styled detective hacks an augmented reality game to solve a dastardly crime. Girls who code, explore, fix robots, pilot starships, invent gadgets, build high-tech treehouses, and more. With tales ranging from space adventures to steampunk to cyberpunk and more this 23-story collection will delight, thrill, and enthrall.

So this is the third in a series of anthologies by the same editors (Girls Who Science & Scheme, and Tales of Girls & Gadgets) all filled with stories about girls in tech with a large dose of sci-fi, fantasy and just plain awesome! I ended up scribbling notes as I read, so have those…

Attack on Aegis by Paige Daniels – accidental teenager-turns-superhero mixed with hacking, a cute boy, college plans and saving the day!

Sea-stars and Sand Dollars by Lyssa Chiavari – when a teenage engineer builds a mini submersible for fun, she doesn’t expect to meet a cute girl, or have to save the day…

Data Recovery by Nicholas Jennings – an unusual view on a computer tech recovering data from a broken computer, and a sweet ending.

The Alchemist’s Daughter by Selenia Paz – Ada Lovelace, the elixir of life and a dose of intrigue? An interesting premise!

Sword & Shield by Jelani Akin Parham – new technology that doesn’t always work exactly as planned…but when danger threatens, a friend helps!

Life Hack by Aaron Rosenberg – DNA might be boring if you’re being lectured on it, but how about if you could augment it whenever you wanted…

Second Sun by JR Rustrian – an armoured heroine wakes up in an unknown room with a talking voice…I liked the mix of strangeness and the eventual twist!

My Other Tree House Is A Rocketship by Russ & Abby Colchamiro – tech and mystery mix with human emotion and discovery…

False Messiahs by Josh Pritchett – interesting take on AI and civil rights

In The Shadow of Zyrcon by Joanna Schnurman – evil corporations, and scavengers rescued by tech! A sweet couple 🙂

Login by Jennifer Lee Rossman – story of children helping the war effort…and their attempts to understand what’s actually going on. love the small robot!

Twisted Brick by MJ Moores – intrigue, adventure and a daring rescue! I liked the two voices to this.

Impossible Odds by AA Jankiewicz – a princess undertaking her final training flight has to fly, along with her crew, on a test mission that no one will tell them about…

In Cyberia, Avatar Controls You by Jeremy Rodden – love the concept of a hero from the outside, getting into the online world…

The Power of Five by Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg – happy and simple story about a group who get trapped in a cave and – in amongst random scientific facts – discover an alien!

Discord on Harmonia by MLD Curelas – a habitat dome comes under attack – but not just from the expected sources!

The Experiment Called Life by Halli Gomez – trying to change her tourette’s with a brain-wave monitor – and an interesting story on fitting in and being an outsider.

Inmate C87 by Kay Dominguez – probably my favourite for the concept; a prison guard tries to work out why some of her charges are telling different stories, and why one insists that he isn’t who his records say he is…

Pyramid Scheme by Jamie Krakover – fun and quick story of a robbery of a pyramid – or an anti-robbery that goes wrong! amusing duo.

Becoming A World Builder by Valerie Hunter – steampunk feel; after-effects of a war, a teenager struggling with the idea of leaving for boarding school and finding out where her talents lie, and the danger that comes when people want your inventions for a war…

Moon Girl by Jennifer Chow – two not-really-friends take a trip to the moon which goes wrong

ShockWired by Tash McAdam – cute story, second favourite? steampunk and rescues, with a sweet duo at the centre of it

The Altered Avatar by Mary Fan – murder mystery that takes place part in VR, part in reality, and with an AI as the detective!

The pictures are great, too; there’s a wide variety of artists who’ve all contributed an image that fits to the individual stories. So overall – a fun, easy-going anthology that’s definitely got girls and tech front and centre!

Review: Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya Universe

I’ve already reviewed The Tea Master And The Detective, which I really enjoyed, and it definitely put these two novellas on my reading list! All three are set in the same universe and while they’re not linked, some characters do weave in and out.

Also, incidentally, a really interesting thread from Aliette on the background!

I also want a novel in this universe pls. Or a series of novels. Moar writing anyway!

On A Red Station, Drifting

On a red station, drifting coverFor generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

I absolutely adore the worldbuilding for these books. I love the idea that your ancestors stay with you, ghosts who can advise; also the mind ships and space stations, minds housed within perfectly formed structures built for them to control – except that sometimes, they fail…

And this novella is about one that is failing, in the midst of the confusions of a war and refugees arriving and political chaos; and because the station looks after her descendants, she’s a member of the family. She’s a mind that’s always been there – particularly for Station Mistress Quyen, who dreads the silence and loneliness. But Quyen has other tensions; her family is fracturing, and when a former magistrate arrives claiming sanctuary, the problem of what to do with someone from a different social league and with different views adds to the tensions.

I adore the writing and the characters in Red Station; the sly jabs and bare-faced insults in poetry form, or said by what is not said, or saying the wrong or right thing – almost a battle of blades and swords except done at every social interaction. The different views on the war, the running of a space station, all bleed into every phrase – and then the way everything comes together at the ending is lovely, and heart-breaking.

This isn’t a heavy read, despite the tensions and the background; it’s about the characters and their interactions, their choices, and de Bodard writes with a light touch despite the darker themes.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls

citadel of weeping pearls cover

Thirty years ago, threatened by an invading fleet from the Dai Viet Empire, the Citadel disappeared and was never seen again.

But now the Dai Viet Empire itself is under siege, on the verge of a war against an enemy that turns their own mindships against them; and the Empress, who once gave the order to raze the Citadel, is in desperate needs of its weapons. Meanwhile, on a small isolated space station, an engineer obsessed with the past works on a machine that will send her thirty years back, to the height of the Citadel’s power.

But the Citadel’s disappearance still extends chains of grief and regrets all the way into the fraught atmosphere of the Imperial Court; and this casual summoning of the past might have world-shattering consequences…

This is a quieter story than Red Station – or more personal. War has come to the Empire, and the Citadel of Weeping Pearls may provide a weapon that enables the Empire to fight back…but the Citadel vanished many years ago. And finding it may prove more problematic than expected…

I love the way the personal relationships dominate this story; both of the main threads want to find the Citadel for their own personal reasons, even though it’s a scientific challenge and a military necessity respectively; one protagonist has lost her mother, the other her daughter. And it’s these tugs that pull the story onwards; never dramatic and always told with a light hand, but with some thoughtful threads and wonderful worldbuilding wound in. I liked the ending of this, too – no spoilers, but just to say that I liked that everything wasn’t neatly tied into a solution.

Together, all three novellas make a lovely collection that expands the universe every time you read them – and I sincerely hope there will be more in the same universe to come!