Saturday 31 August 2019

Books Received in August 2019

My thanks to Saga Press for sending me the following books.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone - An excellent time travel novella with a romantic underpinning. I reviewed it here.

In the ashes of a dying world, Red finds a letter marked “Burn before reading. Signed, Blue.”
So begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents in a war that stretches through the vast reaches of time and space.
Red belongs to the Agency, a post-singularity technotopia. Blue belongs to Garden, a single vast consciousness embedded in all organic matter. Their pasts are bloody and their futures mutually exclusive. They have nothing in common—save that they’re the best, and they’re alone.
Now what began as a battlefield boast grows into a dangerous game, one both Red and Blue are determined to win. Because winning’s what you do in war. Isn’t it?
A tour de force collaboration from two powerhouse writers that spans the whole of time and space.

Foe by Iain Reid - While I saw the twist coming, it's a great atmospheric read. My review of it is here.

A taut, psychological mind-bender from the bestselling author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things
We don’t get visitors. Not out here. We never have. 
Junior and Hen are a quiet married couple. They live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with surprising news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm...very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Hen won’t have a chance to miss him at all, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Hen will have company. Familiar company. 
Foe examines the nature of domestic relationships, self-determination, and what it means to be (or not to be) a person. An eerily entrancing page-turner, it churns with unease and suspense from the first words to its shocking finale.

Thursday 29 August 2019

Shout-Out: Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Remember your just-in-cases. Beware tall buildings. Always have your knives.

Raised in isolation by her mother and Maeve on a small island off the coast of a post-apocalyptic Ireland, Orpen’s life has revolved around training to fight a threat she’s never seen. More and more she feels the call of the mainland, and the prospect of finding other survivors.

But that is where danger lies, too, in the form of the flesh-eating menace known as the skrake.

Then disaster strikes. Alone, pushing an unconscious Maeve in a wheelbarrow, Orpen decides her last hope is abandoning the safety of the island and journeying across the country to reach the legendary banshees, the rumored all-female fighting force that battles the skrake.

But the skrake are not the only threat…

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Book Review: Foe by Iain Reid

Pros: atmospheric, interesting characters

Cons: somewhat predictable

Junior and Henrietta’s lives change the day Terrance shows up at their country house. Junior has been chosen by lottery to participate in the installation, meaning he’ll be away for an undetermined amount of time. But the company has decided that Henrietta won’t be left alone while he’s gone…

The book is very atmospheric. The chapters are short and punchy and leave you feeling unsettled. Junior asks Terrance questions and it’s fascinating how easily Terrance deflects the conversation or speaks a lot without saying anything. There’s a level of frustration you feel, along with Junior.

The first person perspective was a little peculiar, as both Junior’s thoughts and spoken words were done without italics or quotation marks. A few times I wasn’t sure if he’d said something out loud or just in his head.

I liked Junior and Henrietta. It was interesting seeing their lives. The book mostly takes place in their home, with only occasional jaunts to where they work or the fields outside their home. It gave the book a claustrophobic feeling.

The book is set in the near future but the world is largely ignored. There are a few SF elements but the book mostly feels like a suspense novel.

I figured out the ending around the half way point, but it was still interesting to see how the book would reveal what was really going on. It was also a quick read, which helped maintain the creepy mood.

If you like books with mystery and a touch of horror, this is a good read.

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.