Annihilation (4*)

Book: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

This is another one of our book club picks, though I have been wanting to read it for a while since I heard about it because of the film. I did watch that first and I mostly enjoyed it and I was very curious as to how it would compare to the book, especially since I know a lot of people who had read the book didn’t like the film very much, if at all.

I am somewhat behind with my reviews as well, this is mostly just because trying to get into the right headspace at the moment can be difficult but I am going to try and struggle through, it’s a good distraction right now with all that’s going on.

“Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective—even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.”

AnnihilationFirst thing I will say is that I am unsure if Annihilation is a very short novel, or if it’s a novella. Not that it particularly matters either way I suppose, but it is certainly surprisingly short.

The story follows four women, none of whom are given names in the narrative, they are known by their job titles alone: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist (the leader) and a biologist who narrates the story. All of them are on an expedition into a strange area known as Area X.

Fairly early on they come across something that the narrator refers to as a tower and the others call a tunnel, it goes down into the ground but still make her think it’s a tower. What they find there will have long lasting consequences for all of them.

There is a lot of weird imagery in the book and the descriptions do a wonderful job of evoking a creepy and alien environment, made all the moreso by the fact that it is mostly like our world, but definitely not entirely so. I really loved the descriptions of the tower itself, they were very well done and create an excellent atmosphere and give you something of a hint of what sort of journey you will be going on in the story.

I did find it quite impressive how well I understood the personalities of the characters and it does go to show that a name is not the only thing that matters when it comes to making someone seem more real. Some of them are more fleshed out than others, but I still felt that I got a very good sense of who they were. I would have perhaps liked more about the rest of the expedition, but I definitely enjoyed the way the relationship between the narrator and her husband was unravelled through flashbacks and inner thoughts, the way it was handled was excellent and it does surprise you somewhat at the end.

Overall it was an excellent read, especially given the short length. Some may find the ending a little unsatisfying as it does leave things unanswered, but then there are other books so I can only assume that those loose ends will be tied up later on in the trilogy. It’s well written, wonderfully weird and I definitely enjoyed it.

 

Children of Time (5*) and Children of Ruin (4*)

Books: Children of Time and Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I have been excitedly waiting for Children of Ruin to come out in paperback because of how much I loved the first one. And since I apparently read the first one before I made this blog, now I am going to review the two together. As a warning, the review for Children of Ruin will contain some spoilers for Children of Time, so I would only read the review of the second if you have read the first one.

“You can never know. That is the problem with ignorance. You can never truly know the extent of what you are ignorant about.”

Children of TimeBasically this book was sold to me a civilisation of sentient spiders in space and that alone made me desperate to read it. Weird fact about me, I adore spiders, have done since I was 7 when I got to hold a tarantula. So a book that basically makes spiders smart, point of view characters with their own motivations and goals was definitely something I knew I wanted to read. This was in fact the first book by Adrian I ever read and now I have an ever growing pile of his stuff because he writes some compellingly he’s on my ‘must buy’ author list.

If you yourself are an arachnophobe and are thus unsure about reading this book, I cannot speak for the particular way your phobia works, but I will say that we read this book for my book club and we had several arachnophobes in the group and not only did they very much enjoy the book, but they actually found themselves rooting for the spiders! This, to me, is the ultimate testiment to the power of Adrian’s writing, he has an absolute gift to make characters who are distinctly alien in their ways of thinking and yet still very relatable. This book is the best example of him doing this that I have currently read.

Anyway, I have said all that and not even really gone into the actual plot of the book (oops). The premise is that in the last era of Earth, various scientists went out to try and terraform worlds into places fit for human habitation. One of these, Avrana Kern, was a genius who was not trying to terraform a place for humans, but instead was trying to uplift monkeys and bring them sentience and gift them with a new world all of their own. Something goes wrong though and the monkeys are killed, but the virus meant to uplift them still works on the terraformed world, instead, slowly through generations, lifting the arachnids and other creatures to sentience instead.

“Life is not perfect, individuals will always be flawed, but empathy – the sheer inability to see those around them as anything other than people too – conquers all, in the end.”

In the meantime a starship of survivors leaves Earth, heading out to the world that has been terraformed and had the uplift virus applied to it. They need to find a new place to live and are not expecting it to be already inhabited by a sentient species. Can the two civilisations find a way to work together or will there be conflict between them?

The book switches between seeing the development of the arachnid civilisation and the problems they face in their expidited evolution and with the crew of the human ship that is trying to find a new home. The main crew of the human vessel stays the same for the most part, due to them spending long periods in stasis, but the spiders change between generations, though a naming convention is kept the same which gives a sense of continuity in some ways.

As mentioned before, one of the things I love about the book is how well Adrian makes non human beings seem like people and it really makes the book stand out. It also deals with a host of social issues as well, from the internal ones in the arachnid civilisation, to the ones that the humans are fleeing from and going towards. At its heart it is an excellent exploration of the nature of what it is to be a person and what people would and should do in the pursuit of survival.

There is honestly so much I could talk about that I am struggling to work out what I should say and what basically would give too much of the book away to do so. Basically, this is one of the best bits of science-fiction I have read in recent years and honestly there is no one I wouldn’t recommend this book to (unless you are the sort of arachnophobe who absolutely cannot deal with spiders in any way, in which case, this book is sadly not for you).

“An inclination to play God was part and parcel of wanting to go out and terraform other worlds, but good practice was to at least play nicely with the rest of the pantheon.”

Children of Ruin

And now we come to the sequel: Children of Ruin. Like I said I had been looking forward to this one since I heard that he was writing a sequel and waiting for it to come out in paperback was an absolute trial let me tell you!

If you have not read the first book, please stop reading now, this will otherwise have spoilers for the end of that book and I don’t really want to do that so please be warned!

One of the things that appealed was the fact that this one was going to involve sentient octopi (he even acknowledges the scientific argument about what you actually should call a group of them and that was honestly a wonderful little nod). I am a fan of these beautiful and remarkably smart creatures and I definitely wanted to see what sort of culture he would develop for them.

The story follows on where the first book left off, with a ship crewed by a mix of humans and portids heading off to investigate other areas where human terraforming was meant to have been taking place. Interspersed with us following their journey and discoveries we get to see the stories of both the human terraformers who were working a planet in the area and also their investigation into the life that already existed on one of the planets in the system. One of the terraformers is the one who uplifts the octopoids to help with work on the water planet.

We do get some of the same development as done with the portids in the first book, but not to the same degree, we learn a lot more about their society from their interactions with the human/portid crew than we do from the flashback parts of the story.

One of the things I think Adrian pulled off really well in this book is making the true aliens, exceptionally so. The way they think and act is very, very different to humans and even to the other uplifted species that the series has introduced us to. They come across as truly creepy and terrifying in a way that may well give you nightmares. I will honestly never hear the words “we’re going on an adventure!” in the same way again.

The book, like the first one, still deals a lot with the idea of finding commonalities between very different species. There are a lot of issues between the humans/portids and the octopoids because they think in very different ways and I especially loved the difficulties they had in learning to communicate with each other and the misunderstandings it inevitably caused.

I didn’t quite love this book as much as the first, it’s hard to exactly put my finger on why because it is also very good. I think it might just be that the way it is structured doesn’t quite work for me in the same way as the first book did. There isn’t quite as much learning how the octopoids developed, or maybe not even that but the fact that the structure is more split up between three different groups/timelines and that meant I didn’t quite have as much attachment to the people or what was going on as I had the first time around.

That is the only real complaint I might make against it though, the book is a very worthy sequel to the first one and if you loved the first one then I do highly recommend that you get this one too. Some of my friends actually preferred this one to the first one, so you may even find yourself in that category. And let’s face it even if, like me, you don’t think it quite measures up to the first one, a slightly worse book than Children of Time is still a book that is vastly better than many books you could buy.

A Memory Called Empire (5*)

Book: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Sorry for the quiet, been struggling to write more than usual lately, probably a subtle way that the current state of things is getting to me, though I also weirdly have more of a social life going on now which has been eating some of my time.

We did this for our book club last month, and as it’s on the Nebula shortlist, honestly I cannot be happier that this one was what we picked because it was utterly excellent. Though the Nebula list for this year looks really, really good and I have Gods of Jade and Shadow to get through soon, Ten Thousand Doors of January on pre-order (I would have the paperback of Gideon the Ninth on pre-order too, but it’s still not up on Waterstones and I refuse to buy from Amazon).

“This was the most animated Mahit had seen Three Seagrass be so far, and it was really making it difficult for Mahit not to like her. She was funny. Thirty-Six All-Terrain Tundra Vehicle was funnier.”

MemoryI was also excited to look up the author and discover that she is queer, I do adore finding more excellent queer writers, it makes me so very happy.

But anyway, the story follows a young woman called Mahit Dzmare who is from an independent mining colony who live on a space station. She is selected as the new ambassador to Teixcalaanli Empire after the unexpected death of the previous one. She has long loved the culture of the Empire, but now she has to balance the needs of her own people with her pleasure at being where she has always longed to be.

It’s basically a political murder mystery at its heart, but with some very interesting science -fiction twists that elevate it up much more than that. The main character has a technology in her head that gives her advice and sometimes memories from the previous ambassador, though the information is years out of date (this is a fairly minor spoiler as this is introduced very early on into the book). The role that this plays in the plot is really well done, though I don’t want to go into too much more detail because of more severe spoilers.

There is an aspect of this book that I feel is definitely either a love it or hate it thing. All throgh the writing there is a lot of discussion about the culture of the Empire, especially in regard to poetry, whether that is through poetry competitions, the use of it in encryptions, or referring to it as a way to describe the landmarks of the city. For me I loved this, I found it well done and very engaging, but from what I heard from others in our writing group, some of them found it somewhat pretentious and difficult. So just be advised that your tolerance for poetry based culture may influence your enjoyment of the book.

“Released, I am a spear in the hands of the sun.”

I was also very impressed by the pacing, it seems to be the hardest part of a book to get right and the hurdle that most debut authors stumble at. This one worked really well though, there was a lot of action in the book, but also plenty of intrigue and character moments that kept it flowing along very nicely. It built up very successful to the conclusion and I wasn’t left with a feeling of it being rushed, shoe-horned or full of last minute deus ex machinas to fix anything. I also felt that the way it ended made perfect sense for what I learned about the characters and I really loved that too.

This is a book that will definitely tug on your heart strings and I found myself enraptured by a number of the characters. I also loved how important friendships and trust was in the story,  Those were built up very well and she humanises her characters wonderfully. I felt I understood a lot about the personalities and motives of each one, in a way that brought them all to life for me.

Overall this is a pretty astonishing debut. It’s rare that I read a debut novel and know that I am going to be looking out for absolutely everything that the author publishes from now on, but I definitely feel that way about this one. More like this please!

Molly Southbourne Novellas (4*)

Books: The Murders of Molly Southbourne and The Survival of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

As you may have noticed from my reviews of the Rosewater trilogy books, I am a bit of a fan of Tade’s work. One of the first times I met him was at one of the SFX cons in London where he talked about how he always thinks of how characters react to bodily fluids when making them. He also talked about the first of these novellas and I admit that the concept absolutely intrigued me, so when I finally managed to get hold of them I plowed through them both in no time.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne

She loves that writers make words their servants and bend them to their will.

MurdersSo the premise for the first novella is that Molly creates clones of herself every time she bleeds and these clones invariably try and murder her so she has to learn to defend herself against them from a very early age, with the help of her parents. Of course as she gets older she wants more from her life, to study, to maybe falling in love and that sort of thing.

She still has her clone problem to contend with as well, not to mention the mystery of why she is the way she is, all of which will definitely impact her attempts to live her life.

I did enjoy that Molly is a properly well realised female character who is entirely believable as such, she has a definitely distinctive voice of her own and tells her story in the way she wants to. Given how many bad examples of men writing women there are out there (there’s a whole Twitter account dedicated to showing them) it’s always refreshing to see it done well.

There is a very interesting thread of trauma and survival that runs through the book. In order to survive her life, Molly has to try and get used to, and deal with, some pretty awful experiences and the story does an excellent job of showing what living in survival mode does to someone. As someone who spent some years doing that, there are parts of the book that resonated with me very powerfully.

On the whole this is a strange and surreal tale, beautifully told that packs a remarkable amount into such a short number of pages and the ending is something that you do not entirely see coming either.

The Survival of Molly Southbourne

Warning, talking about this book in any way is going to involve spoilers for the first one so I would highly recommend not reading on unless you have already read it or don’t care about spoilers. Continue reading

Xuya Novellas & In the Vanishers’ Palace

Books: On a Red Station, Drifting; The Citadel of the Weeping Pearls; In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

You may have noticed that I have been reviewing a lot of novellas lately. I went on a mini buying spree in an online bookstore (not Amazon, fuck that company) to pick up novellas that are hard to get physical copies of in the UK and I spent a chunk of January reading them. Since they are shorter I have been grouping them together so I can get through them all.

Today’s spree is the three novellas by Aliette de Bodard that I bought myself. The first two are in the Xuya universe, which is the same one as The Tea Master and the Detective is set, the novella that I loved the most for the Hugos last year. The other is a f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast that I have been keen on reading since I first heard about it.

On a Red Station, Drifting (5*)

How dare she! How could she stand there, with everything that Prosper was in tatters, and look obscenely proud of everything she’d done?

oarsdThis is the oldest of the novellas (I believe) and the first one set in the Xuya universe. There seem to be other novelletes and short stories that I shall have to see if I can find somewhere so I can read them too as I am a big fan of the setting from what I have read so far.

The story begins with Lê Thi Linh arriving on Prosperity station, fleeing war and disgrace to find sanctuary among her distant relatives there. She was once a magistrate but upon meeting Quyen, who runs the station, the two do not get on particularly well.

With the problems the Station is suffering due to the ongoing war and the ones that Lê Thi Linh is bringing with her, the clashes between the two of them bring a very real danger.

One of the things I liked about the book is it had a weird Pride and Prejudice vibe, not with a romance element, but the dislike that forms between Quyen and Linh feels very much based on pride and prejudice in that one of them is too proud to bend and the other makes immediate assumptions about what the other is like as a person and it all goes downhill from there. It was a very realistic dynamic and I really enjoyed the way it unfolded in the story.

I could wax lyrical about the setting all day though, it is absolutely gorgeous and very well described. Though I have to say that glancing over the Goodreads reviews for this novella was a depressing place at times, the number of people giving it low stars because of failing to understand the culture presented in the text, or talking about the “Eastern flavour” as though the author isn’t herself French Vietnamese and doesn’t know what she was doing when she wrote it. I can entirely understand people not liking something because it’s not their sort of story, or they didn’t like the characters, or stuff like that. But claiming you can’t understand the culture because it’s not Western in its basis is just gross racism and I have no time for it.

The Citadel of The Weeping Pearls (4*)

Thirty years after the Citadel disappeared, Diem Huong woke up with the knowledge that today was the day- and that, whatever she did, the trajectory of her life would be irrevocably altered.

Citadel_ebook_RGB_webAn older Linh makes an appearance in this story, though it is not about her, but is instead a tale of the Empress seeking to find the lost Citadel of the Weeping Pearls, a place that was her daughter’s after she was exiled and is rumoured to contain all sorts of weapons.

As the Empire is on the brink of war, the Empress is desperate to find something to help them stand a chance against those who seek to conquer them.

The story surrounds the mystery of what happened to the Citadel, how many lives its dissappearance has affected and what it has to do with the new dissappearance of someone working for the Empress to try and recover the Citadel.

I enjoyed that at its heart this was another story about various relationships and as the story goes on we learn quite a surprising amount about the characters for sure a short piece of writing as well. There are a lot of stranger elemets to the story as well, mostly surrounding the Citadel and what happened to it and these didn’t seem to be explained in any particular depth to me, now I imagine that has to be at least partly because of the length, but it did result in that part of the plot feeling a little underdeveloped to me, so I didn’t enjoy it overall as much as I have her other novellas in this series.

Still an excellent read and I thoroughly love the universe that she has created and I definitely want to read more about it. There is some other stuff out there I shall have to get hold of

In the Vanishers’ Palace (4*)

We’ve discussed this before. Not just other people saying yes, but whether they mean it, or whether they’re just doing it because they’re afraid.

Vanishers

So when I heard that the premise of this one was a f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast I instantly wanted to read it. As mentioned before this one isn’t part of the Xuya universe, as far as I know it’s a stand-alone novella.

The story follows Yen who is sold to a dragon as payment for a healing done on a member of her village. She finds herself in the Vanishers’ Palace, a vast complex that used to belong to the race who dominated the world before they left, leaving dangers in their wake.

The dragon, Vu Con, sets her to teach her children and the two of them share a strange attraction, though the secrets the dragon holds will threaten everything and Yen must decide where she will be truly happy.

I am quite amazed at just how much worldbuilding Aliette manages to get into this novella given its length. The detailed pictures she paints of how this world works is utterly stunning and I found myself entirely captivated by it. Not everthing is entirely explained, but it doesn’t need to be and I actually liked that there was still some mystery surrounding the Vanishers by the end of it.

A lot of why this is a 4* and not a 5* book for me comes down to personal preference in regards to romance. I much prefer slow-burn stuff that allows the characters to get to know each other quite well and that isn’t really what happens here, in fact by the end in some ways I felt they still didn’t entirely know each other as well as I would like. This meant I didn’t find the romance as believable as I would have liked to, so it was a little lacking in that department. It’s probably a lot to do with how I work as a person though, so probably not something that will be a factor for most readers of the novella.

It is honestly a beautiful read and I feel it is well worth people’s time, especially since you can easily inhale the whole thing in an hour or two. And look at that cover, it’s a stunning book. The more I read of Aliette’s work, the more of a fangirl of hers I am becoming if I am honest.

The Murderbot Diaries (5* Overall)

Books: All Systems Red; Rogue Protocol; Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

I liked the imaginary people on the entertainment feed way more than I liked real ones, but you can’t have one without the other.

All Systems RedI had heard of these books for a while and after reading the second one (Artificial Condition) for the Hugo Awards last year, I really wanted to get them all and read them. Getting them in the UK in physical form does not seem to be that easy, but thanks to an online company that isn’t Amazon (fuck them), I managed to get them for myself and took great delight in reading through them all.

Perhaps having started off with the second book was not the best way to do it, though it did not really ruin the series for me to do so (but I am glad I then read them in order as it would have ruined any further into the series).

The books follow the various adventures of Murderbot, a security droid built to protect humans who hacked their own governor module and is now operating as an independent entity. The first book opens with Murderbot on a mission to protect a group of humans on a survey mission to a planet.

What starts out as a standard mission goes wrong when it turns out that there are another group of people on the planet who are trying to kill the humans that Murderbot is there to protect. Much to Murderbot’s annoyance as now Murderbot has to put actual effort into protecting them and can’t spend as much time watching their shows.

It’s a very action heavy book, but not in a bad way. The action is well written and gripping and I found it very compelling. The books would make an excellent adaptation as film or TV. The action is nicely interspersed with the drama between the characters and the unfurling of what it is the bad guys are up to and why.

The setting is also very well written without getting too bogged down in technicalities you are still left with a clear sense of what is important, how things work and what parts of it are pretty horrifying to our current modern sensibilities.

I didn’t care what humans were doing to each other as long as I didn’t have to a) stop it or b) clean up after it

The second book is Artificial Condition, see the link for my talking about that back when I read it for the Hugos.

Who knew being a heartless killing machine would present so many moral dilemmas. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

rogue-protocol-coverThird in the series is Rogue Protocol. Murderbot continues to go after the company who tried to murder the humans they protected in All Systems Red, looking for evidence of what they were up to so that they can pass it back to those humans to help them with their lawsuit against the corporation.

Instead what Murderbot comes across is another group of humans who need their protection after the people who are supposedly meant to be protecting them on their mission turn out to be trying to kill them as they are in the way of them removing the evidence that Murderbot is after by destroying the station.

So poor Murderbot has to leap into action again and protect more dumb humans and get the evidence they need in the process. It’s a hard life being a Murderbot for sure.

I was impressed how what on the surface could seem like the same plot threads again (group of humans in danger, Murderbot must protect) is still done in a way that keeps you engaged and interested in what is going on and where things are going. Partly it does this by unfurling more of the ongoing plot to do with what the corporation is up to, but also in Murderbot’s journey of self-discovery as they learn what it means to be them, what they want and what they want to do with their life.

I was having an emotion, and I hate that.

exit-strategyThe last one (so far, I believe that there is something new out soon?) is Exit Strategy. In this book Murderbot heads back to give her evidence in only to discover her beloved humans are in danger and that the doctor may well have been kidnapped by the very corporation they are trying to bring down, so of course Murderbot has to try and get her back.

I think overall this may be my favourite book of the series. I really loved the return to the characters we met in the first book, with all the awkward emotional baggage that it brought and how those relationships were written in the story.

The portrayal of Murderbot trying to deal with their emotions is definitely one of the most relatable things I have ever read, not to mention their interactions with humans in general. Just look at the quotations I chose from each book for a good idea of the dry humour and sarcasm that the voice of Murderbot brings and makes the books such a joy to read.

Also, the ending of this one will likely get you all choked up, if it doesn’t then I am quite sure you may be lacking a heart entirely. I mean, or for some reason these stories are not your thing (but really, it’s definitely the heart thing).

Honestly, the character of Murderbot is the reason that these books are so well loved, never will you find a more relatable character than the one who is frequently annoyed by the stupidity of the people they are trying to protect, not to mention getting their own desires interrupted to have to take care of other people. Also emotions, emotions are the worst. The thing I really love about Murderbot though is the fact that Murderbot is not human and does not want to be human and I absolutely adore that. It’s a typical thing that all artificial life shown in science-fiction wants to become human, or be as human as possible and that is not the case here. Murderbot is a person, but they are NOT human and I am so there for that story.

An Unkindness of Ghosts (4*)

Book: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I am a boy and a girl and a witch all wrapped into one very strange, flimsy, indecisive body. Do you think my body couldn’t decide what it wanted to be?

AUOGThis is the book we did for our January meeting of the London Science-Fiction and Fantasy book club. That meeting was done on a theme of LGBTQIA+ authors and this was the book that won, which I was pleased about as it had been something I had heard about before and had been wanting to read for a while.

The story follows Aster, one of the residents of a generation starship called the HSS Matilda. Aster lives on the lower decks which are populated with those who work the field decks, or other tasks vital to the running of the ship which are less glamorous and considered above those who live on the upper decks.

When the sovereign of the ship gets sick, his symptoms are similar to those recorded in Aster’s mother’s diaries before her death twenty-five years earlier. The link sends Aster investigating what happened to her mother and how it relates to what is happening on the ship currently.

There’d be no forgiveness this time. It was one thing to destroy a person, but to destroy their work was a sacrilege Aster couldn’t easily forget. All that was left of a person’s life was recorded on paper, in annals, in almanacs, in the physical items they produced. To end that was to end their history, their present, their future.

First off I would say that this is overall not exactly what you would call a fun read. The lower decks and the treatment of the people who live there is a clear analogue for slavery and how people were treated during it. As a result there are a number of very challenging scenes to read involving torture and abuse, though sexual trauma is talked about and implied in the text, there are no graphic scenes of such (which I am very thankful for).

One of the things I loved most about this book was the portrayal of Aster who is coded as what seems to be to be someone on the Autistic spectrum, she takes things very literally and struggles with information that is coded or unclear. When people ask her questions or talk in certain ways, she gets very confused or annoyed when her being direct does not resolve the issues or causes more, things I found pretty relatable even if she operates on a more extreme end of being literal than I do.

Her struggles against the restrictions of her world are very relatable and I also really enjoyed the relationship between her and the Surgeon (Theo) which I thought was done really well. I really love it when an author manages to convey complexity in relationships of all sorts and that really comes across here. What is between them is far from simple and it is also something that is still evolving and changing throughout the course of the book as well.

It’s not a perfect book, there are some definite pacing issues, especially towards the end and the ending is definitely a little abrupt. I don’t think I disliked it in the same way that some people in my book club did, but I could see why it would be problematic for some people as well, who were left wanting to know more about what would happen next.

There is also not a lot of description or detail about how the layout of the ship works and there were a couple of places where I got confused and couldn’t quite picture how the travel times that seemed to be the case didn’t seem to be consistent. Now, it’s not a massively important thing to the story so if you are swept along in the narrative then it’s a fairly minor issue, but for someone struggling to connect with what is going on it is definitely something that will throw them further out of the book and cause more issues.

Truth was messy. The natural order of an entropic universe was to tend toward it.

The writer of the book is non-binary and they do some interesting things with gender and gender presentation as part of this book. Early on there is a reference to a larger proportion of the population of the lower decks are more ambiguous in regards to gender, it’s not entirely clear what this means, it could perhaps be suggesting that they are more likely to be intersex. Aster herself is certainly described in ways that suggests her gender presentation does not skew towards solely feminine. I really liked the way that this was handled and it was clearly something that personally mattered a great deal to the author as well.

Overall it was a good book and I am very pleased that I read it. It’s very well written and I can certainly see why the author was shortlisted for the Astounding award for best new writer. This is also certainly someone I will look at reading future works by as well.

Atlas Alone (5*)

Book: Atlas Alone by Emma Newman

But I hold him tight and I pretend that I have forgiven him for being nothing more than I am: a cold collection of trained responses, pretending to be a person.

atlas aloneI am continuing to catch up on reviews of books I should have done last year, this one is my number 2 book of 2019, Atlas Alone.

It’s a book that meant a lot to me personally, for reasons I will go into in more detail as we go along. As you may have seen from my earlier reviews of this series (you can read it here if you want).

As can likely be gathered, I am a big fan of these  books and when I heard that the newest one had an asexual protagonist I think I may have made a loud squealing noise. I even bought it in the large paperback format so I could read it earlier (which is one reason the fact it’s taken me so long to write this review is super embarrassing).

This story follows on from the events in After Atlas, taking place what seems to be a very short time after that book ends. It follows Dee, who appears in After Atlas, and is a fellow survivor of the serial abuse and horror that is being indentured in a corporate future. She’s an avid game player and gets invited to join an elite server. When someone she kills in a game dies for real it sets of a chain of events that shows that something awful is definitely going on as the ship travels towards its destination.

The book is the blend of mental health and psychological thriller that characterise a lot of the series and it is done with her usual style and knack for drawing you into the story and not letting you go until it’s over.

For me, this story also took a very personal hold over me. The combination of someone who was an abuse survivor and asexual (and the story is clear that the second is not a product of the first) meant that Dee’s story felt incredibly real to me, I understood her on a level I don’t always manage with characters in books and there were places where I felt that had I been more unlucky in my life, without the love and support of my friends and family, I could see myself being a lot like her.

I have heard some criticism of the book for having an asexual protagonist who is at times cold, distant and struggles to get close to people and I do understand where people are coming from. There is still a lot of use of asexual coded characters who are presented as aliens, robots, or people who are cold and distant and “not quite human”. The lack of good representation means that any representation tends to be interrogated in more detail for anything that can make us look in a bad light.

But for me the reason this was important is that I am someone who went through child sexual abuse and for years I thought it was the abuse that gave me my issues with sex, that I was broken because of that. It took a long time to realise that no, I hadn’t been particularly interested before then and that this was just a part of me and I wasn’t broken at all.

Dee made me feel seen, like I was understood and shown in a way that I had never really had before and that matters a great deal to me. We’re not exactly the same and she makes choices in the book that I would not do, not without my life having gone in a very different direction, but I understand why she is who she is and what makes her take every step she takes on that road.

It’s a hard story to read, harrowing in places and uncomfortable in others, but I am very glad that she told it and I absolutely adored it.

2019 Round-up

Books 2019

Hi guys! Happy New Year for those it is the New Year for. I know, I know, I haven’t posted in an age. Been struggling to get myself in the right headspace and the end of the year really took it out of me for a few reasons I shan’t go into.

Anyway, going to do a bit of a round-up of things I read in 2019 and then hope to do much better on the blogging front this year. The round-up with be some stats breakdown on what I read before doing a top 5 books to finish.

I read a little over 60 things last year, but some were short stories. I have done my stats based on what my Goodreads has told me. Note that some of the stats in regards to the sexuality/disability status of authors will be wrong because many of them do not state such on their bios (which is entirely reasonable) but it means that I assume that the numbers for those may be higher than I know.

Genre 2019This chart shows a breakdown of the genres I have read over 2019. It’s a mostly even split between Fantasy and Science-Fiction with a sneaky Horror book creeping in there.

A few of the books I read could also be classed as literary fiction, but I personally prefer to stick them in a genre one as I am strongly of the opinion that literary does not have to mean they are worthier as a result.

 

Rating 2019Next we have my ratings, this uses the blog rating where possible but otherwise takes my Goodreads one (since I failed to write full reviews for everything I wrote, I shall try and do some catching up, we shall see how we go).

I read a lot of excellent books last year it must be said and this is shown by 4* being my most common rating, which a whole 15 managing to make it to 5! Seriously though, I read some damn good stuff.

Have a large TBR pile so we shall see how well these hold up this year in comparison!

Gender 2019Right, then a brief look at gender breakdown. I was very pleased to see that books written by women vastly outnumbered books written by men in my read list for the year. I am a bit disappointed that no non-binary or genderqueer people seem to be present,  but again, it may be that there are some but the information I could find on the web did not make that clear.

This year I shall definitely have at least one since I am currently reading a book by a non-binary author and I shall see what else I can hunt down to read too.

Ethnicity 2019I want to be clear in regards to this next one, mixed stands for mixed non-white ethnicity, I think some of the authors on my list may be mixed with white, but I am not entirely sure and again, not all of that information is easy to find online.

Whilst the majority of the authors I read last year are unsurprisingly white, I have managed to get a decent amount of others in there as well and honestly, it’s enriched my reading no end. I am going to continue this trend this year as well where I can manage it.

LGBTQIA 2019Now we get to the probably pretty inaccurate stats categories. I am pretty sure that this next one is under representing the stuff I have read, if there are not more queer authors amongst my read pile for last year I would be deeply, deeply surprised.

As a queer woman myself I actively seek out books with this representation in them and a lot more of the books I read had it than I could be sure of the authors sexualities. So I would imagine that the number is higher, I am going to continue to seek out queer authors of SF&F for this year and see if I can’t get this higher.

Disability 2019Last, but not least, disability. Again, this is really hard to be remotely sure of. Weirdly enough most people aren’t comfortable sharing this sort of thing in their bio so there are only a handful I am sure of and that’s because they have spoken fairly openly about it.

I am also disabled and representation on this front in fiction is still dire. Would definitely love to see more of it and see it done better, but there is still a long way to go for the moment.

Still, I shall be keeping my eyes open for anything with good representation in it and believe me, you will know when I find it!

Top Five Books

I am going to do this solely for books that came out in 2019 (in either hardback or paperback, since I don’t read hardbacks and I want to have some choice in what I choose)

  1. Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri (review soon) – Honestly given how much I loved her first book there was always a chance that the sequel wouldn’t quite live up to it. Instead, it surpassed it. The book made me cry, it was beautiful and lovely and ugh, just all the feelings. Read it (and Empire of Sand)!
  2. Atlas Alone by Emma Newman (hopefully also a review at some point) – I adore this series, Emma manages to blend near future Science-Fiction with explorations of trauma, mental health and the human condition in a breathtakingly amazing way. This book, featuring an asexual protagonist, went through my emotions like a hurricane and I loved every minute.
  3. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (yeah, yeah, still to review I know) – I adored the Ancillary series and was desperate to read this since I first heard she was doing fantasy and it definitely lived up to my expectations. Shakespearean in scope, perfection in execution, I adored it and found it almost impossible to put down in places.
  4. Rosewater: Insurrection by Tade Thomson – Probably a little weird to put the middle book in a trilogy on a top 5 list, but this one is actually my favourite of the three. The way the story twists and turns, never quite going in the direction you thought it would is done superbly and the trilogy as a whole is still the most unique and breathtaking alien invasion story I have ever read.
  5. Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky – I have no idea where he got the idea to basically write a Dungeons and Dragons style dungeon crawl as a Science-Fiction horror story but hot damn does it work to perfection. If you are thinking that this story is silly, not remotely, it’s creepy and powerful and I honestly fell in love with it pretty quickly.

Well, that’s pretty much it for the round-up. I hope to have my review of Tasha Suri’s Realm of Ash up over the weekend so please keep an eye out for that!

The Player of Games (3*)

Book: The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

Games“It was not so difficult to understand the warped view the Azadians had of what they called “human nature” – the phrase they used whenever they had to justify something inhuman and unnatural”

And here’s where I feel like I am committing some sort of faux pax in Sci-Fi circles by failing to be particularly fond of the Culture novels which seem to be fairly generally beloved.

I have to admit that I went into this after having failed to get through one of his non Sci-Fi novels as a teenager so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. In the end I didn’t dislike the book as much as I thought I was going to from the start, but I also didn’t find anything particularly amazing in it either.

Perhaps I am reading this at the wrong sort of time, I have read a lot of books that deal with similar subject matter in a way I vastly preferred to this that were mostly written later on, it’s hard to say for sure though since I can only deal with it in the context of when I have read it, which is here in 2019.

The problem I have with it isn’t that the writing is bad, it certainly isn’t (otherwise this score would be a whole lot lower), it’s more that the main protagonist is an ass, I dislike the Culture and the Azadian people he ends up visiting are basically current human society if we had somewhat better tech and had gone to the stars, but also removed almost every good trait from us and were basically just a load of asshole with no visible redeeming features. I basically spent the whole thing wanting bad things to happen to everyone in it and that… was not massively enjoyable I have to say.

Now for sure, it did come across that the author also agrees that his main character is an asshole, but the problem was that I wasn’t really given anyone or anything to really care about for the whole story. This, combined with the fact that I ended up disliking both civilisations, left me cold. There is also a reveal at the end which came across in a smug, superior way and yes, this is meant to be because of who is narrating it, but it was just pouring oil on a fire to me. I do want to explore this more, but I need to get into spoiler territory so I shall do that further down.

Before I do that I did want to try and find some positive things to say, because I didn’t hate the story, it just disappointed and annoyed me in a number of places. I will say that The Culture is, in some ways, a fairly progressive setting for its time, so it is a shame that it is barely explored at all. I do like that the main character is mostly presented as an unlikeable asshole, too many authors would seem to love this sort of character unironically and he doesn’t.

There are also good themes and ideas in the book, which I did appreciate. Just for me I have seen them done elsewhere in ways more suiting to my taste. I will also admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Culture, but a genderfluid, sexuality fluid utopia written in the late 90s was not it (good surprise if you hadn’t guessed). I will say that I thought The Left Hand of Darkness did this sort of exploration of gender differences in a much better way and earlier. The fact that Gurgeh, a straight male (he is clearly shown as such in the books) was the protagonist of such a culture was honestly deeply disappointing.

“All reality is a game. Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance; the same description may be applied to the best, most elegant and both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying games. By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot be fully predicted, the future remains malleable, and retains the possibility of change, the hope of coming to prevail; victory, to use an unfashionable word. In this, the future is a game; time is one of the rules.”

Continue reading