Saturday, 16 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 61 to 70

I'm getting closer to caught up! As I write this (rather earlier than it's going to be posted, I'm afraid) I have 30 stories left to read in 20 days. That's not so bad! Perfectly manageable, right? In any case, come January I'll write a post about how this whole short story reading challenge went, what I learnt along the way, and so forth. In the meantime, here are stories 61 to 70:

  1. Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind by Erica L Satifka — A flash story told in the form of a bucket list (as per the title), complete with some crossed out items. Also more hints about the coming end than I expected. I liked it more than I expected to. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  2. Her Heart Never Came Down Again by Seanan McGuire — a lovely, bittersweet story about an astronaut and her engineer wife. Also an ill-fated, unusual voyage, grief, hope and perseverance. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon 
  3. Phlashback by Simon Petrie — a third story in the “CREVjack” and “Goldilock” sequence, this time picking up shortly after the previous story left off and shifting point of view characters (again). Finally we get to learn more about pharmhands and their place in the scheme of things on Titan. Another tense story. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  4. Placenta by Simon Petrie — about a pregnant woman who suddenly finds herself in a life- and baby-threatening situation and must do a bit of sciencey problem-solving to survive. It also gives us a snapshot of an abandoned part of Titan, which strongly reminded me of an Abandoned Photography blog I’ve followed. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  5. Function A:Save (Target.Dawn) by Rivqa Rafael — a lovely story about a coder and the president’s daughter/her almost-girlfriend. Set in a near future with bio-hacking and fancy medicine, this story was engaging, a little magical and, ultimately, satisfying. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  6. Noah No-one and the Infinity Machine by Sean Williams — an odd yarn set in the Jump universe, but much earlier that that trilogy. I expected it to have a dark ending, but it ended up being quite lighthearted. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  7. Forgiveness by Leah Cypess — a challenging story about a physically abusive relationship in a future where there are chips to control that sort of behaviour once it’s reported. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  8. Probably Definitely by Heather Morris — a nice story about a ghost and a teenager still working on finding their place in life. I am impressed at how naturally-seeming the author’s non-use of pronouns was. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  9. I’m Only Going Over by Cat Hellisen — a slightly odd story about a weird girl at a party and the protagonist trying to chat with her. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  10. How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea by Seanan McGuire — A fairytale/genesis story about maine coon cats coming to North America. Short and sweet. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/maine-coon-cat-learned-love-sea/


Not long to go now!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Memory — the Vorkosigan Saga Project

Memory is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. In Memory the story sees significant changes in Miles’s life and in the lives of some of the people around him. This book has major spoilers for Mirror Dance, so stop reading now if you haven’t read that book!

You can read Katharine’s review of Memory here and Tsana’s review here.

Katharine: And so we meet Miles back with the Dendarii - and quite quickly we see Miles land himself in some pretty terrible action. After dying in an earlier novel we see the side effects have continued; namely that he has seizures - usually at inopportune times, which we later learn is because they’re triggered by stress.

Tsana: For a book that I mainly remembered as being about Simon Illyan, this one really did have some significant life changes for Miles. For all that Miles has had the opportunity to fix a lot of his medical problems — he’s been gradually replacing his skeleton with stronger artificial bones, for example — he’s also been accumulating new ones and now, after much hardship, they’ve finally caught up with him severely enough that it’s time for a medical discharge. From the start of the book, he has seizures left over from his cryorevival but he hasn’t actually told anyone about them. So things go horribly wrong when he goes on a field mission and has a seizure in the heat of battle.

And we’re getting into spoiler territory very early on. Should we put up the spoiler shields or jump to discuss something less spoilery?

Katharine: Sure thing. Beep boop beep!

-- spoilers --

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Preview chapter: The Last Guard by KJ Taylor

Following up on my review of The Last Guard by KJ Taylor, the first book in a new series set in the author's griffin universe (The Fallen Moon Trilogy and The Risen Sun trilogy are set in the same world), I have a sample chapter to share with you all. First, in case you don't feel like clicking through to my review, the blurb and then the sample is under the cut. And just so you're not surprised, note that it isn't from the first chapter...


Southerner Sergeant Kearney "Red" Redguard is the last of a disgraced family, and a loyal guardsman. And with a murderer stalking the streets, the city guard is his city's best defense.
But in the North, King Caedmon Taranisäii is gathering his army, and the cruel Night God prepares for the downfall of the South. A new dark griffin roams the land, warning of the war to come.
Betrayed and sent on the run, Red must fight to save his homeland.
But it may already be too late...




Saturday, 9 December 2017

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie is set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy (which starts with the Hugo Award-winning Ancillary Justice), but stands alone. It's set after the events in the Imperial Radch trilogy but can be read completely independently of that series. It's set on a planet outside of the Radchaai Empire and there are only a few mentions of an event that happened right at the end of the Imperial Radch trilogy (and which is sort of a spoiler but not in any important ways).

Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray's future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

I have to admit, I was a reasonable way into this book before I worked out what it was about. I didn't mind, though, because I found the the main character, Ingray, interesting to follow. We start off not knowing very much about her or her motives and learn piecemeal as we watch her actions and choices (and as various backstory is filled in as necessary). We know even less about the other characters, with the narrative holding a tight third person perspective, and learning more about them certainly held my interest.

By the time I was sure about what kind of book this was, I decided the best way to describe it was as a "comedy of diplomacy". Like a comedy of errors, but with more people from different planets inadvertently getting in each other's way. And a main character who didn't set out to get in the middle of it all, but did, to quite a significant extent. It was very entertaining.

This is a standalone novel, and the story is very much tied up by the end of the book. However, it's very much whet my appetite for more (possibly standalone) stories set in the same universe. We learn about one alien species in Provenance that were only mentioned in the Imperial Radch books (the Geck) and I am keen to learn more about some of the other aliens. I feel there are some key questions left unanswered in general.

But Provenance isn't a story about aliens. It's a story of a comparatively small civilisation, it's cultural quirks and its neighbours (with their own cultural quirks). They bear little similarity to the Radch (and in fact, seeing the Radch from their point of view was fascinating) and exist far outside of the Radchaai sphere of influence. Unlike the Imperial Radch books, this is not a story about colonialism, but rather about cultural history and the significance this takes in society. It's also a much more light-hearted story than that of a sentient warship. Just saying.

I highly recommend Provenance to fans of science fiction who are looking for a relatively light-hearted read. It's full of amusing or perplexing social and diplomatic situations and, while I wouldn't classify it as an outright comedy per se, I laughed out loud many times while I was reading. I hope Leckie writes more books — standalone or series — set in this universe.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2017, Orbit
Series: No, but set in the same world as the Imperial Radch trilogy, after the events of those books
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo shop

Sunday, 3 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 51 to 60

I am starting to catch up on this short story reading thing, though I am still a little behind. This batch of stories has some more stories from Simon Petrie's upcoming Titan-themed collection Wide Brown Land and a handful of stories from miscellaneous sources.

I am really enjoying reading random stories that catch my eye (or, more accurately, random stories that caught past-me's eye so that they got added to Pocket and were subsequently able to catch present-me's eye...). I am thinking that when I get to the end of this challenge I will probably post a list or two of thematically linked stories that I particularly liked. One of the lists will almost certainly be something along the lines of "awesome stories about robots/AI/computers", which I expect will include both "Abandonware" by An Owomoyela and "Interlingua" by Yoon Ha Lee from this batch.


  1. More Than Nothing by Nisi Shawl — A slightly confusing flash story (I wonder if it’s related to something larger?) about a defiantly praying girl. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/more-than-nothing-nisi-shawl/
  2. Broadwing by Simon Petrie — A crash landing and a long wait for rescue. It felt like a scene-setting piece to give us a good feel for Titan and a bit of background on flight and the landscape. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  3. Emptying Roesler by Simon Petrie — About an inspector, a man in an abandoned building (on Titan) and illegal activities. This story ended abruptly, albeit in a logical place. I would not have minded finding out what happened next to the characters. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  4. Interlingua by Yoon Ha Lee — A delightful story about sentient space ships that design games to entertain their crews on long voyages. Things get a bit strange when our protagonist ship designs a game to prepare their crew for an alien contact mission. I really enjoyed this story: both the premise and the execution. One for fans of Ann Leckie (if you’re not already a Yoon Ha Lee fan, like I am). Source: http://uncannymagazine.com/article/interlingua/
  5. The White-Throated Transmigrant by E. Lily Yu — I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story. What I got was taxidermy and a past worth escaping. Well written and engaging. Source: http://www.tor.com/2017/06/21/the-white-throated-transmigrant/
  6. CREVjack by Simon Petrie — This was a reread (see earlier review here: http://tsanasreads.blogspot.com/search/label/simon%20petrie). I came back to reread it after I started “Goldilock” since that story felt like a sequel and I couldn’t remember the specifics of this earlier one. The ending remains emotionally difficult to read. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  7. Goldilock by Simon Petrie — a direct sequel to “CREVjack”, picking up moments after that story left off. It continues in a similarly tense and action-packed vein with another very dramatic ending. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  8. Persephone by Seanan McGuire — A sad flash story set in a dystopian future. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/persephone-seanan-mcguire/
  9. Abandonware by An Owomoyela — A touching story about grief and computers and, unexpectedly, psychohistory (which will be just as enjoyable if you don’t get that reference). I started reading it to fill in some time, but then couldn’t put it down. Source: http://www.fantasy-magazine.com/fiction/abandonware/
  10. Kia and Gio by Daniel José Older — A story about ghosts, aliens and unrequited love. A nice read. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.

Only 40 more to go!


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 41 to 50

I have definitely fallen behind again. In my defence, my recent work-related travel wasn't very conducive to reading, but that's a poor excuse. Anyway, I have just under 50 stories left to read in just over a month. Can it be done? We'll see.

I’ve dipped into a few books of short stories this batch, as well as a couple of random online magazines. There’s Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, from Twelfth Planet Press, which I’ve made a bit of a dent in, and Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie, a new collection of his Titan-set stories that will be out next year.

  1. Song in the Key of You by Sarah Pinsker — a nice story about a near future when “everyone” has personal soundtracks playing from their wrists and a girl who can’t afford the device but loves music. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  2. Blood, Ash, Braids by Genevieve Valentine — A witchy fantasy story about the the Night Witches in WWII (Russian women bombing Nazis from planes). An enjoyable read about friendship, protection and magic. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  3. Mosquito Boy by Felix Gilman — A concept that didn’t really grab me. The narrator tells us of the emergence/existence of mosquito boy creatures (why are there no mosquito girls?). That’s pretty much the whole story. Meh. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  4. The Rainbow Flame by Shveta Thakrar — This story is about teenaged girls questioning the world and their place in it. Except it’s a world made of magic and stories and, of course, things aren’t exactly as they have been told. I found it a bit slow to start and, while it picked up and got more interesting, it’s not a favourite. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  5. The Sixth Day by Silvia Anna Hivén — A strange apocalyptic world in which the edges of reality seem to be stretching out and disappearing. It was interesting and a bit disturbing. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  6. Storm in a T-Suit by Simon Petrie — An interesting story. A storm on Titan, a rescue mission, a tragic backstory and a crazy theory, all made for a thoughtful and engaging read. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  7. For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Ababuo Need Not Apply) by Chesya Burke — An outcast girl with a special, magical role to play for her Ghanan home city, which will make her die young. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  8. Rib by Yukimi Ogawa — A nice story about a skeleton woman and the little boy she helps. It was a bit weird, but also heartwarming. Source: http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/rib/
  9. Hatchway by Simon Petrie — A story about peer pressure as well as the pressure of Titan’s atmosphere, with chilling elements for both the protagonist and the reader. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  10. The Shape of the Darkness As It Overtakes Us by Dimas Ilaw — Not what I was expecting at all. This is a story about stories and the way they can sustain us in difficult times. The difficult times in particular being oppressive and violent martial rule in the Philippines. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/shape-darkness-overtakes-us/

Stay tuned for more frequent story posts as I try to catch up on this challenge I've set myself...

Monday, 27 November 2017

The Last Guard by KJ Taylor

The Last Guard by KJ Taylor is the first in a new trilogy, The Southern Star, set in the same universe as The Fallen Moon trilogy, which I reviewed on this blog — The Dark Griffin, Griffin's Flight and Griffin's War. There is also a second trilogy, The Risen Sun, which falls between The Fallen Moon and  The Southern Star, which I haven't (yet) read.

Southerner Sergeant Kearney "Red" Redguard is the last of a disgraced family, and a loyal guardsman. And with a murderer stalking the streets, the city guard is his city's best defense.

But in the North, King Caedmon Taranisäii is gathering his army, and the cruel Night God prepares for the downfall of the South. A new dark griffin roams the land, warning of the war to come.

Betrayed and sent on the run, Red must fight to save his homeland. But it may already be too late...

The Last Guard features new protagonists, as far as I know, and a new story arc. It follows on from the events in the first two trilogies, but a lot of those events are now considered (recent) history. To explain context, some of the key events of the Fallen Moon trilogy were mentioned and I think the same is true of the Risen Sun trilogy, although that was, of course, harder for me to spot. I felt like there were enough hints about the earlier events that I wanted to go back and read the missing trilogy to fill in the gaps. However, no crucial information was missing from The Last Guard and the book worked by itself as a story. My verdict is: you don't have to have read the earlier books/series to enjoy The Last Guard, but there will be extra layers of significance (or more quickly apparent significance) if you have.

On to the actual story! The bulk of the book follows Red, a city guard who is very good at his job and takes pride in it. The story starts with a few strange crimes in the city that draw Red's attention and soon escalates to something a bit more extreme, as hinted in the blurb. Red is soon fighting for his life, his city and his country as everything he'd gotten used to in life comes crashing down around him.

I liked Red as a character and the few times the point of view shifted to other characters I always felt a bit impatient to get back to Red. Not that the other characters were boring or anything, but the main story very much moved with Red. I wouldn't be surprised if that balance shifted a bit in the next book, though I won't spoil why I think that. We also get to know a few of the griffin characters on both sides of the growing conflict. I found it interesting to compare the griffin-human relationships with, for example, the dragon-human relationships in other books like the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I think the idea of griffins would appeal to fans of dragons, but they come with a different background and, of course, less mythological baggage.

I recommend this book to fans of epic fantasy and of the author's earlier griffin series (The Fallen Moon and The Risen Sun trilogies). It's certainly in a similar vein to the first series and fans of Taylor's other books will find much to enjoy in the continuing events taking place in that world. That said, this first book stands alone as an introduction to a new series without requiring the earlier books to make sense. It's not a bad place to start and if you read The Last Guard and find yourself wanting to know more about the world, you can always go back and read the earlier books without having to wait for the second Southern Star book to come out.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2017, Black Phoenix Publishing Collective
Series: The Souther Star trilogy, book 1 of 3 (with the series itself being the third of three so far, following the Fallen Moon trilogy and the Risen Sun trilogy)
Format read: eARC (PDF)
Source: provided by the publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a novella set in the same universe as her short story "Cookie Cutter Superhero", published in Kaleidoscope, and the novella Kid Dark Against the Machine. You don't have to have read the earlier stories to enjoy or understand Girl Reporter, but the characters from the earlier stories show up and provide minor spoilers for their backstories.

In a world of superheroes, supervillains, and a machine that can create them all, millennial vlogger and girl reporter Friday Valentina has no shortage of material to cover. Every lottery cycle, a new superhero is created and quite literally steps into the shoes of the hero before them--displacing the previous hero. While Fri may not be super-powered herself, she understands the power of legacy: her mother is none other than the infamous reporter Tina Valentina, renowned worldwide for her legendary interviews with the True Blue Aussie Beaut Superheroes and her tendency to go to extraordinary lengths to get her story.

This time, Tina Valentina may have ventured too far.

Alongside Australia's greatest superheroes--including the powerful Astra, dazzling Solar, and The Dark in his full brooding glory--Friday will go to another dimension in the hopes of finding her mother, saving the day, maybe even getting the story of a lifetime out of the adventure. (And possibly a new girlfriend, too.)

This novella was a positively delightful read. It blends Roberts' humour with social commentary on the state of superhero fiction and various contemporary issues, especially those surrounding representation. Additionally the novella is so Australian it hurts (in a good way). Despite the alternate universe setting, Roberts finds plenty of opportunity to engage with modern Australian culture and hark back to the Australian culture of the 80s and 90s. I expect there will be some references that non-Australians will miss, but the novella won't be the worse for it. And everything really important is explained anyway.

The other delightful thing about this novel is the upbeat and clever voice of Tina Valentina. I will always have a soft spot for snark, but it's also nice to have a protagonist who is pretty upbeat and excited about things, despite some cynicism. Also, Tina drops backstory into the narrative very naturally, whether it's superhero history or about her mother. Roberts has nailed alternate-dimension young Millennial, and I say this as a non-super-dimension older Millennial.

This was my favourite of all three stories in the "Cookie Cutter Superhero-Verse" so far. I hope there will be more. I love the setting and all the characters so far have been great. There hasn't been very much superhero fiction (that I'm aware of) set in Australia and the strong Aussie-ness of the setting really boosts the book into an even more exciting take on superheroes, rather than yet another superhero story set in New York.

I highly recommend Girl Reporter to all fans of superhero stories. It's fun and fresh and full of diversity. Being a novella, it's also a pretty quick read. I can't wait to read more books set in this world.

5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2017, Book Smugglers
Series: Cookie Cutter Superhero-Verse, third instalment of three so far. Stand-alone.
Format read: ePub ARC
Source: review copy provided by author
Disclaimer: Although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to write an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest book in my re-read of the Vorkosigan saga. It comes chronologically after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. I had remembered this as "the Illyan book", but of course, it's still mostly another Miles book, focussing on a transitionary period in Miles's life (and also in Simon Illyan's life).

Miles hits 30... Thirty hits back.

Miles turns 30, and--though he isn't slowing down just yet--he is starting to lose interest in the game of Wall: the one where he tries to climb the wall, fails, gets up, and tries again. Having finally reached a point in his life where he can look back and realize that he has managed to prove his courage and competence, he can move on to bigger and better things.

This book follows Miles on a more internal journey than usual. Although there is some excitement in it, there is less action and fewer daring rescues. In fact Miles spends a lot of the book coming to terms with the fact that all his adventures have caught up with him, medically speaking. After having spent so long overcoming his disadvantages though sheer determination, the abrupt realisation that he can’t will his way past his latest problem is not a shock he deals with well. But, Miles being
Miles and also the protagonist, events conspire to push him in a new and interesting direction.

As I hinted in my introduction, this is also a book that features Simon Illyan quite prominently. Previously he appeared in Miles’s life mostly as a slightly distant authority figure — despite having known Miles since birth, their professional relationship was mostly very professional (avoiding mild treason notwithstanding). But now we get to learn more about Illyan’s job and it’s demands. And we see that Miles is actually one of the closest people to him. And of course, it’s useful to have Miles on your side if something goes wrong.

The other character we get to see more of in this book (not for the first time) is Ivan. He provides an amusing side plot and counter to some of Miles’s darker moments. And of course, he gets dragged into Miles’s plans.

This book is clever and, even though I remembered most of the ending, it stood up well upon rereading. It’s a thoughtful book and, while parts of it are very difficult for Miles, it wasn’t as difficult for readers, compared with its immediate prequel, Mirror Dance, for example. Because it’s such a transitionary book, I don’t think I’d recommend it as a stand-alone, but it works very well in the broader context of the series and as a marker of this turning point in Miles’s life. And, as (almost) always, it made me excited to read the next book in the series.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Baen, 1996
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, chronologically after Mirror Dance and before Komarr
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts is the second novella in the Belladonna University series. It chronologically follows Fake Geek Girl and precedes The Bromancers, although I read and both of those novellas first. They're all relatively self-contained and reading them out of order only really leads to mild character development spoilers and spoilers regarding the introduction of new characters.

One magical university, divided between the Colleges of the Real and Unreal. One pub. One indie band. A lot of drunk witches on a Friday night. One shattered friendship, due to be repaired. One Practical Mythology paper which really has to be finished by Monday... Oh, and trolls. Let’s see who survives Friday night drinks!

This is a fluffy story about a grumpy post-grad which touches on some deeper issues. Viola Vale come from a rich upper-class family who are, and consort with, important decision-makers in the magical world. And of course they look down on non-magical people. The story is about Viola coming to terms with one of her best friends (also from an upper-crusty family) having been in a magical accident that stripped him of his power. It's a story of learning understanding and acceptance and Viola's journey is quite pronounced. She goes from wanting to fix her, now unmagical friend, Chauv, to accepting him as the person he now is.

The other, slightly less significant, story of acceptance is Viola's slow-building tolerance for Chauv's new friends, flatmates and girlfriend, who are basically the Fake Geek Girl gang. She goes from generalised distain for people she sees as beneath her to grudging acceptance (but not of the music), and something approaching respect for Sage and Hebe.

All it all, this was a fun, short and relaxing read with enough depth to properly address the more serious issues that it raised. I enjoyed it and I recommend it to all fans of Roberts' writing and to fans of humorous or lighthearted fantasy and geek culture. I look forward to more instalments in the series.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published via Patreon
Series: Belladonna University, novella 2 (after Fake Geek Girl, before The Bromancers)
Format read: ePub
Source: The author's Patreon
Disclaimer: Although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Penric's Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold is the third Penric novella that I’ve read, after Penric's Demon and Penric and the Shaman. I haven’t read any of the novels set in the same world. I mistakenly thought Penric’s Mission was chronologically third in the Penric series and then was very confused when it was set about ten years after the previous Penric novella I’d read. Turns out it was the third to be published, not the third chronologically. Whoops! Bujold’s non-chronological writing strikes again!

Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on his first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems: Penric is betrayed and thrown into a dungeon, and worse follows for the general and his kin. Penric’s narrow escapes and adventures — including his interest in a young widow — are told with Bujold’s remarkable energy, wit and humor. Once again, Bujold has created unforgettable characters and a wondrous, often dangerous world of intrigue and sorcery. Third novella in the Penric and Desdemona series.

Aside from my confusion as to what number book I was reading, I mostly enjoyed Penric’s Mission. I didn’t love it, though, and it’s probably my least favourite Penric book so far. It felt like it was bridging two parts of Penric’s life, but without much knowledge of the earlier part, I suspect some of the significance was lost on me. Last time I encountered Penric, he was still new. Now, ten years later, not only does he better know what he’s doing, but he’s coming from a bunch of history unfamiliar to me. We get some reminiscences which do explain how Penric got to where he was at the start of the story, but they come later in the story. I felt like more context at the start would have been helpful (and maybe would have existed if I read a chronologically earlier book first).

Penric’s Mission follows Penric while he’s been instructed to recruit a general who had been corresponding with the duke Penric is currently working for. But as soon as Penric arrives in the city, he’s arrested and, it turns out, the general has been arrested too. The questions of who betrayed Penric and why are less pressing than his immediate survival. By the time we find out the answers, they don’t seem that relevant anymore. I didn’t feel there was a very satisfying answer to “why is any of this happening?” especially since we learned Penric’s motivations so late in the story.

None of which is to say I didn’t enjoy the book, just that it could have been more enjoyable. I still fully intend to keep reading Penric stories and I especially hope we can fill in some more of the ten years that got skipped between this novella and the last.

I actually don’t think this novella is a terrible place to start reading Penric, for all that I said above. A new reader coming to it wouldn’t have much less information than I did and is likely to be less frustrated by time jumps they know nothing about. The story does not rely on any prior knowledge to work as a stand-alone. The only reason I’d particularly suggest starting with the earlier books is because I liked them more, but otherwise I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Penric’s Mission to fans of fantasy who are looking for a shorter read.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published (my edition: November 2017, Subterranean Press)
Series: Penric and Desdemona, #3 in publication order of 6ish so far
Format read: eARC (PDF)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 2 November 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 31 to 40

If you've been following me on twitter and/or my #ReadShortStories tweeting, you might have noticed that I have a tendency to do these things in bursts. I am the kind of person who finds it much harder to do something every single day — even if it's something small — than to do more of it in a catch-up (or work ahead) lump.

Anyway, here are stories 31 to 40. A mixed bag from a variety of sources. My favourite stories in this batch were "Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer — highly recommended for fans of Murderbot and last batch's "Fandom for Robots" — "Foxfire, Foxfire" — a fantasy/mythology mecha war story — and "God Product" and "An Abundance of Fish" — both excellent flash stories.


  1. Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer — Another delightful robot story, this time one who only wants cat pictures and, to a lesser extent, to help people. I can see why it won the Hugo and Locus Awards and got shortlisted for a Nebula. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_01_15/
  2. Application for the Delegation of First Contact: Questionnaire, Part B by Kathrin Köhler — A mildly amusing construct which raises some very valid points but did not really grip me due to the non-standard form of the story. Source: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2015/05/application-for-the-delegation-of-first-contact-questionnaire-part-b-by-kathrin-kohler.html
  3. The Future of Hunger in the Age of Programmable Matter by Sam J. Miller — An interesting story. It took me a little while to get into because the opening was hard to follow in between the narrator’s interjections, but I’m glad I pushed through because it went to a lot of unexpected places (I don’t want to spoil the plot though). It made me think a lot about the construction of stories and narratives, and how several different ideas can fit together. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/10/18/the-future-of-hunger-in-the-age-of-programmable-matter/
  4. Foxfire, Foxfire by Yoon Ha Lee — A very enjoyable story set in an alternate reality Korea during a war fought with something like human-piloted mechs amid a supernatural backdrop. The main character is a gumiho (nine-tailed fox) who is close to eating enough humans to remain human. Her last kill does not turn out to be as straightforward as she planned. Source: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/foxfire-foxfire/
  5. The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor by Catherynne M Valente — Another very short story is the “nevertheless, she persisted” series on tor.com. It didn’t especially do it for me and seemed a bit too much of a shaggy dog story (I can see how that was by design, but meh). Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/the-ordinary-woman-and-the-unquiet-emperor-catherynne-valente/
  6. God Product by Alyssa Wong — Excellent, arresting flash, the best so far in Tor.com's “nevertheless, she persisted” series. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/god-product-alyssa-wong/
  7. An Abundance of Fish by S. Qiouyi Lu — which was lovely and heartbreaking and contained fish. A story of love and loss. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/an-abundance-of-fish/
  8. Astronaut by Maria Dahvana Headley — which was very short and very touching and realer than I initially realised. Another in Tor.com's “nevertheless, she persisted” series. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/astronaut-maria-dahvana-headley/
  9. Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar — was well-written but didn’t really do it for me. Another in Tor.com's “nevertheless, she persisted” series. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/anabasis-amal-el-mohtar/
  10. Heart of Straw by Seanan McGuire — a Halloween story about trick of treating and the magic of the night. It was both less and more creepy than I expected, but very heartfelt, either way. Source: Seanan McGuire's Patreon.


I really should read more stories from the paper anthologies on my shelves (since that was part of my original aim), but reading electronically is so much easier...


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Mirror Dance - The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Mirror Dance is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Brothers in Arms and before Memory and contains a major spoiler for Brothers in Arms (don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled!). In Mirror Dance the story is split between Miles’s point of view and that of his brother, Mark. This is the first time there have been multiple points of view in a Vorkosigan Saga book.


You can read Tsana’s review of Mirror Dance here and Katharine’s review here.





Tsana: Well. That was one of the least funny and light-hearted installments in the Vorkosigan Saga so far. Still a compelling read, but it did nothing to cheer me up while I was reading (I made the mistake of marathoning a depressing TV show at the same time, so that was a bleak few days)...


Katharine: That’s almost putting it lightly. My personal review of the book was brief, because there’s not a lot to be said without spoilers (at least for a previous book) and it was just too full on. It’s important to mention that it dealt with it all so well - we’ll get into it more as we go, of course, but for how triggering it could be for anyone who’s suffered any type of trauma, I thought the way the characters reacted and handled it was incredibly positive.


Tsana: Ultimately it was a heavy book that dealt with some heavy topics. But those themes were kind of unavoidable given Mark’s past. This is really the book where we, not only get to know Mark, but also get to see him grow and start to come into his own. But Mark had a traumatic childhood and young adulthood, so there’s no escaping negative stuff. Throwing Mark into the mix with Miles and the kinds of dangerous shenanigans he usually gets up to and disaster is bound to strike. Although this is hardly the first time the Vorkosigan stories have gone to dark places.


Katharine: All very true. So basically, it’s been two years since Mark has had anything to do with Miles—


Tsana: OK, sorry but I’m going to interrupt here. It really bothered me how it says it’s two years later but it’s really more like three or four. Mark was 18 in Brothers in Arms and now he’s 22. Miles was 24 and now he’s 28. Minor continuity errors are annoying when you’re paying closer attention than usual because you’re going to be dissecting the story later. (But really, Bujold does a pretty good job, especially since these two books were published five years apart.)


Katharine: I have to admit I just flicked through as I was sure it was four years, however there’s countless references (mostly at the start) stating two. Which makes a little more sense as to how far Mark has come so far (ie, not very) but ...that’s about it.


So really, it’s been about four years since Mark has had anything to do with Miles, the Dendarii - anyone. Miles has been splitting his life between being his Vor self and as Admiral Naismith, and it’s now that Mark makes a grab for getting his revenge on Jackson’s Whole. To do this, he’s going to pretend to be Miles once again, take the Dendarii, and hopefully free a whole lot of kids and burn their business to the ground.


Tsana: Yes, Mark seems to have flittered around not doing much and living off Miles’s money (that he gave him at the end of Brothers in Arms) until now, when he decides to mount a clone rescue. Amusingly, an idea first put into his head by Miles, not long before they parted ways. At this stage, it looks like Mark wants to be a better Miles — a better hero. Freeing clone kids is more heroic than undermining the Cetagandans, right?


Katharine: Especially with the mentions of how Miles had the chance to do exactly what Mark wants to, and decided to pass it up… it looks like Mark is going to fight the good fight. He manages it for a while - calls the ship to come get him, fobs off the reasons as to where Quinn is, manages to win Bel to his way of thinking (not hard, as Bel says how glad it is they’re finally righting this), and then…


Tsana: Well Bel isn’t fooled for very long. There was a moment when Mark worries that Bel’s onto him and then relaxes when Bel continues on as normal, but that was totally the moment when Bel became sure that Mark was Mark rather than Miles. I think Mark’s biggest mistake in dealing with Miles’s people is underestimating how much Miles cares about him. Those closest to Miles have presumably spent the past two-to-four years hearing him worry about his brother so when Mark, disguised as Miles, refers to himself as the “clone”, it’s a huge red flag. But Bel, as you said, goes along with it because they believe in the mission. But Mark isn’t Miles and his plans don’t go anywhere near as smoothly… Especially not once Miles is on their tail.


Katharine: Bel quickly takes control once Mark’s decision making and tactical experience is shown to be pretty subpar when it comes to mounting an attack and directing units of people. Mark has somehow forgotten what it was like to be a clone in that very facility, and is shocked when the clones don’t sing their praises and escape with them gleefully. They fight back, they manage to run and hide back with their captors, and the delays cost them the valuable time they were counting on to get out safely. They get pinned down, thankfully just around the time Miles has figured out what the hell has happened (when the Dendarii haven’t waited for him, and he’s had to make his own way following them, almost a week behind), meaning Big Brother Miles is here to save the day.


Tsana: Not that Mark wants him to save the day, exactly. But Mark wasn’t prepared for the pressures and requisite snap-decision making in combat, so he does want someone else to take over and fix it (so long as he still gets credit for the rescue).


Miles jumps into the fray but with fewer resources than usual. He has borrowed armour, because Mark stole his, and doesn’t have his control helmet to get a proper overview of the situation. It… doesn’t end well.


Should we have already put up spoiler shields?


Katharine: Probably. Beep beep boop!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang is the companion novella to The Red Threads of Fortune, with the two novellas having been released simultaneously. I happened to read The Red Threads of Fortune first, not for any particularly informed reason — I think I happened to have seen more marketing for that one when I made my preorder. This review will contain a lot of comparisons between the two novellas but I will try to avoid spoiling the other.

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What's more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother's Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother's twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

Black Tides of Heaven follows Akeha, the twin of Mokoya, who was the protagonist in Red Threads of Heaven. As well as following the other twin, it is also set much earlier in time, following the twins (always from Akeha's point of view) from childhood until their thirties. While Red Threads had a lot of physical/geographical world building that drew me into the world and made me want to learn more, Black Tides had a lot more social world building. We got a more thorough explanation of the attitudes towards and treatment of gender, which was only hinted at and encountered obliquely in 
Red Threads.

The social treatment of gender was very interesting, actually. Children, when born, are treated gender neutrally until they choose their gender when they feel ready. At that point it is usual, but not compulsory, to visit doctors to have the chosen gender biologically assigned. My impression was that it was something like puberty being delayed until desired, but aspects of magic were involved.

The story itself was presented in widely spaced chunks of time, showing us significant events at different stages of Akeha's life. As the "spare" twin (next to his sister, the Prophet), he has a very different set of issues and worries in life. We also learn about some events that are important backstory in Red Threads but from Akeha's point of view. I'm a bit torn as to which is the "best" reading order for these two novellas. Black Tides is the stronger volume, in my opinion, and packs more of an emotional punch. Being set earlier in time, it's also a logical choice for reading first. However, I didn't feel that reading them in the reverse order ruined the story or anything like that. They work when read in either order.

I recommend The Black Tides of Heaven to anyone who enjoyed Red Threads of Fortune and to fans of fantasy more generally. Especially to anyone looking for fantasy books that explore gender in interesting ways. I gather that there will be another pair of novellas in this world coming out next year, and I am planning to pick those up when they do.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2017, Tor.com
Series: Tensorate, book 1 of two book ones
Format read: ePub eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 27 October 2017

The Bromancers by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Bromancers by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a novella set in the Fake Geek Girl universe. I had previously read (or, well, listened to) the short story “Fake Geek Girl” on her Sheep Might Fly podcast and chose to read The Bromancers because I was in the mood for something light. I didn't realise that there was another short story chronologically before The Bromancers, "Unmagical Boy Story", but The Bromancers made perfect sense without it, albeit I was probably lacking some background on a few of the characters in The Bromancers.

Our favourite witchy rock band, Fake Geek Girl, are road-tripping to a magical music festival in a wi-fi free zone on the same weekend that the season finale of their favourite TV show drops. Can they avoid spoilers? Can Hebe, Holly, Juniper & Sage camp in tents for three days without murdering each other? Can coffee really fix EVERYTHING including missing band members, messy relationship drama and obsessive fan shenanigans?

Friendship is magic, but if you pile too much friendship on top of too much magic over one weekend, the results are bound to be explosive.

The Bromancers follows the band members of Fake Geek Girl and their friends as they go camping at a music festival. There are shenanigans, hijinks, a bit of danger and a portion of relationship drama. The title comes from a TV show the friends are highly invested in, the season finale of which just happens to coincide with the no-wifi music festival. There's a lot of cute fan-related bonding thrown into the mix.

Each chapter of The Bromancers follows a different character as they worry about the things important to them, allowing us to learn more about them. This method of storytelling also allows the reader to see various characters from the points of view of other characters, which makes for interesting juxtaposition. Overall, I would call this a cosy contemporary fantasy story.


I recommend The Bromancers to fans of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ work, especially her more light hearted fiction. I suggest reading the short story “Fake Geek Girl” (or listening to it for free on the Sheep Might Fly podcast) for a bit of context before The Bromancers, but it’s not essential. I am planning to read the short story I accidentally skipped, “Unmagical Boy Story”, soon.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2017, Self-Published
Series: Belladonna U, story 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts' Patreon
Disclaimer: Although Tansy is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 21 to 30

After reading a glut of short stories thanks to Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho, I slowed down a bit in my challenge and have only just pushed up my story talley to the next multiple of ten. Most of these listed below are still from Spirits Abroad (for which you can read the full and more detailed review here), but the list is bulked out with a few other stories too. I would like to particularly draw your attention to "Fandom for Robots" by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, which was positively delightful.


  1. The Perseverance of Angela's Past Life by Zen Cho — Sort of a sequel/companion story to the previous, focussing on Prudence’s best friend Angela. Unlike Prudence, Angela is very sensitive to magic and close proximity to a dragon caused some of her issues to physically manifest. Another amusing story. I would be more than happy to read a novel set in this time period of this world. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  2. The Earth Spirit’s Favourite Anecdote by Zen Cho — the story of finding a hole in the forest and dealing with a forest spirit, told by an earth spirit. Not my favourite story in this collection. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  3. Liyana by Zen Cho — a depressing but really fascinating story. A class of folklore idea that I don’t think I’ve come across before. But also, more than metaphorically about women’s sacrifice for the family. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  4. The Four Generations of Chang E by Zen Cho — A story about being the child of immigrants and fitting in or not. Also aliens on the moon. And from the authors notes, some mythological subtext that went over my head. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  5. The Many Deaths is Hang Jebat by Zen Cho — was a bit confusing and I was a bit lost as to where it was going until I read the author’s notes and saw that it was based on mythology I had no knowledge of. The summary in the author’s notes made yet a bit clearer and I can now see what the author was trying to do, but the story doesn’t work that well on its own. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  6. From A to Z in the Book of Changes by Seanan McGuire — More a collection of flash pieces or drabbles inspired by words (one for each letter of the alphabet) than a traditional short story. They are sort of tied together at the end and range from mildly amusing to creepy. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon
  7. The Fish Bowl by Zen Cho — a dawning horror story about the pressure to do well in school and a concerning bargain with a magic fish. Harrowing. I quite liked the story, but I wanted a bit more from the end than we got, I think. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  8. Balik Kampung by Zen Cho — a story about a ghost returning to earth for the Hungry Ghost Festival and, in the course of events, finding out how she died. A good story to end the collection on. Some humour, some sadness. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  9. Our Faces, Radiant Sisters, Our Faces Full of Light! by Kameron Hurley — a very short story about persistence for the greater good in the face of certain death and monsters. Source: Nevertheless , She Persisted series on Tor.com https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/our-faces-radiant-sisters-our-faces-full-of-light-kameron-hurley/
  10. Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad — An adorable story about the world’s only sentient robot who was created in the 1950s and now lives in a museum. One day, someone recommends and anime to him and things spiral out from there. Such an adorable and fun read. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/fandom-for-robots/ 

My plan for the next few shorts is to read more random stories freely available online (having already added a bunch to Pocket).

Monday, 23 October 2017

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest instalment in my chronological read-through of the Vorkosigan Saga. It follows on chronologically from Brothers in Arms, dealing with the ramifications of some of the events in that earlier book. As a result, this review contains major spoilers for Brothers in Arms (and so does the blurb). You have been warned.

Mark Vorkosigan is the cloned "twin" of Lord Miles Vorkosigan, born six years after Miles and raised by a psychopathic madman for nefarious political purposes. That's old news, however, conveyed in the prequel Brothers in Arms. Now, in Mirror Dance, Mark still has no identity of his own and no place to call home. One thing he does know: He must free the young clones from the sinister "orphanage" he left behind years ago, on Jackson's Whole. Pretending to be his twin, Admiral of the Dendarii Mercenaries, he just might be able to pull it off. But at what cost? And is Miles his brother's keeper?

I remembered this wasn't a very cheerful book, which at least helped me manage my expectations, even if I didn't entirely remember the order of certain events. The book tells part of the story in alternating chapters from Mark's and Miles's points of view, at times focussing in on the brother with the most pertinent/pressing storyline. We get to know Mark a lot better as he gets to know himself. Finally free of his creators and captors, no longer forced to imitate Miles, he spends some time working out what's important to him, and then working it out again and again as things go awry.

Unlike many of its prequels and sequels, Mirror Dance isn't very cheerful or funny. There were maybe two finny scenes in the whole book, and the first one came a significant portion of the way in. Do not pick this up looking for a light and fun read. This book has some horrible bits, with serious torture, much worse than anything we saw in earlier books, although partly along the lines of what was hinted at earlier with regards to Jackson's Whole and especially House Bharaputra. That's not to say that it's not a good book — it absolutely is — but it's cerebral and deals with psychological issues and, well, Mark isn't as much of a quipper as Miles is.

I definitely recommend this book to fans of the Vorkosigan Saga and Bujold generally, just be warned that it's darker and less humorous than many of the earlier books. I wouldn't choose it as a book to cheer up with. That said, it delves into some really interesting issues and is definitely worth a read. Mirror Dance is also a terrible place to start reading the Vorkosigan books and I strongly recommend reading Brothers in Arms (at least!) first.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Baen, 1994
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, chronologically after Brothers in Arms and before Memory
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles Errant omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago