Our Child of the Stars (4*)

Book – Our Child of the Stars by Stephen Cox

Our Child of the StarsBrief disclaimer: Stephen is a member of my writing group, though I joined just before the book came out so I wasn’t involved in the actual process of giving him feedback on it as he went along.

As with the last review I am going to be breaking this into two parts, a spoiler free one and one with spoilers. The second part will be under a cut for those who wish to avoid it.

The book is the story of Molly and Gene Myers, who sadly have lost their own child. In the aftermath a meteor strikes their small town and changes their lives forever as hidden in that event is the crash of a spaceship. The sole survivor, Cory, is a young boy who the Myers end up adopting.

Cory has to be kept secret though for fear of the government taking him and that means not telling anyone in their lives, not friends or family, but can such a secret be kept forever? And can Cory help heal the Myers and can they help him deal with the trauma of his own loss?

The story is a beautiful tale of family and the love between one, no matter how the family comes to be constructed. As the relationships are central to the story I wouldn’t call this a high action book, though it does get more tense as it progresses. I would also say that it doesn’t need to be. Like Becky Chambers Wayward series, the focus is more on the characters so what it needs to carry it is strong voices and that is what you get.

Gene, Molly and Cory are all well developed people who jump off the page at you. None of them are perfect and that makes them more real. Likewise you get to see a number of people in the town, many with differing views on politics and other things, yet most with a strong sense of community in spite of those differences and that is really refreshing to see.

Overall the messages in the book are pretty positive. Not all of the people are nice and some make terrible choices, but they all have their own motivations and differing goals so the cast feels pretty solid. The nicer parts of human nature are shown more but that feels like a deliberate choice to be more positive and that works well.

I have been struggling to put words to why I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5, because it is a good book and I definitely enjoyed it. I think it’s likely that something just isn’t quite clicking with me in the way I require for it to be 5 stars, but it is also a debut novel so plenty of room to grow and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

Spoiler part below

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Brief Writing Update

Hi guys!

Brief update on the writing front. I can’t remember if I posted that I had submitted a short story to the Pseudopod horror podcat, but I did. Sadly I got a rejection back last night but it was because they didn’t think the story was horror enough to fit the podcast, which I myself wasn’t sure of so it was a fair point.

Otherwise they said that they really liked it and thought it was an intense exploration of PTSD, which given that it was dealing with my own trauma is pretty accurate.

So I am still feeling very positive, got some other short story projects I am working on and I hope that I may have better luck in the future. In the meantime I know a rejection is not world-ending and I can deal with it and that helps a great deal in regards to overcoming my anxieties about pursuing my dream of being published.

If any of you reading this are writers wanting to be published but battling that fear, I know how you feel but trust me, being rejected isn’t as bad as you fear and you can learn and grow from there so don’t give up!

I will update when I have something else ready to go, or if I have any better luck submitting the story elsewhere. I have stuck it in for the Mind Membership competition about mental health journeys so I shall see how it goes!

Lord of Secrets (3.5*)

Book – Lord of Secrets by Brenna Teintze

Lord of SecretsBrief disclaimer, I received an ARC of this from Jo Fletcher books in exchange for an honest review. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I love giving new books a go so I requested one and was really pleased when I received it.

I am going to try a new format for this review and if I like it I may use it going forward. I have found that writing up my full and spoilery opinion on TV shows and films has been much easier and more fun to write, so I am going to split my reviews in two going forward. The start will be a spoiler free brief description of the plot and some thoughts, then I will go into a more detailed plot summary and spoiler review for those who have either read the book or don’t mind spoilers.

The second part will be as clearly marked as I can make it so those who don’t want the spoiler review can skip it until they have read the book for themselves.

No Spoiler Review

The story follows a man called Corcoran Grey, a mage who isn’t part of the guild that all mages are supposed to follow. He meets up with Brix, a slave woman on the run from the priesthood and together they team up as he needs her knowledge to break into a temple in order to try and help his Grandfather, who has been arrested by the mages. Things don’t quite go according to plan of course and now they must deal with conflicting loyalties, necromancy and whole lot of powerful people hunting them.

Firstly I have to say that the magic system in this story is absolutely fantastic as a premise. Basically magic is poisonous to the user so most mages try and push that poison into other people so it doesn’t hurt them. All spells need to be written on something, or someone so some mages tattoo spells onto their skin, others use members of a race who seem to be immune to the poison and mark their spells on them instead.

Honestly it was such a refreshing idea and I really enjoyed learning how it works and what impact it had on the world. There were a couple of areas which felt a little convenient or inconsistent, but overall I rank it highly.

In regards to the story, the fact that the main character had a long-term knee injury which causes him pain and difficulties almost made me cry. As someone who has severe cartiledge damage in both her knees and often has to deal with pain and mobility issues, getting to see something of that in the hero of a fantasy book meant a great deal to me.

I also loved that the female character had her own goals and motivations that were completely separate from the main character, that can be pretty rare so it was good to see. I do wish that there were more female characters in the book though, I can’t see any real reason why so many of them were male and that was a frustrating detail to me.

The main character is also complicated, not dealing well with his emotions or trusting others and as such felt quite real to me in many ways. I also liked that he wasn’t the usual sort of hero you get, not able to just solve problems with physical strength and needed to be careful with magic as well due to the whole poison issue.

Overall I did enjoy it though not as much as I would have liked, I had some issues with how the story developed that I won’t go into in this section as that would contain spoilers.

The next section contains spoilers so should be hidden below.

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Love, Death and Robots

Love, Death and Robots

love death and robots

I was pretty excited when I saw this anthology pop up. I mean a collection of sci-fi stories that have been animated? Yes please! Then I saw that almost all the stories had been written by men and it was in fact a very male project and I deflated somewhat. There are still some good stories in here that are worth a look, but the fact that it’s not a massively diverse production shows and that was a shame. I hope if they do more in future they will look at that.

There are only two stories written by women as far as I can tell, it’s harder to be sure about other diversities without looking up the authors in more detail. One story is for sure written by a person of colour, unsure about any of the others though and certainly no idea about sexuality representation except to say that the stories don’t have much of that in them.

 

Sonnie’s Edge (4*)

Written by Peter F Hamilton

sonnie

The first short is about a feminine presenting person who pilots a fighting monster in an arena, the only woman to do so. She is asked to throw the next match by a rich man and refuses. It is suggested that the fact she was gang raped a year previously is what gives her the edge in fights and why she has had such a long-running streak in the arena.

Bad: Rape as a background for a female character is very, very tired and was only necessary as a misdirection.

Good: Above motivation does not turn out to be what gives her the edge she has in a fight, which I actually appreciated. Also liked the casually queer character, that was a nice touch.

Generally this is fine to watch, with the caveats regarding her backstory as mentioned above. The ending is quite satisfying.

 

Three Robots (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

three robots

Three robots are on holiday in a post-apocalyptic Earth. There’s a beautiful nod to Terminator a short while in where one of the robots steps on and breaks a human skull. It’s overall a very humorous look at them not really understanding human things and making a lot of wrong assumptions. The bit with the cat is absolutely perfect, especially the reference to Exploding Kittens.

Bad: There is use of pussy as an insult early on which always annoys me. No need for that really. I don’t mind genitalia-based insults, but where there is no equivalent male swear that means the same thing I dislike it.

Good: Overall one of the best ones in the anthology, well written, makes some interesting points about the fate of humans and manages to be really quite funny at the same time.

 

The Witness (2*)

Written by Alberto Mielgo

thewitness

A woman in a hotel room witnesses a man murder a woman in the hotel opposite her and runs. He starts pursuing her across time and she becomes more and more desperate to get away from him.

Bad: It’s extremely oversexualised, which for something with violence at the core of it was not a good look for me. There’s a particular scene in a private club which spends ages lingering over shots of naked women or people in BDSM gear and it adds very little to the whole thing other than to titillate and I definitely could have done without it.

There is a “twist” ending which is set up right from the start if you pay close attention and smacked to me of thinking it was way more clever than it actually managed to be.

Recommendation is to give this one a miss the premise isn’t good enough to make up for the way it treats violence against women and in fact women in general if I am honest.

 

Suits (4.5*)

Written by Steven Lewis

Love-Death-Robots-Suits

A group of farmers have some mech suits to help them defend against an incursion of massive bugs. A new wave of them is approaching and the farmers take to their suits to protect what they own. It has a very sci-fi frontier feel about it, helped along by the soundtrack. Mostly it’s a story about normal people working together in difficult circumstances.

Bad: Not much if I am honest. My main complaint would be that it’s the guys who pilot the mechs for the most part whilst the women do support systems, but none of them are useless and the older woman pilot is a badass. There is also a random mother-in-law joke, kinda tired of those.

Good: Pretty much everything else. It’s a good story, well told and it draws you in from start to finish. You find yourself rooting for these people very quickly which makes the events poignant and something you definitely care about.

One to watch, one of the best ones in the anthology.

 

Sucker of Souls (2*)

Written by Kirsten Cross

suckerof souls

The story starts with two men running away from some sort of monster. They appear to be underground. It then flashes back in time to when they uncovered the tomb of something called the sucker of souls.

Bad: The team involved in the expedition appears to be pretty much all men, not a woman in sight.

Good: For some reason I am deeply amused by random monster penis. Was it needed? No, but it was funny. Also, Dracula being afraid of cats which I did appreciate, though it did lead to a pussy joke that I definitely could have done without.

Please note this story does contain ridiculous anime levels of gore so if that is a problem for you then definitely skip this one. Other than that, it’s not bad. It’s not a great story, I didn’t find anything particularly new or interesting about it though.

 

When the Yoghurt Took Over (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

yoghurt

This is a bizarre little story about how humanity was taken over by sentient yoghurt. The narrator appears to the same voice actor who voiced Brain from Pinky and the Brain and that is distracting. Not sure what else to say about the plot, watch it and see how it unfolds is what I recommend.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a fun little story with an excellent point to it.

Good: It’s surreal, it’s weird and it’s well done. Definitely watch it.

 

Beyond the Aquila Drift (4*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

aquila

The crew of a ship execute a jump to their destination, but something goes wrong and they end up a long way from home and must deal with the consequences of what that means, with the help of someone else who is stranded out there.

Bad: Not much really, it’s a very human portrayal of what would be a pretty terrifying experience.

Good: It’s nice to see something that plays with perception and reality and also shows that compassion is by no means solely a human thing.

 

Good Hunting (4*)

Written by Ken Liu

good hunting

The son of a spirit hunter makes friends with a spirit and together they navigate a world changing from one of magic to one of technology, both being harmed by the influence of the British Empire on China.

Bad: Lots of sexualisation of women, there is a point to it but it’s still frustrating, especially when the motivations of the main female character are largely based on revenge for her treatment at the hands of her clients.

Good: It’s one of the few stories in this collection with diverse representation at the heart of it. It also does not shy away from being quite blunt about the effect of colonialism and racism on a people. I also enjoyed the Steampunk elements of it, as well as seeing how that sort of genre can be approached in a different way.

 

The Dump (2*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

dump

An old man who lives in a dump faces eviction and tells the guy a story about what happened with a friend of his not that long ago as a delaying tactic.

Bad: I really didn’t like this one, no female characters in it to have an issue with, but my main problem was just that I hated all of the characters and as a result found it impossible to care about their predicament or what was happening to them.

Generally I would say skip this one as well, not worth bothering with.

 

Shape-Shifters (3*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Love-Death-Robots-Shape-Shifters

A group of werewolves are part of US operations in the middle east and are not well liked by the rest of the soldier, derogatorily called dog soldiers, they run into some trouble with some local werewolves.

Bad: Another entirely male orientated story with the typical sorts of sexist jokes that is expected and taken for granted as being part of the military and whilst that may be true, perpetuating that it is OK does not help make the service comfortable for anyone not coded as your typical male.

Good: It’s overall not a bad story, I quite like the idea of how a military force would deal with deploying supernaturals. It also has a strong core of male friendship at the core of it and that’s definitely something I can get behind.

 

Helping Hand (5*)

Written by Claudine Griggs

Love-Death-Robots-Helping-Hand

A woman on a solo mission runs into trouble and has only herself to rely on to get her out of it. It’s a pretty harrowing tale of what can go wrong in space and the lengths people can go to in order to try and survive it.

Bad: Um, nothing really. It’s one of the few stories in this collection told from the perspective of a woman that isn’t sexualised or deals with sexualised violence.

Good: All of it really. Excellent characterisation, it shows well the dangers that someone might experience in space and the things people are capable of doing in the direst of circumstances to help themselves. She doesn’t need rescuing, she manages the whole thing herself and I loved it for all of that.

 

Fish Night (3*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

fish night

Two Salesmen get stuck in the desert when their car breaks down and they witness the ghosts of ancient seas flying around overhead.

Bad: It’s pretty predictable about what will happen in some ways, at least after the initial weirdness happens.

Good: The ghosts are an interesting concept and drawn very beautifully onscreen, I mostly wish more had been done with this concept than once but it’s enjoyable enough.

 

Lucky 13 (5*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Lucky-13-Love-Death-and-Robots

This story is about a female pilot recounting her time when she flew a ship called Lucky 13, which was assumed to be anything but.

Bad: Nothing really.

Good: Seriously I really loved this one, the main character is a black, female pilot and the story is told well and is a lovely look at the bond between a pilot and ship, especially in the midst of war. It’s also another one of the few stories where the motivation of the female character

 

Zima Blue (5*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

love-death-and-robots-zima-blue

An artist known as Zima Blue tells the story of his origins to a journalist before he unveils his last artwork and it is not quite what she expected to hear.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a lovely story and it’s portrayed very well on screen.

Good: It’s a beautiful story about the nature of art, being a person and what true fulfilment can look like. The ending is a bittersweet triumph and I really enjoyed this story.

 

Blindspot (3*)

Written by Vitaliy Shushko

blindspot

A group of cyborg thieves try and pull off a heist and things do not quite go quite as well as would be expected. Pretty gory and very anime in feel.

Bad: One female character who almost immediately has to defend herself from sexist jokes thrown her way, so very tired of that.

Good: It’s fun enough I guess, and the ending isn’t something I saw coming, though also annoyed me though I won’t explain why as that might ruin it. It may be pretty obvious when you see it though.

 

Ice Age (5*)

Written by Michael Swanwick

ice age

A couple find that they have an entire civilisation developing in their ancient fridge at a highly accelerated rate and watch it evolving in front of them.

Bad: It’s not a massively original premise, but it is done well so it’s not a big detriment.

Good: It’s well done, it’s amusing, though the very end shot does make my inner archaeologist twitch a bit.

 

Alternate Histories (4*)

Written by John Scalzi

alternate histories

Multiversity is an alternative history app which shows you a demo of what would happen if Adolf Hitler’s death had happened in different ways. The deaths get increasingly sillier and more amusing.

Bad: It does use sex as one of the deaths, which made me roll my eyes.

Good: It’s a very entertaining and pretty hilarious parody of alternate history as a genre, instead of the more usual what if questions, it does wilder and wilder until you can’t help but laugh at them and I definitely enjoyed that.

 

The Secret War (4*)

Written by David W. Amendola

the secret war

A group of Soviet soldiers hunt monsters that have been killing villagers and track them back to where they came from with the hopes of destroying them all and stopping the onslaught.

Bad: Mostly it’s very brutal and gory so may not be for all. Also all male, which whilst could be seen as accurate, I know that women fought in WW2 so did not have to be that way.

Good: It’s a compelling story and handles it all very well with an ending that is both poignant and pleasing.