Thursday, 22 August 2019

Shout-Out: Denizens of Distant Realms by Dawn Vogel

In Denizens of Distant Realms, fantastical things intertwine in half a dozen fantasy short stories. Dragons and witches fend off suitors by unconventional means, old pacts with demons are fixed with true love, dark magic threatens lives and livelihoods, and magical shoes and mermaids both offer young women new opportunities.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Book Review: The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Pros: interesting characters, fast paced, thought-provoking


Gibson Wells, founder of the Cloud tech empire that dominates the US economy, is dying. After Cloud puts Paxton’s business under, he applies to work at one of their MotherCloud facilities, where people work and live. He expects this to be a temporary gig, to earn enough money so he can be his own boss again. Zinnia has been hired to infiltrate a Cloud facility and steal proprietary information.

Their paths collide inside the company in a novel that explores how far corporate America will go to ‘make the world a better place’.

The book takes place during the slow economic and environmental collapse of America. The world is not as apocalyptic as Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, but it’s getting there. With fewer and fewer options, more people are opting to work for Cloud, which has both caused many of the problems mentioned in the book even as it tries to (claims to) make things better.

At the start of the book I felt sympathy for Wells, but as I learned more about him, and saw the predatory nature behind his smiles and the abusive personality behind his policies I started to despise him. Though Zinnia is also manipulative I found I still liked her at the end of the book. She’s feisty and smart and I wanted her to be happy. I thought she and Paxton made a good couple and hoped they’d stay together, despite some of her choices towards the end. Paxton was a mixed bag. I liked him but he was easily manipulated by everyone around him, which made me feel less sympathetic towards him.

The book was surprisingly fast paced. Adult dystopian fiction generally drags a bit due to excess worldbuilding or political sentiment. The focus here really is on the characters so it was a quick read - and hard to put down towards the end.

That’s not to say there weren’t some poignant moments where you can see how our own world is heading in this direction. The company is obviously modelled after Amazon and Walmart and their practices of forcing producers to cut costs so they can sell products a the lowest price possible. It does end of a slightly more positive note than other dystopian books as well.

This is definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Shout-Out: The Echo Chamber by Rhett Evans

A Silicon Valley scandal sets off a chain of dystopian events in this topical and twist-laden thriller about virtual heists, social media, and second chances.
Mike is a Silicon Valley wunderkind who stood idly by while his company launched an addicting social media platform that made the world take a turn for the worse. He did nothing when an outrageous tech scandal pushed a polarized country to the brink of collapse. Then, after becoming trapped in a loop of his own memories, he is doomed to watch society fall apart over and over. Only by crossing paths with Charlotte Boone—once Hollywood’s up-and-coming royalty—does a kink appear in the pattern. With a daring heist in both the virtual and real worlds, Charlotte may hold the key to burning it all to the ground: the company, the lying pundits, and the echo chamber itself.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Book Review: The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

Pros: brilliant worldbuilding, interesting magic and mythology, interesting characters


Two hundred cycles ago, Omehi refugees landed on the shores of Xidda and fought off the natives to claim a peninsula. They hold it through the force of their army and their Gifted. Tau Solarin is a High Common, nearing manhood and the test that will either let him train for his mandatory military service or force him to become a drudge. Neither future appeals to him, but a series of tragedies leaves him burning for revenge. Suddenly military training is the only future that matters.

The worldbuilding in this book is brilliant. There’s a lot of vocabulary to learn in the prologue and first chapter, but by chapter two I knew what everything meant. There is a glossary at the back of the book if you need it though. I’d heard online the book had African influences. After reading it I looked up some of the words and they are from the Xhosa language, though the meanings don’t all seem to translate to how they’re used in the book.

I loved the intricacies of how everything fit together: the military, the Chosen, the Gifted, the castes. There’s history on the peninsula as well as a mostly forgotten history of why they fled their homeland. A lot is left unsaid and I’m hoping some of that history will come up in the sequels. The world felt so real at times that I burned for the injustices felt by the Lessers and the often arbitrary justice the Noble castes could inflict on them.

Magic is sparingly used but I loved learning about it. I also liked that there are different beliefs in magic by the natives and invaders. There are limits to its use, which meant the stakes stayed high during battle. I also enjoyed learning about their underworld, the demons, etc.

The characters were all unique. Tau wasn’t the most likeable character. At times I felt sorry for him, at others I wanted to shake some sense into him. I loved some of the supporting cast members - especially the members in his core training group. I was impressed that the author introduced characters slowly, so you could really get to know them before adding more people to the group. It made it easy to remember who everyone was.

There’s a light romance. So light at the beginning of the novel that I expected the woman to disappear from the narrative entirely and was very happy that she not only came back in but had her own interests and goals (ie, wasn’t just the ‘love interest’) and played an important role at the end of the book.

Speaking of women, among the Omehi they are the rulers and Gifted (though have little import outside of those roles) while among the natives women are fully integrated into the military. It was cool to see some different social norms.

The book gets pretty brutal at times and very intense. Towards the end I needed a few breaks even though I wanted to know what would happen next. I’m not a huge fan of grimdark as I find the books can go too far in their attempts to be edgy and shocking, and so was happy there were no rape scenes in this (though there is mention that it does happen in the world).

If you’re looking for something different and like grimdark fantasy, give this a go.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Pros: intense, interesting characters


Gyre Price lied on her application and took the caver job expecting to earn enough money to leave the planet and find the mother who abandoned her when she was a child. She didn’t know she would only have a single handler on the surface, one who can’t be trusted. Nor did she expect that spending so long in the darkness and isolation would make her see things… hear things…

I bought this book on the recommendation of some authors I follow and so never read the back cover to find out what the book was about. I assumed - from the cover and random comments - that it was about zombies on an alien planet. It’s not.

Once I realized what the book actually was, the story of what happens to a person when they are isolated and afraid, I settled in for a different kind of horror. Gyre’s paranoia ramps up when she realizes she can’t trust the only human link she has, kicking off an intense love-hate relationship with the only person who can save her life if things go bad. And things go bad.

In addition to the natural cave environment and the dangers it poses (climbing, falling, equipment failure, swimming, etc) there’s also a creature on the planet that can swim through rock. No one understands what calls the tunnelers, but calling one is usually a death sentence.

This is a very intense read. At times Gyre isn’t sure what’s real and what isn’t and waffles between rational decision making and pure paranoid outbursts. The ending is especially tense and I really wasn’t sure what would happen to her.

If you like survival stories, this is great.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Shout-Out: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth's last astronaut--and last hope--in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.

Sally Jansen was NASA's leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.

She's wrong.

A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.

Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it's the shot at redemption she always longed for.

But as the object slowly begins to reveal its secrets, one thing becomes horribly clear: the future of humanity lies in Jansen's hands.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Books Received in July 2019

Towards a Global Middle Ages: Encountering the World through Illuminated Manuscripts Edited by Bryan Keene - I requested this from Netgalley and am very excited to read this. Illuminated manuscripts are one of my favourite elements of medieval art. I have been reading up on Ethiopian history and art and was impressed that there are several essays on Ethiopia included. There are also essays on nations I'm not well versed in. Hoping to learn a lot from this book.

This important and overdue book examines illuminated manuscripts and other book arts of the Global Middle Ages. Illuminated manuscripts and illustrated or decorated books—like today’s museums—preserve a rich array of information about how premodern peoples conceived of and perceived the world, its many cultures, and everyone’s place in it. Often a Eurocentric field of study, manuscripts are prisms through which we can glimpse the interconnected global history of humanity.
Toward a Global Middle Ages is the first publication to examine decorated books produced across the globe during the period traditionally known as medieval. Through essays and case studies, the volume’s multidisciplinary contributors expand the historiography, chronology, and geography of manuscript studies to embrace a diversity of objects, individuals, narratives, and materials from Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the Americas—an approach that both engages with and contributes to the emerging field of scholarly inquiry known as the Global Middle Ages.
Featuring 160 color illustrations, this wide-ranging and provocative collection is intended for all who are interested in engaging in a dialogue about how books and other textual objects contributed to world-making strategies from about 400 to 1600.

Eridani's Crown by Alex Shvartsman - Not sure about this one, mainly because I'm currently burned out on fantasy, but I'll give it a go.

When Eridani's parents are murdered and their kingdom is seized by a traitorous duke, she plans to run. After she suffers yet another unendurable loss, the lure of revenge pulls her back.
Eridani's brilliance as a strategist offers her a path to vengeance and the throne, but success may mean becoming everything she hates. To survive, she must sway religious zealots, outwit ambitious politicians, and confront bloodthirsty warlords, all with few allies and fewer resources. Yet the most menacing obstacle she must overcome is the prophecy uttered by a powerful sorceress:
Everyone you know and trust will come to betray you.

Starship Repo by Patrick Tomlinson - I have to admit, I tried his previous novel, Gate Crashers and it just wasn't for me. Humour is such a subjective thing.

Firstname Lastname is a no one with nowhere to go. With a name that is the result of an unfortunate clerical error and destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. That is until she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repomen (they are definitely not pirates).
Now she's traveling the galaxy "recovering" ships. What could go wrong?