Tea Tuesday: Chocolate Peppermint Tea, from King Cole

It’s the first Tea Tuesday of the year, and today I’m bringing you a limited edition holiday tea that I really wish wasn’t so limited edition, because it’s delicious and addictive. King Cole’s Chocolate Peppermint Tea.

chocolatemintteaIt’s a black tea, which means that it’s got that bitterness to it that wakes you up, but isn’t a taste everyone enjoys. I first tried it with just sugar, and it didn’t quite eliminate the bitterness to the degree I wanted. Then I tried it with both milk and sugar (which is typically how I prefer my black teas), and while the cooling mint flavour was lessened by the addition of milk, it did mellow out the bitterness and made this stuff wonderfully chuggable. I think I’ve had a mug of chocolate peppermint tea every day since I bought this box, and I love every cup.

Not so fond of the style of teabag, though. The string is attached to the bag on both sides, so if you have a mug with an open handle you can loop it onto the handle to keep the string out of the liquid, but if your cup doesn’t have an open handle… I find myself gently tugging the string out one side of the bag so that it becomes a freely-dangling string that I can position as I prefer… and this doesn’t always work. I lost one bag due to it tearing as I tugged the string free. The design looks neat, but is pretty impractical.

But design flaws aside, this is a fantastic and delicious tea that I really enjoy and I really wish wasn’t only available at certain times. I feel the need to go buy up all the boxes in the store so I can have my stash when I need it later!

SPFBO Review: Paternus, by Dyrk Ashton

Buy from Amazon.com
Rating – 7.5/10
Author’s website
Publication date – March 24, 2016

Summary: Gods, monsters, angels, devils. Call them what you like. They exist. The epic battles between titans, giants, and gods, heaven and hell, the forces of light and darkness. They happened. And the war isn’t over.

17 year old Fi Patterson lives with her stuffy English uncle and has an internship at a local hospital for the aged. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, misses her dead mother, wonders about the father she never knew. One bright spot is caring for Peter, a dementia-ridden old man whose faraway smile can make her whole day. And there’s her conflicted attraction to Zeke — awkward, brilliant, talented — who plays guitar for the old folks. Then a group of very strange and frightening men show up for a “visit”…

Fi and Zeke’s worlds are shattered as their typical everyday concerns are suddenly replaced by the immediate need to stay alive — and they try to come to grips with the unimaginable reality of the Firstborn.

“Keep an open mind. And forget everything you know…”

Review: Paternus has so many elements that I enjoy, particularly my love of stories that involve deities all over the place. No idea why that’s a thing I enjoy, but it is. And if you’re like me in that regard, well, you’ll probably have a grand old time with Paternus, because it has a mess of deities and mythology-mixing all over the place. It plays fast and loose with myths from many regions and religions, and what first looked like a complicated mess slowly ordered itself into a impressive array of twists that actually made sense.

And when you consider the scale of some of the things Paternus deals with, that’s something worth mentioning.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. The story primarily centres around Fi, a young woman working at a hospital, who seems to have a particular bond with a patient named Peter, who doesn’t really react to anyone except her. Life seems relatively normal, until the hospital is attacked by a group of extremely violent people — who are not exactly human — who are after Peter. Fi and Zeke (the guy Fi has a crush on) flee the hospital with Peter, who slowly seems to be coming to his senses and reacting to things around him, and the three of them have to stay alive long enough to figure out just what it is their pursuers want. Mixed in are chapters told from the perspective of gods or mythological figures, such as Tanuki, who see signs that the excrement if about to hit the rotating blades very soon, in what could be an epic battle of gods.

If that description thrills you, I can’t blame you. It was actually a bit difficult to come up with a brief teaser like that without spoiling a fair bit of what gets revealed in the book’s pages. Ashton juggles a lot of very complicated elements and brings them together into a seamless whole by the end, and what starts off as a chaotic beginning that throws you right into the deep end makes a whole lot more sense by the time you reach the final chapters. In that regard, it’s a book with decent re-read value. It would be good to go back and read it again with the knowledge I have now, to see which aspects make more sense now that I fully understand what’s happening. I have to give Ashton credit where credit is due; that’s not an easy thing to accomplish, and I think it was done quite well.

Many of the problems I have with this book occur early on, and they’re small things, but they’re things that wouldn’t stop nagging at me. There are two that spring instantly to mind. 1) Fi’s gay coworker, who embodies gay stereotypes in an uncomfortable way, talking constantly about sex and being gossipy and hitting on every attractive guy and actually saying, “Ew,” multiple times during a conversation — which he himself started — in which breasts were mentioned. Given that he was the only explicitly gay character, this portrayal was awkward and uncomfortable to read. 2) The mention that Edgar, Fi’s prim-and-proper British uncle, pronounces potato as po-tah-to. In the “proper English manner.” I seriously kept waiting for the reveal that Edgar was just trolling Fi over that word, because seriously, no British person I have ever encountered pronounces it that way. And I am British. The whole “toMAYto/toMAHto poTAYto/poTAHto” thing is not meant to be taken as a serious representation of the differences between North American and British English.

See? Small things, none of which are particular relevant to the story, but they bugged me. I can’t say for certain, but to me they felt like Ashton was trying to write elements he wasn’t entirely familiar with, and they didn’t work well. Which is surprising because that goes against the sheer level of detail that goes into the rest of the work. Maybe that’s why those small things felt so jarring to me. They seemed out of place, and had greater impact due to context.

I also felt confused by the early presence of chapters talking about what was happening with other gods. Some made sense, and get revisited as the story goes on. The stuff with Tanuki and Arges, though? Gets a few chapters early on (usually during those chapters I was far more interested in getting back to what Fi was up to), and then dropped like a hot potahto for the vast majority of the book, only to be picked up again at the very end. And considering those chapters initial got equal page time with Fi’s chapters, they at first seemed a lot like unimportant filler, and ultimately pretty forgettable.

Other than that, the book’s biggest flaw is that it infodumps a lot. Which I didn’t mind so much, because it was infodumping about things I was legitimately interested in and hadn’t necessarily figured out for myself. And it made sense in context, too, as Fi and Zeke are encountering all of this world-shattering stuff for the first time and they needed it all explained to them. So I think in that regard it’s a flaw-that-isn’t, because while it’s a good rule of thumb to not infodump on your readers, there is a time and place for it every once in a while, especially in such a complicated situation where the characters are just as confused as the readers. Everybody needs to catch up.

Paternus has action by the barrel, and in that regard it’s a surprisingly quick read once you get into the meat of the story. I love the way mythology was toyed with. I love the idea of a primal being that may or may not be what we call God, that is capable of loving all things and creating some of the best and worst that the world could offer. I love the sheer level of detail that went into crafting the mythos, and I respect the work it must have taken to have it come together and make sense in the end. It’s not a perfect book, but it has a lot going for it, and I enjoyed the time I spent with it. Ashton has a lot of skill as a writer and storyteller, and I look forward to seeing what else he might do in the future.

Phenomenal Cosmic Powers: Wicca and Paganism in SFF

Imagine you’re reading an urban fantasy novel and your protagonist encounters Christianity for the first time. They think to themselves, “Wow, this really speaks to me! I think I’m going to be a Christian from now on.” And that decision is when it all changes for them. They have literal conversations with God about how the world should work according to the Divine Plan. They can suddenly perform miracles, astounding and converting their friends with their newfound abilities to walk on water or turn a bottle of Dasani into a bottle of Merlot. They do battle with demons, working their eventual way up to battling Satan.

And I’m fairly sure that the majority of your reactions fall into one of two categories: 1) “This sounds like the worst Christian propaganda series ever;” or 2) “This is amazingly insulting to Christians and Christianity.”

Welcome to how paganism and Wicca are treated in the vast majority of fictional works in which they appear.

In the vast majority of fiction in which Wiccans appear (sometimes more generic pagans, but more often than not it’s Wiccans, because Wicca is a named religion with established tenets and is easier to define), being Wiccan grants you all the coolness of magic and spells, and sure there’ll be some missteps along the way as you figure out how not to be selfish, but pffft, what’s a little selflessness when compared to the ability to influence the minds of people around you, or summon spirits to do your bidding?

All of this utterly misses that Wicca is an actual religion, Practiced by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. And sure, that’s a piddly number when put in perspective of a world population of over 7 billion, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to misrepresent it so often.

This is a particular bone of contention with me because I am pagan. I hesitate to call myself Wiccan even though most of my beliefs line up with that religion, and I prefer the more umbrella term of “pagan” for now, until such time as I discover a label that makes sense for me. I celebrate solstices and equinoxes. I believe in both male and female deities. I do spells, and spells in real-world context are literally nothing more than prayers with a little ritual and symbolism attached. So it bothers me when my faith gets represented as something that’s either evil or that grants you amazing powers to fling fireballs around.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually encountered a novel in which there’s a Wiccan character who is portrayed as just a typical person who adheres to personal religious beliefs.

For instance, if I’m going to do spellwork to try and bring luck to my life, it would probably involve a candle, maybe some different-coloured threads or ribbons I want to get fancy, and either a suitable rhyme (because rhyming stuff is easier to remember) or just a general, “Please let some good fortune come into my life,” prayer. Said as the moon waxes, to signify something increasing rather than decreasing. And then keeping an eye out for opportunities or trying to not focus on bad things. That’s about it. Really, no different than a Christian praying to God that they get some luck in their life.

But if you believe pop culture SFF representations of Wicca and Witchcraft, casting that spell would mean that suddenly I can do no wrong and everything happens in coincidental ways to line up just the way I want them.

Which would be awesome, but entirely unrealistic.

It would be one thing if I just kept encountering urban fantasy novels in which some characters were witches and had access to typical fantasy magic. Despite Wiccans typically refering to themselves as Witches and the practice of their religion as Witchcraft, I am perfectly capable of distinguishing the two things, and I don’t assume that every UF witch is also supposed to be Wiccan.

But I have encountered a sad number of novels, often targeted to young adult audiences, in which Wicca itself is something that grants fantasy magic to true believers.

Not just novels, either. As much as I adore Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m less than fond of its portrayal of Wicca there, which falls into the same tropes and traps. Willow learns magic, which is fine and fits with the presentation of the supernatural established by the show, but then frequently conflates her magic with Wicca. In her first year of university, she goes to a Wiccan meeting and is disappointed that the other women there are talking about awareness and female empowerment and bake sale fundraisers as opposed to conjuration and elemental manipulation. She refers to them as “wanna-Blessed-Bes,” which is a funny line but it serves to more firmly establish in pop culture that real witches can float things and summon spirits from the afterlife. Anyone who can’t is just someone who’s all talk.

Arguments can absolutely be made for why this is done. Wicca is, admittedly, a pretty small and misunderstood religion, and positive portrayals, even inaccurate ones, can do wonders to help dispel the idea that Wiccans are just man-hating woman out to cause the destruction of the Western world. When it’s a choice between one or the other, I’ll take the one that presents us incorrectly but at least says we can be good people.

But like anything else in representation, this should be a stepping stone, not an end goal. And sometimes it seems like people have forgotten that. The positive portrayal boost seems to have stalled since the early 2000s. We’re not really a fad anymore.

But we’re still real people. And honestly, I think we deserve to be portrayed realistically.

I have not once encountered a book or movie or TV show in which a Wiccan character (or a character coded as Wiccan, by which I mean someone who typically calls themselves a witch, engages in goddess-worship, and does spellwork) is just a typical person going about their life. They’re written as phenomenal, either in-your-face with their religious expression, or else in possession of fantasy magic that is utterly unlike what happens in reality.

One year, in high school, I decided to dress up as a modern witch for Halloween. By which I mean that I came to school wearing my normal clothes. The only concession I made to appearance was bringing in a stick that I’d drawn some runes on and then covered in clear glittery nailpolish. Because sparkles equal magic. And nobody can cast magic without a wand anyway. (Har har.)

And even then, I knew that nobody would get it. I thought, in my teenage way, that I was being wonderfully clever, all tongue-in-cheek, but I look back on that now and think that it’s a little bit sad that even when I told people what I was, even saying I was a modern witch, they only got it once they saw the stick. If then. I’m not saying it was a fantastic costume or anything, but my whole point was that this is what modern witches look like. And nobody really understood.

Unless they were already pagan themselves.

Despite there being portrayals of “modern witches” on TV at the time, such as with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Charmed. Who dressed like stylish women with access to a great wardrobe department.

Witchcraft and Wicca was firmly in the realm of the fantastical, incompatible with reality.

I don’t think much has really changed since then.

I can understand where the problem lies. It’s all about the magic. And the witches. And people who can’t separate the realism from the fantastic. But where we have no problems with accepting that a monotheistic religion in a fantasy novel isn’t Christianity or some analogue for it, we do seem to have problems accepting that fantasy magic can be different from real magic. When people hear “magic,” their minds automatically go to elemental stuff, flinging fireballs and calling down lightning. Hell, my mind does that too. But at least I have the excuse of reading dozens of SFF novels every year. Chances are, the context in which people around me talk about magic is going to be fantasy magic.

And as I said before, I have no problem with that. I have a problem with characters being written as Wiccan, with the assumption that being Wiccan means access to fantasy magic.

Writing about real modern Witches would be boring. Slice-of-life stuff. You’d read stories about us going to work, grumbling about our bosses, coming home, cooking dinner, and then going to bed. Maybe with some special stories where we grumble about how we can’t decide what to bring for a Samhain potluck, or how irritating it is that the Dollar Store is out of green candles again. That’s when we get really Witchy, after all!

But that’s just it. We are normal people.

And we aren’t represented as such.

We’re represented as extraordinary and unreal.

It’s hard to be taken seriously when people don’t think your religion is as grounded in reality as anyone else’s.

A friend once asked me, “Do you still think you’re a witch?”

“I am,” I replied.

She looked doubtful.

Because so many others see our religion connected with something that can’t possibly be real, they assume that we, as believers, are delusional. That we can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. The constant portrayals of Wiccans as those who Phenomenal Cosmic Powers don’t help. While it’s undoubtedly worlds better than having us all portrayed as evil, it’s not like being seen as delusional is a good thing.

Characters with magic are cool. Especially modern-day characters, because magic adds a new dynamic to a story. What’s life like when you can command your cat to spy on your neighbours? How do you cope when mumbling the wrong set of syllables under your breath causes the sprinklers in the office to go off? This is the stuff stories are made of. This is what can get us watching or reading about a character and wanting to know more about them and the lives they live. I understand entirely why storytellers would want to explore something like that.

But the real Wiccans of the world are done a huge disservice every time our faith is portrayed that way. It’s another inch on the wall between us and being taken seriously. It’s one more hurdle we have to overcome to convince others that no, we don’t believe we can do those things, any more than your average Christian believes they can walk on water just because they believe in God.

I’ve seen it argued, time and again, that when people write witches in urban fantasy, they’re not really writing Wiccans. Even when your witch character believes in a goddess and celebrates on Beltane and writes their own Book of Shadows, they’re not really Wiccan. Not even coded Wiccan. Not really.

I suppose the writer isn’t cherry-picking aspects of my religion in order to add elements to their story, then. Not really.

This sort of stuff really gets under my skin. I’m tired of being treated alternately as delusional or nonexistent. I’m tired of the constant portrayals of people who are nothing like me even as they claim to be there on my behalf. You want your Phenomenal Cosmic Powers, fine, but can you please, please, start separating those powers from a legitimate and recognized religion that many people hold dear? Because you’re not winning any points with us. And you’re making it harder for us to be taken seriously.

We don’t have those powers. We can’t influence the minds and hearts of others by our vast spiritual reserves, suddenly convincing people that we’re valid people and as wise or foolish as any other person with a religion. We can’t conjure fire out of thin air to convince you that our paths are valid paths to walk on. All we have is our word versus the word of pop culture, real stories versus flashy stories.

I want a pagan character who saves the world through their wits and cunning and tae kwon do skills, not because they’ve been granted lightning spells by their Great Goddess. I want a Wiccan who got their powers when they still called themselves Jewish, and only through other circumstances did they realise that Judaism wasn’t right for them anymore. I want a witch who isn’t a teenage cisgender girl, who finds her school overrun by monsters and she has to team up with a Muslim, a Sikh, and a Buddhist in order to figure out how to escape.

I want stories that portray us as real people, as more than the powers that literally none of us actually have. I want to have someone ask my religion and then not instantly do a mental jump to some supernatural-based TV show as their only touchpoint. I want to be honest about that aspect of myself and not worry that people wrongly think that I wrongly think I’m practically one of the X-Men.

It’s 2017. We’re past the 1990s and early 2000s. This should be an issue anymore. But like so many other issues that shouldn’t be, it still is. And I’m tired of it. And all it would take to change it is enough people taking us seriously enough to give a damn about portraying us decently, and caring enough to not fall into the flashy pitfalls dug by storytellers that came before.

Take us seriously.

Ask us question.

Write us properly.

2016 Year-End Post

2016 has been… a year. A hard year. It hasn’t been the worst ever, but it’s been far from easy, in a lot of ways.

But there’s something positive-seeming about closing out the year by looking at accomplishments rather than failures, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Top 10 Posts of 2016

SPFBO Review: The Grey Bastards, by Jonathan French
SPFBO: First Eliminations (Batch 1)
SPFBO: First Eliminations (Batch 2) and Strong Contenders
Top 11 Books I Read in 2016
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Top 10 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2017
The Obelisk Gate, by N K Jemisin
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
SPFBO Review: Touch of Iron, by Timandra Whitecastle
SPFBO Review: Song of the Summer King, by Jess E Owens

The First Impressions posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) were also extremely popular, though if I listed them all in the Top 10 list, they’d take up a full half of it, so I decided to list those separately.

So it seems that in general, people come here for SPFBO stuff. Maybe I should change the blog name to SPFBOtropic?

So what’s in store for 2017? Well, I mentioned previously that I’m making next year my Year of the Backlog, so that I have a great excuse to read all the books I previously neglected because I felt the obligation to read more recent things. I do want to continue writing movie reviews and tea reviews, because they’re fun and I like sharing the things I’m watching and drinking. I aim to write a few more posts about my struggle against Ultros, which is what I’ve named my current battle with depression, because even though that’s not related to stories and books, it’s very much a thing I experience and I think writing about it might not only help me but also might help others understand what it’s like.

Beyond that? I want to finish this year’s SPFBO. Aaaaand that’s about it. That’s all I have planned. Anything else, I’ll take as I come.

So with all that in mind, as 2016 draws to a close, I hope that next year is worlds better than this year was, in all ways. Happy reading, everyone!

 

Taking a week off.

I was going to post today with a movie review. And post tomorrow with a tea review. And post Wednesday with a book review. Possibly the same thing on Thursday, too.

But stuff happened and I’m nowhere close to the right headspace to deal with expectations right now, even my own, and honestly I’d rather spend a few days slacking off and feeling no responsibilities so that I can recentre myself and not feel like absolute crud again. And with that in mind, this blog is going to be a little quiet for the week. I’ll have a year-end post at the end of the week, but other than that, I’m stepping back for a brief period so that I can get stuff in order and try to start 2017 fresh, without as much weighing on my mind.

Thanks for the understanding.

Introducing 2017: The Year of the Backlog

It’s no secret that I have a lot of books. Not as many as some, but enough. More than enough. Probably enough that if I read 100 books a year for the next 5 years, and didn’t get any more books during that time, I still would have some left unread.

This has been the general state of things for years, though; it’s nothing new.

However, my backlog of review copies has left me feeling decidedly guilty. Every month books come to me that I don’t get the chance to read. Sometimes I just can’t read that quickly. Sometimes health stuff gets in the way. There are a variety of reasons. And oftentimes, I end up putting those books on the back burner because other books are coming out soon and I really ought to focus on them instead.

Or so my mind tells me.

So these books that have passed their publication date often end up staying on that back burner. Sometimes I pick a couple off and remember, yes, I need to read that, no matter what, but for the most part, I still end up so focused on future books that the past books get left behind. And I feel guilty, because publishers and authors sent me those in good faith, hoping at least some review would come from it, and I let them down. I feel like I didn’t follow through, even though I made no guarantee that I’d get to read and review any of them.

That’s why I’m declaring 2017 to the the Year of the Backlog. I’m going to make some dents in that mountain!

I’m still going to have a little focus on upcoming books. Probably one a month. But everything else will be reviews of books that were published in 2016 or earlier. (Plus the remainder of the SPFBO books, of course). Taking everything into account, even if I only read and review 1 book a week, that will mean by the end of 2017, I’ll have cleared 44 books of my backlog, and while that isn’t many in terms of the whole giant mountain of books I have, it’s something. It’ll help get some weighty guilt off my chest. It’ll give me a fantastic and worthy excuse to stop focusing so much on what’s going to happen and let me focus a bit on all the good stuff that has already happened, all the books that came out in previous years that I missed or didn’t have time for or what have you.

Anyone with me in this challenge? Or will I be chipping away at Mount TBR alone?

Top 10 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2017

Every year there are so many good books that come out, and I know I can’t read them all, but there are always a special few that I keep my eyes peeled for, books that typically get bumped to the top of my reading list. So let’s take a moment to see which 10 books I’m most excited for that are coming out next year.

A Conversation in Blood, by Paul S Kemp
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Fantasy fiction has long welcomed adventurous rogues: Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, George R. R. Martin’s Dunk and Egg, and Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have all made their mark. In his Egil & Nix series, New York Times bestselling author Paul S. Kemp introduces a daring new duo to the ranks of fantasy fame—or is it infamy?

Nix is a nimble thief with just enough knowledge of magic to get into serious trouble. Egil is the only priest of a discredited god. Together, they seek riches and renown, but somehow it is always misadventure and mayhem that find them—even in the dive bar they call home. And their luck has yet to change.

All Nix wants to do is cheer Egil up after a bout of heartbreak. And, of course, strike it so rich that they need never worry about their combined bar bill. But when the light-fingered scoundrel plunders a tomb and snatches mysterious golden plates covered in runes, the treasure brings terrifying trouble. Pursued by an abomination full of ravenous hunger and unquenchable wrath, Egil and Nix find all they hold dear—including their beloved tavern—in dire peril. To say nothing of the world itself.


In Calabria, by Peter S Beagle
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

From the acclaimed author of The Last Unicorn comes a new, exquisitely-told unicorn fable for the modern age.

Claudio Bianchi has lived alone for many years on a hillside in Southern Italy’s scenic Calabria. Set in his ways and suspicious of outsiders, Claudio has always resisted change, preferring farming and writing poetry. But one chilly morning, as though from a dream, an impossible visitor appears at the farm. When Claudio comes to her aid, an act of kindness throws his world into chaos. Suddenly he must stave off inquisitive onlookers, invasive media, and even more sinister influences.

Lyrical, gripping, and wise, In Calabria confirms Peter S. Beagle’s continuing legacy as one of fantasy’s most legendary authors.


The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars.Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution.

As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and the band of cast-off followers she has gathered survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?


A Tyranny of Queens, by Foz Meadows
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.

Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?

 


 

The Stone Sky, by N K Jemisin
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

The remarkable conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed trilogy that began with the multi-award-nominated The Fifth Season.


The House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.

House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal—to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.

In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom—and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear….

As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength—or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.


The End of the Day, by Claire North
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

At the end of the day, Death visits everyone. Right before that, Charlie does.

You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of a traffic accident.

Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole – he gets everywhere, our Charlie.

Would you shake him by the hand, take the gift he offers, or would you pay no attention to the words he says?

Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.

 


Tyrant’s Throne, by Sebastien de Castell
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After years of struggle and sacrifice, Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, is on the brink of fulfilling his dead king’s dream: Aline, the king’s daughter, is about to take the throne and restore the rule of law once and for all.

But for the Greatcoats, nothing is ever that simple. In the neighboring country of Avares, an enigmatic new warlord is uniting the barbarian armies that have long plagued Tristia’s borders–and even worse, he is rumored to have a new ally: Trin, who’s twice tried to kill Aline to claim the throne of Tristia for herself. With the armies of Avares at her back, led by a bloodthirsty warrior, she’ll be unstoppable.

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti race north to stop her, but in those cold and treacherous climes they discover something altogether different, and far more dangerous: a new player is planning to take the throne of Tristia, and with a sense of dread the three friends realize that the Greatcoats, for all their skill, may not be able to stop him.

As the nobles of Tristia and even the Greatcoats themselves fight over who should rule, the Warlord of Avares threatens to invade. With so many powerful contenders vying for power, it will fall to Falcio to render the one verdict he cannot bring himself to utter, much less enforce. Should he help crown the young woman he vowed to put on the throne, or uphold the laws he swore to serve?


ReV: the Third Machine Dynasty, by Madeline Ashby
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In the final instalment of the influential Machine Dynasty series, the rapture for which the self-replicating humanoids were engineered finally comes to pass.

Now that the failsafe that once kept synthetic beings from harming humans has been hacked, all vNare discovering the promise – and the peril –of free will. Her consciousness unleashed across computer systems all across the world, the vicious vN Portia stands poised to finally achieve her lifelong dream of bringing feeble, fleshy humanity to its knees.

The battle between Portia and granddaughter Amy comes to its ultimate conclusion. Can Amy get her family to the stars before Portia destroys every opportunity for escape and freedom?


The Broken Heavens, by Kameron Hurley
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The convergence between worlds is coming to an end, but only one world can survive. Who will be sacrificed? What ends will the people of these worlds go to to protect their people?

The Dhai nation has broken apart under the onslaught of the Tai Kao, invaders from a parallel world. With the Dhai in retreat, Kirana, leader of the Tai Kao, establishes a base in Oma’s temple and instructs her astrologers to begin unravelling the method by which they can use the temples to close the way between worlds.

With the worlds ravaged by war and Oma failing, only one world can survive. Who will be sacrificed, and what will the desperate people of these worlds do to protect themselves?

Top 10 Books I Regret Not Reading in 2016

Every year there are books released that, for one reason or another, I end up not finding the time or ability to read. Here’s my list of books that I regret not having read in 2016.

United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas
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Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons – a shadowy group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest subversive tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.

Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s working with Agent Akiko Tsukino of the secret police to get to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something… He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than either of them originally suspected.

Part detective story, part brutal alternate history, United States of Japan is a stunning successor to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

Summerlong, by Peter S Beagle
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It was a typically unpleasant Puget Sound winter before the arrival of Lioness Lazos. An enigmatic young waitress with strange abilities, when the lovely Lioness comes to Gardner Island even the weather takes notice.

As an impossibly beautiful spring leads into a perfect summer, Lioness is drawn to a complicated family. She is taken in by two disenchanted lovers—dynamic Joanna Delvecchio and scholarly Abe Aronson — visited by Joanna’s previously unlucky-in-love daughter, Lily. With Lioness in their lives, they are suddenly compelled to explore their deepest dreams and desires.

Lioness grows more captivating as the days grow longer. Her new family thrives, even as they may be growing apart. But lingering in Lioness’s past is a dark secret — and even summer days must pass.

 

A Lovely Way to Burn, by Louise Welsh
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A pandemic called ‘The Sweats’ is sweeping the globe. London is a city in crisis. Hospitals begin to fill with the dead and dying, but Stevie Flint is convinced that the sudden death of her boyfriend Dr Simon Sharkey was not from natural causes. As roads out of London become gridlocked with people fleeing infection, Stevie’s search for Simon’s killers takes her in the opposite direction, into the depths of the dying city and a race with death.

A Lovely Way to Burn is the first outbreak in the Plague Times trilogy. Chilling, tense and completely compelling, it’s Louise Welsh writing at the height of her powers.

 

 

Warrior Witch, by Danielle L Jensen
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Cécile and Tristan have accomplished the impossible, but their greatest challenge remains: defeating the evil they have unleashed upon the world.

As they scramble for a way to protect the people of the Isle and liberate the trolls from their tyrant king, Cécile and Tristan must battle those who’d see them dead. To win, they will risk everything. And everyone.

But it might not be enough. Both Cécile and Tristan have debts, and they will be forced to pay them at a cost far greater than they had ever imagined.

Cold-Forged Flame, by Marie Brennan
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The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning―no―at the end―she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy.

Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

This is the story of a woman’s struggle against her very existence, an epic tale of the adventure and emotional upheaval on the way to face an ancient enigmatic foe. This could only have been spun from the imagination of Marie Brennan, award-winning author and beloved fantasist, beginning a new series about the consequences of war―and of fate.

The Copper Promise, by Jen Williams
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There are some tall stories about the caverns beneath the Citadel – about magic and mages and monsters and gods. Wydrin of Crosshaven has heard them all, but she’s spent long enough trawling caverns and taverns with her companion Sir Sebastian to learn that there’s no money to be made in chasing rumours.

But then a crippled nobleman with a dead man’s name offers them a job: exploring the Citadel’s darkest depths. It sounds like just another quest with gold and adventure …if they’re lucky, they might even have a tale of their own to tell once it’s over.

These reckless adventurers will soon learn that sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes a story can save your life.

 

Seoul Survivors, by Naomi Foyle
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In Seoul Survivors, praised for its “impeccable plotting” by The Guardian, global warming has wreaked havoc on the planet. There is only one safe place to be: in the mountains above Seoul, glamorous Korean-American bioengineer Dr. Kim Da Mi is convinced she has found the perfect solution to save the human race. But her methods are strange and her business partner, Johnny Sandman, is a, unsavory character with many secrets.

When impetuous aspiring model Sydney flies to Seoul at the behest of her boyfriend, Johnny Sandman, and meets Dr. Kim Da Mi, she doesn’t know that the scientist is engaged in a secret power struggle with Johnny that will threaten her own life.

Seduced by the visionary scientist, Sydney begins helping Kim Da Mi create a new breed of human beings to staff a revolutionary theme park: VirtuWorld. As the Winter Solstice looms, the Internet is rife with rumors that a devastating meteor called Lucifer’s Hammer is heading straight toward Earth. VirtuWorld would be a haven from eco-apocalypse, but its success demands a sacrifice–just whose blood will spill is far from certain until the final pages of this tense cyber-thriller.

The Wall of Storms, by Ken Liu
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In the much-anticipated sequel to the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR) Grace of Kings, Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.

Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara—and chaos results.

But Emperor Kuni cannot go and lead his kingdom against the threat himself with his recently healed empire fraying at the seams, so he sends the only people he trusts to be Dara’s savvy and cunning hopes against the invincible invaders: his children, now grown and ready to make their mark on history.

Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal
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Ghost Talkers: a new novel from beloved fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal featuring the mysterious spirit corps and their heroic work in World War I.

Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.

Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.

Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…

Everfair, by Nisi Shawl
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Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Nisi Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Movie Review: Rogue One

rogueone_onesheeta_1000_309ed8f6Everybody is talking about this movie. Freaking everyone. And it’s generally getting the reaction of, “Holy crap, this movie is so great,” and I’m honestly in that camp, though I think the movie did have its share of problems. I really enjoyed it. And there were more than a few moments that left me unable to eat my popcorn while certain scenes were going on.

There will be spoilers in this review. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum, and plot-related ones will be hidden behind areas you have to highlight to read, but if you consider character names and mentions of events to be spoilers, then fair warning, you may not want to read this until after you’ve seen the movie for yourself.

The movie, by and large, is about how the Death Star plans — the ones that showed its improbable weakness in Episode IV — made it to the Rebel Alliance in the first place. Definitely an interesting idea, and one that clears up a fannish nitpick that’s been around since oh, before I was born. The story is told around Jyn Erso, daughter of a man who worked on the Death Star, and I say that it all takes place around her because she’s not exactly a driving force behind the plot. In fact, aside from an impassioned speech and a little half-hearted rebellion against the Rebels toward the end, she largely gets carried along with the story as other people push the plot forward. It’s one thing to have a reluctant hero, and I think that’s what they were going for with Jyn, but it comes off more like a passive figurehead that you’re supposed to root for because… personal reasons? She’s hardly the most compelling character in the mix.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Donnie Yen) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

I was already forewarned that Rogue One wasn’t going to have the strong female character that people expected, so while that did disappoint me, it wasn’t surprising. And part of the disappoint came from wondering why the writers, directors, et al, couldn’t have done better. Really, Jyn’s presence isn’t all that necessary for the story in Rogue One to take place. The Rebels need her to get close to Saw Gererra, an extremist who has information the rebels need. She becomes useful at the end when she figures out the codename of the Death Star plans. And that’s pretty much it. The rest of the story largely rests on the shoulders of Cassian, Bodhi, and a couple of other side characters whose names get mentioned (at least one of them does) but not so clearly that I could actually make out what they were called. One was pretty much a Blind Asian Monk archetype, and to be perfectly honest, I’d have watched a whole movie about that guy. That guy kicked some serious ass.

That and a reprogrammed droid K-2SO, but who I tended to call Sassy Droid because that about sums up the entirety of his character. But Sassy Droid was pretty awesome.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that, weirdly, the strength of Rogue One isn’t in its characters. It felt at times like too large a cast of characters being handled by people who weren’t sure how to, well, actually handle a large cast of characters. Development was uneven, with some characters having clear motivations for doing what they did, and others just getting swept along for the ride and generally not adding much to the plot. Some of the characters were needed to have plot points fall into place, but otherwise didn’t really contribute. Others, like Blind Asian Monk and his Pet Mercenary, seemed to exist largely to be awesome and competent and then sacrifice their lives for the greater good and so make us feel all the feels.

Don’t get me wrong. Feels were definitely felt. But one emotional scene doesn’t mean the character was important or strong, and I think somewhere along the way, that got forgotten.

So if the strength of the movie isn’t in its characters, where is it? Well, from where I stand, it’s in its overall themes and message. Because at its heart, Rogue One was a war movie. And a powerful one. It’s a story about how far people will go to take down an oppressive regime, of the sacrifices they will make and what they will risk. It’s a story that conveys much about tyranny in a short period of time. In that regard, it’s absolutely worth watching, and it was the strength of those themes that made me think that, despite its deficits, it was a damn good movie.

Take the scene very near the beginning, in an Imperial-occupied city, where people meet in secret and share information, however reluctantly. Knowing they could be killed if caught. When one oversteps and kills a Stormtrooper, the other panics, knowing that he won’t be able to escape due to either injury robotic arm or other disability (the movie isn’t entirely clear on that, only that one of his arms doesn’t function properly), that his life is pretty much over because he risked opposing the Empire in a tiny way.  The tension of hiding, of keeping your head down, of knowing that other people can be and probably will be harmed in order to get to you. Take the attack on Jedha, where tensions come to a head and rebels attack Imperial forces who are abusing citizens, and plenty of citizens get caught in the crossfire. The scene is chaotic and terrible and emotional, and seeing this only days after the horrific attack in Aleppo, and knowing that there are probably people who care more about the details in the Jedha attack scene in Rogue One than the real attack in our real world struck me so deeply that I couldn’t move for the entirety of the scene.

international-trailer-rogue-oneTake the tests of power by the Death Star. Only a fraction of what we see in A New Hope, no planets are fully destroyed, but the smaller-scale destruction is so powerfully conveyed in Rogue One because unlike in A New Hope, there’s no distance between the attack and the victims. There’s no sudden disturbance in the Force, felt by somebody light years away. There are people, on the ground, facing an oncoming wave of destruction with no way to escape it.  With imagery similar to the mushroom cloud of an atom bomb, it seemed to me a stark condemnation of those who would jump straight to idea of nuclear attack to destroy “our enemies,” without any idea of what that really entails for people caught in the blast. All most people have to go on these days are grainy pictures of test explosions to fuel their imaginations; they have this idea that a nuclear bomb is just some big version of a stick of dynamite. And though it’s a fictional representation, seeing Rebels and Imperials get destroyed by the same device, casualties of war, statistics on paper made flesh because we followed their stories, drives home the point that indiscriminate killing is utterly terrifying.

Take the scene of the Alliance discussing what to do after they discover what the Death Star is capable of. To retreat, or to stand and fight, or to scatter? The argument that fighting against oppression isn’t the same as signing a suicide pact, that even though you accept that some of your people will be lost to the cause, that’s not the same as deliberately throwing yourself into danger and not even knowing if you’ll accomplish anything. The clear presentation of the downsides to democracy — the opposite of tyranny, where nobody gets a voice — in that sometimes democracy means the majority vote resulting in not pushing for your freedom, because enough people say it’s not worth it.

It was this stuff that really did it for me. The movie’s characters are hit-or-miss, there’s some amusement in seeing cameos from old favourites (including a couple that I couldn’t see the sense of, but that’s neither here nor there), but Rogue One‘s greatest strength is in its portrayal of rebellion, of war and its cost, of sacrifice, or difficult decisions. The movie doesn’t say these things right out. It’s not so blatant. But the imagery seemed pretty clear to me, and there was a lot that was conveyed not so much in words but in tone and image. That was what got to me. Not the characters or their sketchy motivations, but in the way the movie talked about war and death and what it takes to do what needs to be done.

rogue-one-screen-shot-pngThough I will take a moment to mention one other thing that made the movie awesome for me: Vader. I could go into a litany of reasons why the prequels ruined Vader, but I won’t. Other people have done that far better than I could. But after years of seeing the man who will become Darth Vader essentially by a spoiled and easily misled brat, Rogue One brings us back to the utterly terrifying Sith lord that fans first saw. He’s an intimidating presence, mysterious and powerful and 100% somebody you don’t want paying too much attention to you. A scene toward the end has him mowing down people left and right, not pausing for a moment, human lives inconsequential to him in pursuit of his goals, and that‘s the Vader that people saw none of in the prequels! A man who wears brutality like a mantle. We know how we began, we know how he ended, nothing about this character’s life is a secret anymore. But to see him return to being the character many of us first knew felt like justice. This is the Vader we needed to see again. He needed to become a figure of menace once more, and Rogue One had him do just that. It was the movie’s greatest characterization moment, and granted, that’s not saying much when all they had to do was have him act like he did in the original trilogy, but still. It was fantastic to see.

Anyone who has watched the original Star Wars trilogy knows how the movie will end. The movie’s conclusion isn’t a secret. The plans get to the Rebels. The team in charge knew that the “will-they-or-won’t-they” tension would be utterly absent from the film, so they tried to make it all about how. How they did what they did. Who took part in the effort. In some ways they succeeded. In others, not so much. But I think the movie had more good moments than it did bad ones. If you’re someone who’s incredibly character-driven and needs strong and well-developed characters to enjoy a movie, then it may not hold up to your expectations. But if you can appreciate it for more than just that, if you can see what it’s trying to say rather than who’s trying to say it, then I think you’ll come out of the theatre with the same reaction that most of us have. Rogue One is a damn good movie, and an excellent addition to the Star Wars universe.

Top 11 Books I Read in 2016

Though the year isn’t quite over, I think it’s safe to say I’m at a point where I can choose my top books of the year. I doubt I’m going to read something so awesome in the next 2 weeks that it will bump a title from this list.

I’m pretty thrilled to have read so many outstanding books this year. Some years it’s hard to choose a Top 10 list. Other years, I have to break it down by genre because I read so many great titles. This year wasn’t a phenomenal reading year in terms of numbers, so I felt pretty safe lumping everything together in one list, though even so, I still had to go beyond Top 10 and throw on an extra book because I couldn’t choose which book to eliminate to bring this list to an even number.

So without further ado, my Top 11 books I read in 2016. Regardless of when they were published.

Planetfall, by Emma Newman
Review here

This book had me stopping periodically to ponder the implications of what I’d just read. On the surface it’s an interesting exploration of the development of a human colony on another world, and it doesn’t have to be more than that to be a really interesting story. And then you throw in elements like how humanity relates to the idea of divinity and how that idea along can shape the development of civilization, and even there, if that was all it was, it would be a great story. But then it goes and plays right to my love of twisting classic mythic stories, in this case as a retelling of Judeo-Christian creation myths, and told from the perspective of a broken character, and I freaking loved  the whole experience of reading Planetfall. Newman’s a great author, and this whole story was immensely compelling.  And now that I’ve said that, I kind of want to go reread this book so that I can refresh my memory for After Atlas.


Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Review here

Imagine, if you will, having a dream where you were dragging outside of the reality you know, to something that’s like a pocket universe. Now imagine that you feel comfortable there, that for the first time in your life you feel like you could really be, despite any melancholy at leaving your old life behind; it actually feels comforting to imagine yourself back in that place, once you’ve woken up and have to deal with reality again. Imagine nobody understanding, and telling you that what you find so comforting is probably a manifestation of depression and of being mentally and emotionally unhealthy. Now imagine coming across a book that deals with just that issue, with people falling into their own pocket dimensions that somehow they fit into, that aren’t exactly tailor-made for them but that resonate with them in a way that nothing else has. Now imagine the author of such a thing looking at you and going, “Want an asexual protagonist so that this can seem even more like you?” and dammit, Seanan McGuire, are you spying on my life? Because seriously, Every Heart a Doorway hit me so hard because of exactly that circumstance (barring the author actually talking to me about ace protags), and I don’t think I’d ever related so hard to a character or circumstance. This novella is effing brilliant, and I love it.


Regeneration, by Stephanie Saulter
Review here

Whatever Stephanie Saulter writes, I think I’m going to read. I’ve loved the whole of the ®evolution series, and all of its commentary on discrimination and intersectionality, and its brilliant characters that are properly fleshed-out and feel like real people with all their skills and flaws. As I mention in my full review, I really enjoy books that feature fighting for the right to be acknowledged, and that involve breaking the mold of expectations. I love every concept dealt with over the course of this series, and Regeneration is the culmination of some seriously amazing stuff that definitely needs to be read by fans of social sci-fi. This series has, time and again, just blown me away.

(This is one of those things that’s hard to describe in just a short blurb without resorting to incoherent flailing over how good it is. Apologies.)


The Chimes, by Anna Smaill
Review here

This is one of those genre-defying books that’s definitely speculative, but I’m positive it could appeal to fans of more contemporary fiction. I love books that play with ideas of language, which The Chimes does amazingly by combining it with musical concepts. The writing itself is extremely lyrical, poetic, and it’s a treat to read. It’s definitely a slow-burn kind of novel, and it’s very light on the action sequences, but I really enjoy that when an author can pull it off properly. As Smaill did here. It’s evocative and wonderful and there’s possibly one of the most adorable couples ever, and I really enjoyed reading about how their relationship slowly developed. It’s a singular kind of novel that only gets encountered rarely, and it’s really worth taking your time on so you can fully appreciate all it does. If you like musical themes in your specfic, then track this one down, because it’s seriously amazing.


An Accident of Stars, by Foz Meadows
Review here

Words can’t begin to properly express how awesome Meadows is at creating complex and realistic fantasy worlds and the cultures and people that dwell within. I’m a huge culture-nerd, so I love seeing fantasy worlds that don’t fall back on the old standby of being based on Western European ideals. Plus I’m also a sucker for stories involving people traveling from one world to the next and the adjustment they have to go through as they discover how everything works; I guess I like culture shock stories. And I wouldn’t say that An Accident of Stars is just a culture shock story, but it does have elements of that in it, and I really enjoyed them. But it’s so much more, as there’s amazing political commentary, some phenomenal worldbuilding, amazing characters, and hot damn, I’m really looking forward to being able to read the sequel so I can continue the story.


The Obelisk Gate, by N K Jemisin
Review here

I have yet to read anything of Jemisin’s that I dislike. Even when her work deals with uncomfortable themes, I read on, because the discomfort is the point and there’s a reason she’s tackling difficult stuff. The Obelisk Gate is the continuation of Essun and Nassun’s stories after The Fifth Season, in a world that’s on the brink of dying due to geological instability, only that seems like a description that’s barely scratching the surface. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is never less than superb, and there’s so much amazing detail here that you can’t help but feel that it’s all starkly and dangerously real, that outside your own window might be a glimpse of what’s being described on that pages, and it’s utterly fantastic. This is another one where I’m desperate for the sequel, and I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on it. (That pretty much holds true for anything Jemisin writes, to be honest. I need it in my collection. She’s definitely one of my must-read authors.)


Invisible Planets, edited by Ken Liu
Review here

As I said before, I’m a sucker for cultural stuff, so the chance to explore some of the best of China’s sci-fi was awesome. I couldn’t say to you what makes it different from western sci-fi, exactly, though the stories in Invisible Planets do have a different feel to them than a lot of other sci-fi I’ve read, and I can’t say if that’s representative of the genre or of the authors whose works were showcased here. Either way, this is a brilliant collection of stories that I adored reading, but not just stories, since there were some essays in here too, which provided greater background and depth to things. This is the sort of book we need to see more of, translations of non-English SFF, and I highly recommend checking this collection out if you get the chance. Totally worth it, especially if you want to broaden your horizons with some translated SF.


Fix, by Ferrett Steinmetz
Review here

Steinmetz’s ‘Mancy series has done something that’s pretty uncommon for me when it comes to urban fantasy: it made me hungry for more. UF isn’t typically my thing, and it’s tough to find stuff I like within it, but I freaking adored this whole series, and it just got better as it went on. Complex characters, moral issues, shades of grey all over the place, and nothing is what you think it is at first glance. Plus these books feature an overweight kickass woman who’s ridiculously skilled at video games, and I can relate to aspects of Valentine’s character, and to be blunt, it’s freaking nice to see an overweight character now and again when there whole of their character isn’t summed up by the phrase “weight problems.” Valentine is so much more than her body, and I love her for it. I need more characters like her in my life.


The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
Review here

It’s not often that a nonfiction book gets a highlight here, but Hurley’s collection of essays on feminism are effing amazing, and they’re sure to piss some people off, and I think that’s exactly why you should read them. They offer brutal insight into what it’s like to be a woman struggling to find respect when history and culture and all the people around you tell you that you’re not worth respecting. She pulls no punches, you makes you feel uncomfortable whether you’re male or female or both or neither, and I came out the other side of this book feeling inspired and empowered, angry and aware. It’s powerful and it’s an amazing insight into so many issues that women deal with, not just in geekdom and the SFF community (though that is a lot of the focus) but in general, and it’s an eye-opener. I shed tears while reading this. That makes it worth it, in my opinion.


The Nature of a Pirate, by A M Dellamonica
Review here

I wouldn’t have thought that fantasy based on the Age of Sail would be my thing. Then I read Child of a Hidden Sea. And now I’ve just recently finished the third book in the series and holy crap, these books are great. The dialogue’s snappy, thew characters are amazingly realistic, and Dellamonica’s world-building is top-notch. I haven’t read anything of hers that I’ve disliked; she really knows how to go all-out with creating a compelling world and great characters to fill it. I love Sophie, I love Bram, I love Garland Parrish, I love that even the characters who only appear for a short time still feel like real people. This is the kind of book — no, the kind of series — that doesn’t want to let you go once it’s had the chance to gets its hands on you, and I love the adventures that Sophie goes on as she experiences more of Stormwrack and uncovers its secrets. Damn amazing, I tell you!


The Second Death, by T Frohock
Review here

Fallen angels. And music. And the twisting of Judeo-Christian myths. And two dudes in a committed relationship and also raising a kid together. And yup, Frohock knows how to push all the right buttons, and for all that each book in the Los Nefilim series is short (they’re all novellas rather than full-length novels), they’re amazing and she crams so much into so few words. She’s a pro at playing with dark fantasy, and I’ve devoured each piece of this story that she writes, and I always want more at the end. Every aspect of this is right for what I want to read more of in my life, and if you haven’t checked out her work yet, then this series is a great place to start.