Sunday, 18 February 2018

Short stories 36 to 40

Continuing the trend, another mix of short stories. My favourite in this batch is definitely the JY Yang, although the two flash pieces (Pinsker and Vo) were interesting, just not that meaty, what with being flash.


The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced by Sarah Pinsker — A cute flash story about inadvertent time travel and lesbians. Source: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-sewell-home-for-the-temporally-displaced/

One Saturday Night, with Angel by Peter Ball — Angels are walking the Earth and, while know one knows much about them, it doesn’t look good. The protagonist of this story is being stalked by one, which has a very strong, caustic smell. OK story but didn’t grab me. Source: Sprawl edited by Alisa Krasnostein

Auspicium Melioris Aevi by JY Yang — A really interesting look at cloning and extensive training as a means of duplicating past wisdom to sell. I guessed the shape of the ending but the choice of historical figure to clone (in the case of the main character — there were multiple sets) and the attendant historical details were fascinating. As was the brief interrogation of some of his life choices. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/auspicium-melioris-aevi/

The Psychology Game by Xia Jia — An interesting concept but the way it’s explored is a bit too pedagogical/preachy for my taste. I would have enjoyed a more plotted take. But not a bad exploration of AI and where we would (or wouldn’t) draw the line at giving them tasks. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/xia_10_17/

Twelve Pictures From a Second World War by Nghi Vo — Snapshots from a WWII in which various fairytale/folk/mythical beings took part alongside the ordinary humans. An entertaining but very short story. Source: http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/twelve-pictures-from-a-second-world-war/

Friday, 16 February 2018

Aurealis Award shortlists announced

The Aurealis Award shortlists were announced yesterday and there's a very interesting mix of works on the lists this year. You can read the full announcement at the Aurealis Awards website, here. I'm also reproducing the actual shortlists below with links to the books/stories that I've reviewed — which isn't very many of them this time around. Looks like I have some homework reading.


BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION
How to Bee, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)
The Shop at Hoopers Bend, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Australia)
The Exile, Jo Sandhu (Penguin Random House Australia)
Accidental Heroes, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia)
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK
Action Tank, Mike Barry (Mike Barry Was Here)
Changing Ways book 3, Justin Randall (Gestalt)
Dungzilla, James Foley (Fremantle Press)
Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts, Craig Phillips (Allen & Unwin)
Home Time, Campbell Whyte (Penguin Random House Australia)
Tintinnabula, Margo Lanagan & Rovina Cai (ill.) (Little Hare)
BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY
“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology,HarperCollins Australia)
“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“Competition Entry #349”, Jaclyn Moriarty (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“First Casualty” Michael Pryor (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)
“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
BEST HORROR SHORT STORY
“Reef”, Kat Clay (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia) 
“Outside, a Drifter”, Lisa L Hannett (Looming Low, Dim Shores)
“Angel Hair”, Deborah Sheldon (Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, IFWG Publishing Australia)
“The Endless Below”, Alfie Simpson (Breach Issue #02)
“Old Growth”, J Ashley Smith (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)
“On the Line”, J Ashley Smith (Midnight Echo 12, Australasian Horror Writers Association)
BEST HORROR NOVELLA
The Mailman, Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)
Hope and Walker, Andrew Cull (Vermillion Press)
“Grind”, Michael Grey (Pacific Monsters, Fox Spirit Books)
“The Stairwell”, Chris Mason (Below The Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, Things In The Well)
“No Good Deed”, Angela Slatter (New Fears 1, Titan Books)
“Furtherest”, Kaaron Warren (Dark Screams Volume 7, Cemetery Dance)
BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY
“Hamelin’s Graves”, Freya Marske (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #69)
“The Curse is Come Upon Me, Cried”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, self-published)
“The Little Mermaid, in Passing”, Angela Slatter (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 22 Issue 1)
“Duplicity”, J Ashley Smith (Dimension6 #11)
“The Rainmaker Goddess, Hallowed Shaz”, Marlee Jane Ward (Feminartsy)
“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia).
BEST FANTASY NOVELLA
The Book Club, Alan Baxter (PS Publishing)
“Remnants”, Nathan Burrage (Dimension6 #11, Coer de Lion)
“The Cunning Woman’s Daughter”, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (The Silver Well, Ticonderoga Publications)
In Shadows We Fall, Devin Madson (self-published)
“Braid”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 1)
Humanity for Beginners, Faith Mudge (Less Than Three Press)
BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
“The Missing Years”, Lyn Battersby (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #66)
“A Little Faith”, Aiki Flinthart (Like a Woman, Mirren Hogan)
“Cards and Steel Hearts”, Pamela Jeffs (Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier, Falstaff Books)
“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology,HarperCollins Australia)
“Conversations with an Armoury” Garth Nix (Infinity Wars, Solaris)
“Hurk + Dav”, Alfie Simpson (Breach Issue #01)
BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA
“This Silent Sea”, Stephanie Gunn (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 6)
“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)
“The Wandering Library”, DK Mok (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Island Green”, Shauna O’Meara (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)
BEST COLLECTION
The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press) 
The Silver Well, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)
Beneath the Floating City, Donna Maree Hanson (self-published)
Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, Deborah Sheldon (IFWG Publishing Australia)
BEST ANTHOLOGY
Midnight Echo #12, Shane Jiraiya Cummings & Anthony Ferguson (eds.) (Australasian Horror Writers Association)
The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015, Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene (eds.) (Ticonderoga Publications)
Dimension6: Annual Collection 2017, Keith Stevenson (ed.) (coeur de lion publishing)
Infinity Wars, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 11, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)
BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
In The Dark Spaces, Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)
Ida, Alison Evans (Echo, Bonnier Publishing Australia)
Frogkisser!, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
This Mortal Coil, Emily Suvada (Puffin UK)
Psynode, Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure)
The Undercurrent, Paula Weston (Text Publishing)
BEST HORROR NOVEL
Aletheia, J S Breukelaar (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Who’s Afraid Too?, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)
Soon, Lois Murphy (Transit Lounge)
BEST FANTASY NOVEL
Gwen, Goldie Goldbloom (Fremantle Press)
Cassandra, Kathryn Gossow (Odyssey Books)
Godsgrave, Jay Kristoff (HarperCollins Publishers)
Gap Year In Ghost Town, Michael Pryor (Allen & Unwin)
Wellside, Robin Shortt (Candlemark & Gleam)
BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
Closing Down, Sally Abbott (Hachette Australia)
Year of the Orphan, Daniel Findlay (Penguin Random House Australia)
An Uncertain Grace, Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing)
From the Wreck, Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)
Lotus Blue, Cat Sparks (Skyhorse)

~

So, what books or stories has this added to YOUR reading list?


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Winterfair Gifts — The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Winterfair Gifts is the latest story we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It follows on after the novel A Civil Campaign and before the novel Diplomatic Immunity. In Winterfair Gifts we get a glimpse of the Vorkosigan household in the lead up to a wedding from the point of view of Roic, a junior Vorkosigan Armsman.


You can read Tsana’s review of Winterfair Gifts here, and Katharine’s review here.


Tsana: Well. I had only vague memories of this one before re-reading. I think I probably just inhaled it on my first read through without stopping to think about it very much.


Katharine: It kept me up so late on a work night. I thought to myself ‘I’ll just get started for now and then hopefully finish it this weekend…’ and zip. Got to 90% past midnight and tore myself away.


Tsana: Lol, you managed NOT to finish it in one go when you got that close? That’s extremely impressive. I read it in one sitting in the middle of a weekend day. I had forgotten why we should care about Roic too, but as the novella quickly reminded me, he was the one that ended up covered in bug butter in A Civil Campaign.


Katharine: I was so tired and stressed about work that I figured I should keep something to look forward to. How old do we think Roic is in this one?


Tsana: He has to be in his 20s, I think? Upper limit of 25 at a guess? Which, on a slight tangent, isn’t it convenient how everyone counts time in Earth units? Even though Barrayar has longer days, I don’t remember them saying anything about different year lengths and hence different ways of calculating ages…


Katharine: It’s a bit sad that’s seemingly been thrown in the ‘too hard’ basket and they don’t care to explore that into something interesting. They could have said age doesn’t matter for that reason and yet they do rely on it for all their Vor quirks.


Tsana: I mean, it makes sense to have a galactic standard, so that part’s fine. But I do wonder about what happened with it in the Time of Isolation. Perhaps we’ll never know… :-( (Although, as someone who has devised a different time system in fiction, it is a pain in the arse to explain and keep track of, so I can understand the reluctance.)


Katharine: Maybe it’s something we can ask if we ever happen to go to the same Worldcon (or other con) as Bujold. So, Roic tells the story from his POV - guests are coming back to Barrayar for another wedding. Presents and messages are arriving for the happy couple and being put on display. And one of the guests just so happens to be Taura.


Tsana: And Elena with husband plus baby in tow. But perhaps this is the moment for the spoiler shields.


~~~~ SPOILERS AHOY ~~~~

Monday, 12 February 2018

Short Stories 30 to 35


Another mix of stories this batch. The first two finished of Seanan McGuire's first collection of superhero stories, Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots, so you may have already seen my reviews of those two.

I found the middle two stories particularly powerful and I definitely recommend those to fans of horror, in the case of "The First of Her Name" and adorable robots in the case of "The Secret Life of Bots". Both were excellent reads.


Velveteen vs Patrol by Seanan McGuire — A first look at Velma’s new life superheroing for Oregon. Mostly a pleasant read about her working out her new life, with and additional dollop of foreshadowing doom thrown in. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs8.php

Velveteen vs the Blind Date by Seanan McGuire — Velveteen is set up on a blind date with another freelance superhero. It seems like a terrible idea at first, but they have complementary powers and hit it off. Another entertaining read. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs9.php

The First of Her Name by Elaine Cuyegkeng — A pretty horrifying story told from the point of view of a young insect in a colony. I mean, the horrifying part isn’t the insects but rather what happens to some of them. And the tone. It was chilling. Source: https://lackingtons.com/2017/02/09/the-first-of-her-name-by-elaine-cuyegkeng/

The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer — A delightful story about an ageing maintenance bot on an ageing spaceship that has been pulled out of a scrap yard for a last desperate mission. This story strikes a perfect balance between informing the reader of the human-centred happenings and the struggles faced by the bots. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/palmer_09_17/ 

The Ouroboros Bakery by Octavia Cade — An interesting idea and I liked several aspects (who doesn't like magical bakers?) but I found the story a bit too wordy overall. Source: http://www.kaleidotrope.net/archives/autumn-2017/the-ouroboros-bakery-by-octavia-cade/

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey is a novella about hippos, and the people that interact with them, set in an alternative 1890s US South. It is the sequel to River of Teeth, which I previously reviewed and which I found contained a bit too much hippo violence for my hippo-loving sensibilities.

A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway.

Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: "And not a soul escaped alive."

In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they've become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.

In my review of River of Teeth I said that I probably wouldn't read the sequel because of all the hippo violence. So why did I? Well, I was told the second book had less hippo violence (true), I was invested in the characters and wanted to know what happened to them and I got a review copy of it. I started reading it near the end of a series of long-haul flights and continued while jetlagged, which probably wasn't the best way to enjoy it.

This novella picked up a few months after the previous one left off and followed two groups of characters that had become separated due to the events of the previous book. The plot centres on the characters trying to find each other again, with a bit of tying up of loose ends. There are less hippos in this one and less page time spent on their riding. Ferals do show up and meet untimely ends but on a smaller scale than in the first book. I found the hippo violence easier to overlook in this one.

I enjoyed this book but I didn’t love it. I kind of glad the series is over so I don’t have to make difficult decisions about whether to read more. Balancing my love for hippos (and my desire not to see them hurt) with the less upsetting aspects such as th diverse characters. And, for all that I’m not a fan of westerns, this one works for me (despite being set it the South, it does take a lot of queues from westerns).

I recommend Taste of Marrow to fans of River of Teeth. It doesn’t really stand alone, so if the notion of hippo-riding takes your fancy, start with the first book. If you’re indifferent to hippos but on the look out for stories with a variety of diverse characters, then I strongly suggest giving this series a go.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Tor.com publishing
Series: Yes. River of Teeth book 2 of 2
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire is the first collection of the Velveteen vs stories. It's out of print in ebook so I wasn't actually able to get the book, but the stories themselves are all available to read on the author's website, so I'm counting it as having read the book. Because of how I've been reading and posting mini-reviews of short stories, you might have already seen my comments on some of the stories, but I still think it's nice to collect them all in one place.

Velveteen: How dare you? I never asked for you to hunt me down!

No, Velma Martinez hadn't. But when you had once been Velveteen, child super-heroine and one of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division, you were never going to be free, even if your only power was to bring toys to life. The Marketing Department would be sure of that.

So it all came down to this. One young woman and an army of misfit toys vs. the assembled might of the nine members of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division who had come to take her down.

They never had a chance.

Velveteen lives in a world of super-heroes and magic, where men can fly and where young girls can be abducted to the Autumn Land to save Halloween. Velma lives from paycheck to paycheck and copes with her broken-down car as she tries to escape from her old life.

It's all the same world. It's all real. And figuring out how to be both Velveteen and Velma is the biggest challenge of her life, because being super-human means you’re still human in the end.

The stories in this collection are set in a world with superheroes and, more importantly, organisations managing the licensing and public appearances of superheroes. It's also set in the US, which gives it a pretty different vibe to Girl Reporter and the preceding stories by Tansy Rayner Roberts, even while it deals with some of the same themes. (For the record, I like the Roberts series more, mainly for its Australian-ness and humour, but that's not to say I'm disliking the McGuire which, as I said, is a very different take.)

The Velveteen stories deal with Vel's life as an adult after having been a child hero and after quitting the life before turning eighteen and hence avoiding some legal troubles. However, as an adult, she's not allowed to be a superhero without going back to the organisation she's escaped and wants nothing to do with. Her only hope in escaping them is to make it to Oregon, which has different state laws and  where she can be safe. Meanwhile, she's been working minimum-wage jobs and living pay-check to pay-check, so life hasn't been super fun. The stories in this collection follow her journey and eventual arrival in Oregon with a few detours for world-saving and flashbacks.

Overall these stories had a bit of bleakness to them, especially when the Junior Super Patriots were juxtaposed with Vel's adult life. Some of the stories felt more like chapters or instalments in a bigger story, which was fine since I was reading them in order (although not all in a row). For others looking to dip into the series, many of the stories work fine out of order, but some don't quite stand alone, in my opinion (as noted below). In general, I recommend these stories and this collection to fans of superheroes, especially more cynical takes on the superhero genre.

And now the stories:

Velveteen vs the Isley Crayfish Festival — A quick, fun introduction to a retired (for now?) superheroine, who features in several more stories. Recommended for fans of Tansy Rayner Roberts superhero stories and vice versa.

Velveteen vs. The Coffee Freaks — A fun superhero story about a retired child hero that just wants to get to her job interview in Portland.

Velveteen vs the Flashback Sequence — More of a chapter establishing character than a properly stand-alone story in its own right. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read.

Velveteen vs the Old Flame — A less fun read that dredges up some unfortunate back story from Velma’s time as a junior superhero. As with the previous story in this sequence, it feels a bit more like a chapter than a self-contained short story.

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots West Coast Division — The plot thickens as Velma, our retired superheroine, faces off against the new generation of her former child hero team. New characters with interesting back stories are introduced and Velma’s road trip comes to an end.

Velveteen vs the Eternal Halloween — A story set entirely during Velveteen’s teenage years and featuring a Groundhog Day-like Halloween and the world of Halloween. A solid story. It inadvertently had me wondering how the world of Halloween would fit in with the Wayward Children, but this story was, of course, written much earlier. It was also kind of more fun (less cynical) than adult Velveteen.

Velveteen vs the Ordinary Day — Another chapter in adult Velveteen’s life. Having made it to Oregon, Velma reunites with some friends. An entertaining read.

Velveteen vs Patrol — A first look at Velma’s new life superheroing for Oregon. Mostly a pleasant read about her working out her new life, with and additional dollop of foreshadowing doom thrown in.

Velveteen vs the Blind Date — Velveteen is set up on a blind date with another freelance superhero. It seems like a terrible idea at first, but they have complementary powers and hit it off. Another entertaining read.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, ISFiC
Series: Yes. First collected volume of 3 so far
Format read: Individual stories online on the author's website
Source: Author's website

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor is the third and final book in the Binti trilogy of novellas. I have previously read and reviewed the first two books, Binti and Binti: Home. This book picks up right where Home left off, which is just as well since that one ended on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.

Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.

Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Well. This book was an emotional roller coaster that I was in no way prepared for. It started more or less how I expected (which was dramatic enough) and then really ramped up... which I suppose I should have expected based on the earlier books. I also feel like I can’t talk about the plot at all because of spoilers. So this was a more emotional read than I was expecting, and I’m not sure that reading it on the plane was a good strategy because I think it would have had an even stronger impact if I hadn’t been a bit sleep deprived for most of it.

A while ago I saw the author describe the three books of the Binti series like this: “Girl  leaves home / Girl comes home / Girl becomes home.” And honestly, keeping that in mind while I was reading made certain events more impactful, even in light of what came next (spoilers redacted). Also, it’s a fair summary of the themes of each book.

I recommend Binti: The Night Masquerade to fans of the earlier books. This isn’t a series you can read out of order since it is more or less one continuous story broken into three parts. If you’re thinking about picking up this space opera, then definitely start with the first book, Binti. I am a bit sad the series is over, but it was a great ride and one day I’d like to reread all three novellas in quick succession, so there’s still that to look forward to.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2018, Tor.com publishing
Series: Binti book 3 of 3
Format read: ePub on Kobo
Source: Bought from Kobo

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Short Stories 26 to 30

This batch of stories brought to you by me being really into the Velveteen vs series by Seanan McGuire and also thinking that I had a short wait at the physio which turned out to be long enough for three flash stories PLUS their mini reviews. Oh well.



Velveteen vs the Eternal Halloween by Seanan McGuire — A story set entirely during Velveteen’s teenage years and featuring a Groundhog Day-like Halloween and the world of Halloween. A solid story. It inadvertently had me wondering how the world of Halloween would fit in with the Wayward Children, but this story was, of course, written much earlier. It was also kind of more fun (less cynical) than adult Velveteen. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs6.php

Velveteen vs the Ordinary Day by Seanan McGuire — Another chapter in adult Velveteen’s life. Having made it to Oregon, Velma reunites with some friends. An entertaining read. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs7.php

Kai Ling's Tree by Joyce Chng — A short vignette of a story, illustrating a piece of life on a Mars being terraformed. It was a nice glimpse into a possible future. Source: https://jolantru.dreamwidth.org/16009.html

Unterminator by Zen Cho — A touching flash piece about a robot sent from the future to avert an apocalypse. (Also, just first thought was that the title referred to the night/day divide kind of terminator, so, um, that was briefly confusing.) Source: http://zencho.org/unterminator/

See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES! by Tina Connolly — A short/flash story about travelling to parallel universes where fighting monsters can be more appealing than what’s happening at home. A solid read. Source: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/see-dangerous-earth-possibles/

Friday, 2 February 2018

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer is an epic fantasy novel set in a world built on trees in a mighty, magical forest. It’s her debut novel and the first of the Titan's Forest series. Until the release of this book last year, Dyer was primarily known as an award-winning short story writer and I have read several of her short stories in the past.

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy's slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

The setting and world building in this book were great, but it was the characterisation of the protagonist, Unar, that really sold it for me. Unar first comes to a goddess’s magical garden to avoid being sold as a slave by her parents. She quickly takes to learning magic and becomes convinced that she is destined for great things. And she is, that’s why she’s the protagonist, they’re just not quite the great things she was hoping for. Her arrogance leads her into a lot of trouble and a lot of things go wrong for her.

There were quite a few cringe-worthy occurrences — horrible things happening to not-horrible people — and occasionally I got annoyed at Unar doing something stupid, but for the most part this was a very enjoyable read. (And if Unar never did anything stupid, what room would there be for her to grow?)

Back to the world building, this isn’t a world living on a single giant tree, as I had first expected before I started reading. This is a whole forest made up of a wide variety of trees. A lot of them are distinctly Australian in flavour, which was a nice touch. The better-off people live in the canopy with the gods, while others eke out a less prosperous existence lower down, where there’s less sun and scary predators. There is also clearly a lot more to the god and magic stuff than has been revealed in this first book. I look forward to learning more about it in the sequel.

This was a very good read and I highly recommend it to all fans of fantasy. Readers looking for a different setting, that is very much not Medieval European, will find much to appreciate here. I am definitely planning to read the sequel very soon and I look forward to learning more about the world as we discover what comes next for the characters.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Tor
Series: Titan's Forest
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Short stories 21 to 25


Two stories in this batch written as something like diary entries: the first and the last, and they couldn't be more different. One is told through a cooking blog during a pandemic, while the other is disturbing diary entries during an alien war. In between there was time travel, spaceships made from humans connecting a vast colonial empire, and some kind of transcendence.


So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer — This is the story of a flu pandemic told through the medium of a food (cooking) blog. It pulled me into the story as soon as I opened it and, despite not being into food or particularly interested in the recipes, I couldn’t put it down. A surprisingly good piece of writing. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_11_15/

Oblivion is a Crease Left By Memory by Chen Qiufan — Following the theme of a flight that lands 20 years in the future, this story is about an artist who was going to run an exhibit in San Francisco. Instead, they learn about a new form of art made possible by technology that taps into your brain and experiences. I found it an interesting read and not what I expected (the previous story I read from this anthology, by Charlie Jane Anders, had a very different, comical vibe). Source: https://seat14c.com/future_ideas/17F?utm_source=author&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=seat14c&utm_content=ChenQiufan

These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng — A story of colonialism and a future where spaceships are built from a particular group of people. Told from the perspective of one of the ships watching a woman who was not similarly made into a ship. I really liked the ideas in this story though it wasn’t a happy read. Source: http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/these-constellations-will-be-yours/

Worlds Like a Hundred Thousand Pearls by Aliette de Bodard — Eh. A flash piece about grief and transcendence. It was OK but didn’t really grab me. Source: http://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/the-numbers-quartet/aliette-de-bodard/worlds-like-a-hundred-thousand-pearls

Diary of War by Joyce Chng — Somewhere between a prose-poem and diary entries, this story tells about war waged by alien invaders, who turn out to be very invasive. The sparse style is moving, especially with this subject matter. Source: http://www.anathemamag.com/diary-of-war