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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

Review: Strange Practice

Strange Practice - Vivian Shaw

So . . . from the cover and description, I totally did not get that this was set in present day London. Only now am I noticing the London Eye visible through the window. Expectations completely off. On the one hand, I do love that it isn't bare midriff, tits and ass both out somehow, knife holding, and all that, but on the other, I wonder how many UF readers will pass right over this cover.


Whatever. Marketing gonna market. 


A very interesting book, for sure. Not so much action packed as tense and domestic in a very satisfying way. It starts with Greta (and, thus the reader) learning of the existence of the primary protagonists and just goes straight into the plot rather than spend the first 20% establishing yet another unbroken masquerade world. She knows what is what and Shaw, wonderfully, doesn't waste time assuming we don't. While "physician to things that go bump in the night" feels quite fresh as  a premise, this book isn't so much about selling a novel UF concept as about giving the reader characters and friendships to care about. Let's save the day is ancillary to let's help each other and not do anything dumb that will get us killed.


She hits a lot of the points I look for in a UF heroine but spends most of this book being frustrated and begrudgingly accepting offers to help. She holds a job and doesn't magically get stronger because the plot requires it. She also isn't hit on by every man she meets, just some of them. Sadly, like too much UF I've read, this cast is heavily male. Greta is the only POV character who isn't a man. The villains are all male. She has two female friends who do help, but from almost exclusively off screen. And, of course, one of them gets hurt leading Greta with guilt for something other people did.




That said, the stuff I liked far outweighs the stuff I am tired of. I'm quite looking forward to the next book in this trilogy. A very satisfying read indeed.

Review: Bitch Planet Vol 2

Bitch Planet Volume 2: President Bitch - Kelly Sue DeConnick

Powerful and compelling reading, just like the first volume. Interested to see what happens next.

Review: Clean Room Vol 3

Clean Room Vol. 3: Waiting for the Stars to Fall - Gail Simone, Jon Davis-Hunt

This series continues to kick ass and cost me sleep. Love the writing, love the art. I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't tried. If you're up for a violent, creepy, weird ride full of awesome female characters, try this series out!

Review: Coed Demon Sluts: Beth

Coed Demon Sluts: Beth - Jennifer Stevenson

This is one that came to my attention via John Scalzi's regular feature The Big Idea. From the title and blurb, this looks like erotica, but in the post it is referred to as paranormal women's fiction. Which is apparently where chick lit meets UF, and I am a big fan of that combo. 


Let's face it, UF and PNR are pretty bad about depicting relationships between women. Often the central cast is all male aside from the heroine, but any other women that make an appearance are victims or villains. 


This is not that.


This is also the second book I've read recently that lets women be monsters and own it, which is also pretty great. A light, fun romp that occasionally kicks you in the feels. Where the heroine needs to learn to love herself, but does so through a support network of women. Every man she meets wants to fuck her, but that's treated as hilarious rather than an indicator of her specialness.


I may need to pick up the omnibus edition.

Review: The Rift

The Rift - Nina Allan

So boring I only made it to 25%. At some point, I'm sure we'll get to the part of the book described on the back cover, but so far it's just the sad, boring life of a sad, boring person who I am very done with. 

Review: Strange Dogs (Expanse Novella)

Strange Dogs: An Expanse Novella (The Expanse) - James S. A. Corey

This may be my favorite installation in the Expanse short fiction published so far. The protagonist is interesting and the alien world is sufficiently weird. I do hope this ties into one of the upcoming books.


I'm of two minds about the ending. On the one hand, fuck yeah, but on the other, it felt rather abrupt. Like we had only just gotten going when suddenly we stop. That isn't even a real criticism from me, though. See every review of a novella I have and you'll see me make a similar complaint time and time again.

Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another

Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor

Epic title.


The premise of this is quite similar to Connie Willis' Oxford Time Travel books, but the plot, characters, tone, basically everything else, is completely different. So rather than make direct comparisons, let's just consider both to be part of the same sub genre of Time Travelling Academics.


I admit, I almost didn't make it out of the first few chapters. The prose felt very rough, and the story itself wasn't grabbing me. Too much slow intro on the premise and too much time spent learning the names of characters who wouldn't make it through training. But as soon as we get to time travel, I had a great time.




I do feel that the second attempted rape was a bit much. Largely because the events leading up to it were just dumb. The first one felt gratuitous, but fit into context. The second was just a shit cherry on top of a melting shit cream sunday of a subplot.


I like the protagonist. I like that the author drops things that look like foreshadowing, but are as likely to be recontextualizations as premonitions. I like the sense of humor a lot. And I'm definitely interested in reading more of these. 

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss


I had a hard time putting this down. Not exactly action packed, but compelling in a way that made for a few late nights where I needed to see what would happen next.


The second book I've read this year structured so that the "author" is one of the protagonists. Though in this case, one not met until well into the narrative, but known more quickly by name thanks to sections of fourth wall breaking conversations characters have about the in progress manuscript's content. 


This is also the I-don't-know-th Sherlock Holmes I've encountered this year. So many Holmeses that it is a bit of a relief to have him be a secondary character. 


Rather, this book follows the monsters, the left behind experiments of the mad scientists so familiar from remake after new take, never mind their creations. 


This book is what Penny Dreadful would be if it had substance and heart and consistent characters and I enjoyed it very much.

Review: The Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher

Definitely do the audiobook if that is an option. I mean, we're all going to read it in her voice anyway, why not get the intended inflections straight from her.


This was up for a Hugo this year for Best Related Work. The voting packet only includes an excerpt, but I happened to fortunately already have the audiobook waiting.


Is it possible to separate this book from Fisher's death? It's interesting and at times quite funny and disturbing, but less so than some of her other works.


She talks about getting the role of Leia, working on the first movie, and about her later interactions with fans. Mostly, though, this book is about her affair with Harrison Ford, as told both from her recollections and excerpts from diaries she wrote while on set. And it's about as far from lurid as possible.


I tend to not rate autobiographies. It just seems weird to give a star rating to the actual events of a persons actual life they've just told me. Fisher's writing here is lovely, even her prose from decades ago, pulled from old diaries is sharp. 


Even though I ended up voting other things higher on the final ballot, I'm really glad I read this book this year. 

Small Zebra
Small Zebra
White deer?
White deer?

I am behind on writing reviews. Please enjoy these pictures of animals at the local drive through safari.

Review: Gemina

Gemina (The Illuminae Files) - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

A bit of a slow start, but once this gets going, it is just as action packed as the first book in the series. This volume follows different characters with different problems, but still plenty of blood and mayhem.


One of the characters keeps a diary of drawings, which I'll be honest I did not love. It seems younger than she is supposed to be. But the pages are partially soaked in blood, and the mystery of who and how that happened turns out to be central to the plot in a way that is incredibly satisfying.


I'm a little sad to see the third volume isn't out until next year.



Review: Wayward Volume 1

Wayward Volume 1: String Theory - John Rauch, Jim Zubkavich, Steven Cummings

An interesting world with interesting characters and gorgeous art, but this somehow felt like 3 issues of content spread across 5 issues. Some of that is simply front loaded world building, though, so I'll be interested in picking up volume 2.

2017 Hugo Ballot - Summary Post

This has definitely been far more detail than I typically discuss. There are still several categories that I'm not quite sure on the order. Voting closes July 15th so I can be indecisive a bit longer.


Adding a sixth work to every category and adding a series category made for a lot more work this year. I think next year I may not vote in all categories. Best Editor, Long Form is one I don't typically vote in. I've given it a try this year, and have nearly convinced myself to just not vote in it ever. Fancast is the other I'm considering just sitting out in future years. 


And, while the rest of the rankings matter under this voting system, I'm not going to post my entire ballot. Right now, the top positions on my ballot look like this (links to my discussion posts):


Novel: Ninefox Gambit (link)
Novella: The Ballad of Black Tom (link)
Novelette: "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay" (link)
Short Story: "That Game We Played During the War" (link)
Related Work: The Geek Feminist Revolution (link)
Graphic Story: Paper Girls, Volume 1 (link)
Dramatic Long: Arrival (link)
Dramatic Short: The Expanse: "Leviathan Wakes" (link)
Editor Long: Devi Pillai (link)
Editor Short: Neil Clarke (link)
Pro Artist: Galen Dara (link)
Semiprozine: The Book Smugglers (link)
Fanzine: Lady Business (link)
Fancast: Fangirl Happy Hour (link)
Fan Writer: Abigail Nussbaum (link)
Fan Artist: Elizabeth Leggett (link)
Series: The Expanse (link)
Campbell: Malka Older (link)


I did finished the first October Daye novel, and the rest of it did not live up to the promise of the first 20%. I doubt I'll pick up the next one. I've also finished The Princess Diarist and am comfortable with where I had placed it after listening to the first few chapters.


A week before voting closed, the Hugo committee made two updates. One to note that Sarah Gailey was in her second year of eligibility for the Campbell. You only get two years, so this is her last, though I fully expect to see her work nominated in future years. The second update was to add Steam tokens for the full version of each of the Craft games. These are text based games I already own for iOS. The first was my entry point into the series, so I'm kind of excited to see voters getting access to more than the preview chapters available already. I think this may also be the first time games have been under consideration on the final ballot? That's very exciting.


As a result of my reading from the voter packet, I've so far purchase:

Raven Stratagem (Machineries of Empire) - Yoon Ha Lee 

Victor Lavalle Destroyer #1 - Victor Lavalle 

Victor LaValle's Destroyer #2 - Victor LaValle  

Saga, Volume 5 - Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples 

Saga, Volume 6 - Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples 

Saga, Volume 7 - Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan 


If I had not already purchased all of The Craft Sequence, I would have also picked the rest of them up. Same with my pre-order for The Stone Sky.


I hope they ratify the Series amendment. And make some fucking progress on a YA category, already. And then maybe we can work on a video game category? I won't get to go and vote at this year's business meeting, though, since I'm not going to be able to attend. Looks like it's going to be a great convention!

Review: River of Teeth

River of Teeth - Sarah Gailey

There's a lot I like about this novella, but overall it's a bit not-quite-enough of something. The ensemble cast are all characters I'd like to know more about (with one exception, but that's fine, that character doesn't make it), but in a novella length work, I didn't get to spend quite enough time with any or all of them.

2017 Hugo Ballot - Best Novel

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so. Not only that, but if you participate in one year, you still get to nominate the next year. This year, thanks to a rule change, we nominated up to 5 entries, and the final ballot included the top 6.  


Novel tends to be the category everyone thinks of when talking about the Hugos. And everyone and their sister has tried to figure out what the nominees say about the state of the genre or fandom, including me. Can anyone tell me what the hell was going on in 1969 when The Goblin Reservation was nominated? This year, I'd read 4 of the finalists before the ballot was announced, and already owned copies of the other two. Below are this year's finalists, listed in the order they appeared on the official announcement, with my notes on each.


All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books) - This book and I were not made for each other. My review is here. While it was certainly not my thing, I'm not at all surprised to see it on the ballot.


A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US) - This was on my nominating ballot. I loved it. It's a sequel to another book I loved, but doesn't strictly require that book. Though I do recommend both.  They are just such wonderfully warm books.


Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus) - I read the first few chapters, having finished the first book, but never started the second. It seems to continue both the strengths and weaknesses of that first book. So, interesting in terms of ideas, but in this year, not nearly good enough to be in contention for the top spot.


Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books) - I hadn't read this before nominations closed, but I had the audiobook. It is fucking amazing. I am wild about this book. Wise and action packed with a concept that I really dig. 


The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books) - This was also on my nomination ballot. A great sequel that succeeds in adding depth and breadth to every aspect of the first book. Here is my review.


Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (Tor Books) - I tried to read this last summer and it didn't work out. I've read some criticism since then that leads me to believe I would not have come round to liking it if I'd kept reading.


This is going to be a tough call. Ninefox Gambit, The Obelisk Gate, and A Closed and Common Orbit are all books I love dearly. And all are doing very different things. I'm still high on Ninefox's ride, so it's at the top. But I can't not feel all warm and fuzzy when I think about Chambers' book, so it's at the top. And Obelisk Gate was so good I considered bidding hundreds of dollars to get an early copy of the sequel, obviously it's at the top. Gah. The rest I can easily sort, or just not include, but these three are all top notch.


Review: Lady Killer

Lady Killer - Jamie S. Rich, Joëlle Jones

This short, 5 issue run, is witty and fun and soaked in blood. I really enjoyed the whole thing. I would love to read another volume if they ever make one. The cover image is basically everything you need to know about this one. If it makes you want to know more, go right ahead and pick this up.