Reading Roundup, 12 November – 2 December

Well, here we are with another three week mega roundup! I have been travelling for work, which was great fun but ate two weekends in which reviewing was totally impossible. It’s also hardcore affected my reading time, and I spent two weeks doing very little reading at all on most days. I have been able to maintain focus on the A to Z reading challenge, although it’s some of the longer things that have gone unread or been pushed off. I got to 22/26 in the end, however, and pushed a few things off the TBR list despite the challenges.

Books Read

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien. Oh wow, this was a good book. I already wrote quite a lot about it for the File 770 book rec thread (that was a fun place to go back to!) but for here – it’s a fantasy world inspired by east Asia (China, Taiwan and Japan all put in recognisable appearances) where Peasprout Chen, a girl from the huge, authoritarian nation of Shin, is sent to an academy for wu liu, or skating martial arts, on the island country of Pearl. As the name suggests, Pearl’s city is entirely constructed of a pale substance known as “the pearl”, which is warm and architecturally sound but which can be “ice skated” on. There’s a ton going on here, from magical school dynamics to political shenanigans, all of which left me very ready for the sequel.

There Before the Chaos by K.B. Wagers. This is the first in Wagers’ Farian War trilogy, which ramps the events of the previous trilogy up to 11 by throwing Indrana and its neighbours into the midst of a long-running intergalactic war between the Farian species – who Empress Hailimi Bristol has encountered fairly often over her journeys – and the much more mysterious Shen. What I appreciate about Wagers’ space opera is that they people the Indranan empire and its neighbours with lots of interesting, kickass characters, but unapologetically leave a lot of room for emotional beats and processing – without the story itself ever becoming a romance. Not that there is anything wrong with it potentially being a romance! It’s just that I’d expect the emotional stuff and hurt/comfort from books focusing on a romantic pairing, but There Before the Chaos and its predecessors deliver in all sorts of platonic relationships instead. On a related note. I also appreciate that this series doesn’t have a central romance in part because it’s only been a year since Hail’s last partner was killed, and she’s still very openly coping with grief from that. Thumbs up to books that give their characters space to be human (the ones that are supposed to be, anyway).

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. I read this for the Lady Vaults book club. I wish I’d discovered this book sooner – it addresses so many of my problems with feminist SF of the era without assuming there are easy answers.

Y: The Last Man Vol 3: One Small Step by Brian K. Vaghan and Pia Guerra. Honestly, I haven’t thought very much about this series for a long time, but when it came to finding “Y”s for the readathon it was the only thing that sprang to mind that would be available in the library. This is early Brian K. Vaughan (who also writes Saga and Paper Girls), and… its a mixed bag. The premise is that some kind of unknown virus has killed every man on earth, leading to immense environmental and political catastrophes as half the population – the half who were disproportionately involved in, for example, manning nuclear power plants – suddenly disappear and women are left to pick up the pieces. There’s a lot to like about where this set-up leaves particular characters initially, but unfortunately what ends up happening is a focus on the titular Last Man, a rich white kid called Yorick (yeah… and his sister’s called Hero and everything) who is determined to be the most obtuse version of the “hapless responsibility free manchild” trope possible. In Volume 3, we get a showdown between the US and some Israeli soldiers (Israel, of course, being one of very few places in the world with compulsory military service for women as well as men) over the landing of a trio of astronauts, two of whom are men and whose landing might tip the balance significantly. Unfortunately, alongside Yorick there’s also quite a lot of heterosexist bullshit. I’m once again in no hurry to continue this series, to be honest.

Precursor by C.J. Cherryh. Ah, the Foreigner series. Having made my way through the first trilogy, this fourth book kicks off a new stage in this now 20(?) book saga about humans and aliens trying to live together on a distant planet following a long-ago disaster on a human spaceship. The series centres around Bren Cameron, a “paidhi” – the sole human ambassador and translator allowed to work with the alien atevi on their land. This arrangement was set up hundreds of years ago after both species found out the hard way that their respective hard-wired social instincts didn’t allow them to co-inhabit without the risk of war, and Bren is just the latest in a long line of humans trying to get to grips with living among 250 cm tall, mathematically obsessed humanoids whose intricate social dos and don’ts are completely unintuitive. I had a rocky start with this series and only kept going because I think it’s likely to turn up on a Hugo ballot at some point – by this point, Bren’s quirks are growing on me and he’s a significantly more confident character than in Foreigner, which I like, but the whole series is built out of an odd combination of slow political negotiation thriller and occasional actual-action thriller which I’m still not entirely sold on.

Monstress Volume 3: Haven by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda. This has been sat on my shelves for quite some time while I work up the combination of courage and engagement necessary to dive in. We pick up with Maika Halfwolf, her demon friend/possessor Zinn, Kippa and Ren as they reach the arcanic city of Pontus, which is under attack from forces both human and demonic as they try to repair the shield technology that could save them. This being Monstress, everything goes beautifully, horribly wrong, and Maika faces down more enemies and perhaps starts to maybe grow the very first inklings of a conscience. I may get hopelessly lost at points (there are a lot of characters, some of whom look quite similar and who only appear once every few issues!) but I continue to love this series.

The Mighty Women of Science by Claire Forrest and Fiona Gordon. A cute comic/A to Z roundup of notable women in science, past and present. Obviously I’m not really the target audience for this, but it’s really well done, and the inclusion of women working today means that the creators have (presumably) gone out and actually interviewed planetary scientists and volcanologists and the like – and an all-girl robotics team! – to really enhance the “see it, be it” element of the book.

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett. Officially the first 2019 book I have read 🙂 I’m not sure what to make of this one, to be honest – you’ll be getting my full thoughts at the beginning of next year.

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy by Alex White. OK, here’s one I did really like, and that I’ll be reviewing next week!

Not So Stories ed. David Thomas Moore. I’m reviewing this the week after next.

Chalk by Paul Cornell. I guess I got exactly what I expected out of this one, which I picked up from the library as a backup for “C” in the reading challenge and ended up reading on 1 December so it didn’t even really count for that. It’s a story of childhood abuse and bullying in rural 1980s England, and it reminded me of Susan Hill’s “I’m the King of the Castle”, the similarly grim child bullying story we read for GCSE English back in the day. Chalk is more supernatural and generally has more going on than Hill (and would not be suitable for a class of 14-15 year olds to all read together, mostly because of the repeated references to penises and sex, although I wouldn’t keep it away from individual, sensible readers of that age), but fundamentally it’s a pretty awful story that I’m not sure why I subjected myself to.

FIYAH issue 8: Pilgrimage. Hey, I said I was going to do monthly short fiction roundups at the end of every month, didn’t I? What happened to that? Well, this issue is a good one, more later.

Fireside Fiction, November and December. See above!

Bonus movie review: A Wrinkle in Time. Here’s what I watched on the plane on the way out! This movie has intrigued me, although obviously I’ve heard very mixed things. What I found was something that felt a bit like Jupiter Ascending but with better individual components – a story that is unapologetically a wish-fulfilment fantasy for girls and young women, and which takes Meg’s emotional journey extremely seriously. When this is rounded out with engagement from the Mrses (er… is that the right terminology?), it makes for beautiful and powerful scenes, although I like the fact that Meg also has a mother who is doing her best too, so these fantasy women aren’t replacements, just new perspectives. What works less well is fitting these components into a story of good and evil, and one which relies on very unsympathetic actions from Meg’s father and (surprisingly non-irritating) younger brother. Ultimately, the story being carried is quite simple and it isn’t quite integrated either into the wonder of the pure fantasy moments, or the emotional journey Meg is going on. As a side note, I’m not big on the “school bully really has her own issues going on, and needs your empathy” plot point. Watch, but watch just for pretty and awwws without expecting to be blown away by a coherent plot.

Currently reading

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch – I pre-ordered this a couple of months ago on audiobook, and it’s so exciting that it’s here! The two last shorter thigns I’ve read in this series have switched me on to the audio versions (as well as some reviews by someone I follow on goodreads), and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith does a great job of bringing Peter to life. I’ve been doing quite well at keeping audiobooks going alongside my reading recently, and I’m getting through this one at a fairly good pace too.

Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns – I only listened to the first few minutes of this on audiobook (before Lies Sleeping arrived), and while I’m excited for it, I’m probably shelving it again for now as I listen to the above.

Hild by Nicola Griffith – I’m putting this up here even though I’ve only read the first two pages and was weighing up between this and Winterkill, because By the Gods it is about time I sat down and bloody read Hild by Nicola Griffith. It’s one of several books that’s been sitting on my physical TBR for getting on 6 months now (this is weird to me because until recently my physical TBR was VERY selective) and where my primary barrier to reading it is length.

Acquisitions

Have I mentioned how much I love my new library? Because, I am so in love with the new library. It’s close and convenient and the sci fi and fantasy stock is great! Unfortunately I have not had the chance to befriend a librarian yet in order to influence the direction

Books I have got from the library in the last three weeks include:

  • Chalk by Paul Cornell
  • Lumberjanes volume 6 (serious regrets over not picking up Volume 7 as well, as it has now been BORROWED by ANOTHER PATRON, the nerve)
  • The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente (you see? Someone in this library system is definitely buying The Good Stuff)
  • Skulduggery Pleasant: Midnight by Derek Landy
  • A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw
  • The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb
  • Star Wars: Canto Bight by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant and John Jackson Miller

I’ve also picked up a few other things:

  • Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch – came from my audible subscription.
  • Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron. Another audiobook purchase. I’ve had my eye on this series for a very long time!
    The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. A Kindle sale pickup, that’s probably going to sit in the unread folder for years…
  • Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirlees. Another Kindle sale pickup that I might read slightly sooner?
  • The Hugo Longlist Anthology, Volume 4, edited by David Steffen. This is a particularly exciting edition of the Longlist anthology for me, because I read barely any 2017 short fiction and every single thing in here is new to me.

I guess that joining the Librarything Santathing also counts as buying books this year! I’m quite excited to see what comes out of it, as last year I got a strong selection that I wouldn’t otherwise have picked out for myself, as well as some fab recommendations. And of course I’ve already been able to throw a ridiculous number of my own Opinions out into the Librarything ecosystem, which I’m sure is… really great fun for everyone else.

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Reading Roundup 5 – 11 November

I’ve been sick this week, which has obviously been largely rubbish, but has had something of a silver lining in that the time I couldn’t spend Doing My Job and Functioning as a Human ended up being reading time instead. That means I’m actually, against all predictions, flying through the A to Z readathon, to the point where I’m weighing up changing some of my really lightweight choices into slightly beefier ones. City of Lies by Sam Hawke, for example, is calling to me for C even though it’s well over 500 pages long… but think how good it will look in my lovely hardback corner rather than on my TBR.

In other exciting news, our neighbourhood just got a new library and cinema complex, and it’s so very, very close to my house. It’s apparently been a very long time in the making but, as I only moved in 2 months ago, I feel like I’m getting to reap the benefits after a not-too-painful wait. I went in to pick up graphic novels for the readathon and ended up spending a good ten minutes just staring in happiness at the SFF shelves – so much that I want to read, and it’s so very close! That it doubles up as a cinema (and as a coffee house and general hangout) only makes it more special. I’m shocked that a space like this has been possible in Late Capitalism (well, not that shocked, as the cinema chain doesn’t pay its workers a London living wage) and looking forward to using it as much as I possibly can to justify that existence. Cities, man.

Books Read

Betraying Big Brother by Leta Hong Fincher. (B for the readathon) Following on from Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, Leta Hong Fincher has knocked it out of the park once again with another readable, insightful book on gender in China, this time specifically the marginalised but growing feminist movement in the country. Taking as a starting point the arrest of the “Feminist Five” just before International Women’s Day in 2015, it traces the short but powerful history of feminism in China, which has basically coincided with the installation of Xi Jinping and the resurgence of an even more hypermasculine, patriarchal form of government and a general contraction of the civil society space in the country. Literally my only complaints about this book are 1. I find it a bit odd when authors have a “history” chapter towards the end of a book, and 2. I wanted it to be even longer. Seriously, this is first-rate stuff and required reading for anyone interested in feminism globally and the struggle against authoritarianism. 9 out of 10.

The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley. (E for the readathon) Finishing this means that I’m now officially out of Tor.com audiobooks from the two early collections. Naturally, the books I’ve had left are novellas that have perhaps developed less buzz around them than some of the other titles, or interested me less, and so perhaps it’s no surprise that this one didn’t knock my socks off. That said, it was a pretty interesting story, the tale of a post apocalyptic zombie ridden world which has been further torn apart by a quasi-religious civil war, and where technology has been mythologised and are now treated as religious artefacts. Most of this worldbuilding happens in the background, as our main character Abney escapes the ruins of his settlement – torn apart by the undead – with his mother and a “knight” called Quinn. I’m sorry there aren’t more of these collections available to nudge these more overlooked titles onto my radar, but it’s probably for the best that I can shelve both as “Finished” and free up some of my phone’s precious, precious memory… 6 out of 10.

Salvation’s Fire by Justina Robson: (S for the readathon) Full Review to come on Nerds of a Feather.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 25. Uncanny (U for the readathon) has sort of become ubiquitous for quality in the genre, and this is the kind of issue that shows you exactly why. There’s six short fiction stories in here – five original and one reprint – and each one is just outstanding in a different way. As I’ve noted on File 770, Naomi Kritzer’s The Thing About Ghost Stories has the edge for me out of the five (not that it’s a competition or anything!) because of how it weaves its character’s work as an academic collecting and categorising ghost stories, and her own story with her mother, who recently died after a period of living with Alzheimers. The speculative elements are light (though undeniable!) but so wonderfully woven into the whole. Also worthy of note is Isabel Yap’s story of a binukot woman, raised in total seclusion in order to be a “perfect bride”, and what happens when she and her almost-as-young attendant are faced with the prospect of her marriage (which may or may not involve a giant person-eating sea snake). The fiction is the biggest highlight here but there’s also some great other stuff in here too, like Diana M. Pho’s reflection on what fanfiction taught her about editing. I can’t imagine a single issue of a magazine being better: 10 out of 10.

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. (G for the readathon) I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this, having seen a few other reviewers I respect bounce off it completely, but it ended up being a “light” read I didn’t realise I needed. Grimspace is the story of Sirantha Jax, prickly hardass interstellar jump navigator, who is broken out of prison by an equally rude and obnoxious pilot called March and his crew and thrown into a mission to break the monopoly “the Corp” has on interstellar travel through an alien breeding project. Grimspace takes itself exactly as seriously as a melodramatic action romance should, and its all delightfully silly and tropey while still being a compelling read. Special props for having Sirantha develop relationships with not one, not two, but three prickly, standoffish men through having to cuddle them for warmth in dire survivalist circumstances. 7 out of 10.

Lumberjanes Volume 4 and 5, by many wonderful and brilliant humans. Here’s what I went into the library for – Volume 4 is called Out of Time and therefore is my readathon O – and oh boy was I not disappointed by that decision. This is a continuation of the adventures of Riley, Mal, Molly, April and Jo – with honourable mentions for Jen and Barney, who get a pleasing amount of pagetime in Volume 4, taking them into the heart of a freak summer snowstorm and then into the heart of the mermaid Riot Grrl movement. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s the misadventures in the snow that is by far the stronger issue of this pair, setting up a wonderful story with development for some of the older characters, especially camp leader Rosie and Jen. The mermaid issue is also a fun story, but it’s a bit shorter (the first quarter of the trade is a standalone about the girls’ first day at camp) and mostly centred around April, who is desperate to solve mermaid problems and hang out with mermaids at the expense of things that are important to the rest of her friends. That’s no bad thing, but it’s all just a bit shallower (no pun intended) and not helped by another switch in art style to a rounder, less visually interesting style. 9 out of 10 / 7 out of 10.

Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer. (K for the readathon) I suspect I am far from alone in being interested in this translated work, by an author who has a significant body of (award winning) work available in Spanish but little in English, as much for the fact that the translation is by Ursula K. Le Guin as for the content of the story itself. And I’m sure most readers coming for a Le Guin-like experience won’t leave disappointed: Kalpa Imperial is told in a lyrical storytelling style which is likely to appeal particularly to fans of her fantasy works. Unlike Earthsea and the Powers trilogy, however, Kalpa Imperial takes on an era-spanning historical chronicle, and while characters rise and fall to be the focus of individual chapters, this is not a work driven by individual growth but by the larger concerns of power within an empire. It’s a dense read that demands to be taken seriously (even when your brain starts setting the title to “Karma Chameleon”) and I feel very rewarded by the time I spent with it. 8 out of 10.

Between the Firmaments by JY Yang. This is the only “cheat” I had plugged in for the readathon, which I’m counting as J for the author’s name (not even their surname!) I’ve got no J titles at all on my TBR and I really wanted to make sure I read this one, despite having an even more pressing option for B. But hey, at the end of the day, readathons are supposed to facilitate reading, and this was by far the best option. Between the Firmaments is a novella (available to read for free online) about a god in hiding in a world where being a god is illegal, who suddenly discovers another god and begins a whirlwind relationship with them. It’s very queer and the worldbuilding is the outstanding quality one would expect from Yang, although I’m left feeling the plot and characters needed a little more room to breathe than this short novella had time for. 7 out of 10.
Awakenings (Anthology) ed. Ana Grilo and Thea James. I was saddened to hear that the Book Smugglers are closing their publishing line, in order to refocus on their online content (but fully supportive of the hard decision they have made, and hopeful that it all works out for the best for the humans involved). In that context, the Awakenings anthology is a bit of a swansong, collecting the year of short fiction published on the website – 6 stories altogether – which formed their 2018 “season”. I’ve been waiting for the full anthology even after my recommitment to short fiction a couple of months ago, so all the stories were new to me, and I was generally impressed by the quality on display here. Highlights were Reiko Scott’s “Phantom Limb”, a story of identity, choice and cybernetic enhancement; Michele Tracy Berger’s creepy and claustrophobic “Nussia”; and “When the Letter Comes”, one of the most satisfying and heartwarming “teen with a magical destiny” stories I’ve read. 9 out of 10.

Currently Reading

After that interlude with The Emperor’s Railroad, I’m back with Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, for my audiobook, which is getting extremely interesting! I’m still a bit worried about whether and where to count it for the reading challenge – P is out, for reasons you’ll see below, and I just feel like I was too far in before the month started for it to be right to count it. But I’m still investing a good 7 hours this month into getting it read, so I may let myself file it under F.

I had two possible print options for P, and I’m going for the longer (both in terms of book length and how long it has been on my shelves for) option in Precursor, the fourth in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. I’m keen to keep ticking through this series because I’m certain it’s going to show up on the Hugo Best Series ballot at some point in the near future, and at 20+ books by now it would be a prohibitively large undertaking to get through it during voting. Things are getting sufficiently interesting in the first few chapters here, with mysterious political happenings on the human spaceship apparently (according to the blurb) about to coalesce into an external alien threat.

Acquisitions

  • Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett. This is an ARC that I’m very excited for – a novella in which Bennett takes US gun violence to a not-too-implausible near future extreme.
  • Lumberjanes Volumes 4 and 5 As I said above, these came from the LIBRARY. What a place!
  • Y: The Last Man, Volume 3. As I didn’t have anything on my shelves for Y in the readathon, I turned to the library catalogue and particularly to graphic novels to fill in the gaps. I read the bind-up of Volumes 1 and 2 of Y: The Last Man, and was just on the wrong side of being interested to continue when I’d have had to buy the rest of the series. However, now that I can access them all from THE LIBRARY, I’m hoping to keep going with this series. It’s had its smart moments and its immensely problematic moments so far, which is about what I’d expected from early Brian K. Vaughan.

Elsewhere:

The Nerds of a Feather feminist futures project continues, and there’s a trio of great entries up this week:

And if that’s not enough links for you to follow, my review of The Monster Baru Cormorant also went up on Tuesday evening. That’s, like, the opposite of a feminist future, but may be of interest…

Readathon Progress

  • A: Awakenings by the Book Smugglers – 9 out of 10
  • B: Betraying Big Brother by Leta Hong Fincher – 9 out of 10
  • C:
  • D:
  • E: The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley – 6 out of 10
  • F:
  • G: Grimspace by Ann Aguirre – 7 out of 10
  • H:
  • I:
  • J: JY Yang (Author): Between the Firmaments – 7 out of 10.
  • K: Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer – 8 out of 10.
  • L:
  • M:
  • N:
  • O: Out of Time (Lumberjanes Vol 4) by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen and Maarta Laiho – 8 out of 10.
  • P:
  • Q:
  • R: Resurrection (Skulduggery Pleasant #10) by Derek Landy – 6 out of 10
  • S: Salvation’s Fire by Justina Robson – 7 out of 10
  • T:
  • U: Uncanny Magazine Issue 25 – 9 out of 10
  • V:
  • W:
  • X:
  • Y:
  • Z: Station Zero by Philip Reeve – 7 out of 10

Reading Roundup 29 October – 4 November

It feels like winter has suddenly set in this week, and I wasn’t ready. Luckily we’ve got our heating ready to go and I’m just about set with suitable clothing, but it’s still an adjustment after years of constant tropical heat…

I’m probably not going to follow the usual format this time around as things are changing a bit around here, and I want to do updates first:

  • First and foremost, if you read my stuff here but don’t follow Nerds of a Feather, you may be interested to learn that this month is Feminist Futures month, where we are running essays and dossiers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays about some of the classics of feminist science fiction. So far, there’s a brilliant introductory essay by Joe Sherry and Chloe N. Clark, plus dossiers of Women of Wonder edited by Pamela Sergeant and The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin, written by Joe and Paul Weimer, respectively. It’s going to be a good series and I’ve got some things I’m quite pleased with coming up later in the month, so check it out! (We’re still squeezing regular content into Tuesdays and Thursdays, so you’ll have a The Monster Baru Cormorant review from me soon enough too, fear not).
  • (Side note, if you do follow me here and not at Nerds of a Feather, you’re missing out on the vast majority of my long-form reviews. Even with the busier schedule I’m still over there about once a week, usually covering new SFF book titles as I can. Just saying.)
  • Second, a reading challenge: I’ve committed, somewhat wildly, to the “hard” version of the A to Z readathon challenge, to read a book for every letter of the alphabet in November. The exact challenge I’m going for is by first letters of book titles, although I’m bending the rules a bit on a few of the trickier letters to make this a TBR-reducing challenge rather than an increasing one. It’s also a list with plenty of graphic novels, novellas and generally shorter reads, because otherwise it wouldn’t even be worth attempting. I’m not confident I’ll get it finished, but it’s nice to have a target and if it’s not looking good I’ll just give myself a casual extension into December. My initial handwritten list of titles and backups (which I’ve already deviated from!) is below, for those who are good at cryptography:

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Also on the subject of reducing the TBR… I’m on a book buying ban until after Christmas. Haha, no, really. There’s not much left on the calendar in terms of new releases that I need before then, and a shiny new library is about to open literally two minutes away from my house, and I’m sort of at the stage where I can maintain current levels of book spending OR current levels of holiday spending but not both and… I still want to go on holidays. So acquisitions are going to get a bit lighter here, although I hope there will still be the odd ARC and library haul, because it’s ridiculous to just have no new books to squee over. Also, I’ll still be getting magazine subscriptions and audiobook credits coming in as normal, so really that’s plenty, isn’t it…

Books Read

Ten to Zen by Owen O’Kane. This was short and sweet and I have generally good feelings about what it achieves! I shall find time to do a proper write-up later this week. 8 out of 10.

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. This was a bit of a… monster… to finish, and took me most of the week, but I made it through other other side on Saturday morning and you’ll have my thoughts over at Nerds of a Feather next week.

Station Zero by Philip Reeve. (A to Z Readathon: Z) In comparision, this was a one-sitting job on Saturday morning once I got past the first chapter. Because Baru kept me reading into November and therefore put me behind on the readathon, this has become Z for the readathon (no, that’s not how the titles work, but the official Twitter said it counts!). This is the closing volume in Reeve’s Railhead trilogy, and I have to admit I was expecting a bit more – the plot points are all there but the emotional beats aren’t quite up to Reeve’s usual standards, even though it was enough to satisfy overall. Maybe I’m just too emotionally prepared for the Mortal Engines movie to be fully immersed in this one, though. 7 out of 10.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection by Derek Landy. This was the second oldest book on my post-Myanmar physical TBR, and it took me a long time to get around to reading it because, really, the series shouldn’t have continued after the previous book. Landy had built up to a very specific conclusion, which happened, was very satisfying and bloody, and then sent his characters off to deal with the aftermath in their own sweet time. Except, nope, here we are five years later, and Skeleton detective Skulduggery Pleasant and his no-longer-teenage sidekick Valkyrie Cain are trying to save the world from yet another evil sorcerer who just won’t stay dead. This time, they’ve got help from a new teenage sidekick, Omen Darkly – student at Roarhaven’s brand new boarding school for witchcraft and wizardry and twin brother of the Chosen One. If this all sounds a bit on-the-nose, you should see what Landy does with the new US president… Anyway, it’s all a bit unnecessary but he pulls it off to my satisfaction as a fan of the series, and I’m committed to seeing if the next book is available at the library, once the readathon (for which this is R) is done and dusted. 6 out of 10.

Currently Reading

  • On audio, I’m taking The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley as my E, so I’ve been listening to that one more in the last couple of days. I feel a bit guilty using Peasprout Chen, which I also still have on the go, as P because I’m already quite far in and there’s a couple of other options I’d like to use instead, but I’ll probably keep this as my bus listen as none of my other readathon titles are audio (is that a mistake? Maybe).
  • My S is Salvation’s Fire by Justina Robson, and I’m a couple of chapters in to that. I’ve noticed a lot of harsh reviews on Goodreads over the author change but I have to say Robson’s continuation is actually working out really well for me so far.
    And for B, which I’m reading a physical copy of, I’ve pulled out Betraying Big Brother by Leta Hong Fincher.

Acquisitions

I never wrote about my Comic-Con purchases last week, because my book buying list was already embarrassingly long. But here they are now:

  • The Mighty Women of Science and We Shall Fight Until We Win are titles from BHP comics, who won me over with this political duo of graphic novels! Coincidentally, they are both on the TBR for the Readathon…
  • I also picked up two interesting indie comics: NPC Tea by Sarah Millman, and The Knight by Shane Melisse.
    I also became the proud owner of Daniel Jose Older’s Last Shot (the Han and Lando tie-in novel), which also netted me a free Darth Vader tote bag and Princess Leia election poster (from Bloodline) – not sure which swag I’m most excited for there!
  • And I got beautiful signed things at the Forbidden Planet stall: Not So Stories, edited by David Thomas Moore (this was a signed edition already sitting on the shelf, I did not get to meet any of the beautiful and excellent humans involved in the making), plus The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt (who I did say hi to!) and The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner (who I also said hi to even though I haven’t read any of his books… yet).
  • As October ticked over, Fireside Magazine delivered their November issue to me — it’s going to be hard for them to clear the bar of last month’s STET, but I’m still more than pleased with the quality of fiction I support through that subscription.

Reading Roundup Bumper Edition, October 8 – 28(!)

Ah… it’s been one of those months. You know the kind. You’ve just got out the other end of a big, intense couple of months of work and life changes, all ready for everything to go back to normal, only for the combination of post-intensity crash and “business as usual” to knock you out even further. I took a week off earlier in October, which helped to reset things, but weekly reviews fell out of the picture for a couple of weeks while I got everything back on track. Never mind, I’m here now! And if I can get on track with a 3-week review today, then I can hopefully get back to doing 1-week reviews at normal times.

Books Read

It’s still a struggle to find time to read, but what I have read has been pretty great!

Creatures: The Legacy of Frankenstein. I reviewed this strong collection of 5 novelettes/novellas for Nerds of a Feather. 8 out of 10.

Strange Horizons: September. This month, Strange Horizons brought out an issue of Samovar, their fiction in translation magazine, AND an edition of Geoff Ryman’s 100 African writers of SFF, which made for a particularly interesting issue. My favourite fiction pieces were from early in the month: “Seedlings”, by Audrey R. Hollis, about change and cacti in a queer relationship between two women; and “Ndakusuwa” by Blaize Kaye, where an astronaut who ends up light years from her father on earth keeps in touch through increasingly delayed letters. Did I burst into tears at the end? I don’t know, maybe… 8 out of 10.

Anathema Magazine, Issue 5. I also really enjoyed my first issue of Anathema, a Canadian speculative fiction magazine centring marginalised creators. The first story, “The Pull of the Herd” by Susan Palumbo, was a particularly intriguing read about a deer woman whose skin has never fit right, trying to save a community who don’t understand why she “chooses” to be different. 8 out of 10.

Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I’ll be honest: I mostly bought this because it was super pretty, and I’m on a mild Greek Mythology kick at the moment. Unfortunately, my enjoyment was tempered by the fact that the book smelled a bit like eggs? As a vehement non-egg eater, getting wafts of weird omelette-style new book smell made it hard to concentrate on what was otherwise an interesting, difficult story which tells the story of the Greek invasion of Troy from the perspective of Briseis, the female captive given to Achilles. 7 out of 10.

State Tectonics by Malka Older. This is the final volume in the Centenel Cycle, a trilogy set in the near-ish future where current nation states have been replaced with a widespread system of “microdemocracy”, where every 100,000 voters elects their own government, facilitated by a global network called Information which controls the spread and veracity of media. While Older never really goes into how our current world would evolve into the world of the novels, this is otherwise a highly relateable and timely governance thriller, which is right up my alley. 8 out of 10

Lumberjanes Volumes 1 – 3: I’ve had volume 1 of this well regarded comic series on my shelf for a while now and I decided that it really was time to pick it up (especially after finishing with Saga Volume 9, from which my heart has still not recovered). It turned out to be so good that I picked up and immediately read two more volumes (of which the third was a bit of a dip in art, but an escalation in Queer, so I’m OK with that). This is a series about a group of girls at a scouting camp for “hardcore lady types”, who find their way into a set of magical mysteries and happenings while also relying on the Magic of Friendship and all that. 8-9 out of 10.

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. Taking me back from holidays into regular reading, I picked up this absolute chunkster: in fact, it’s not even one book but a whole trilogy of D&D-esque military fantasy from Elizabeth Moon. It was the longest thing on my bookshelf by quite some margin, and I enjoyed making my way through the adventures of Sheepfarmer’s Daughter Paks and her rise from being a mercenary in the company of a benevolent Duke, to a Paladin of a noble saint and saviour of elves and men. It does get a bit lingeringly torture-y at points, and while it doesn’t sexualise the narrative content of scenes, sexual violence (including mentions of rape) does occur. Despite that, and the very episodic format, I still enjoyed this marathon. 7 out of 10.

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1 by Martha Wells. I loved this collection of two novellas and two short stories set in Wells’ Raksura universe, all of which are equally strong. Perhaps the pick of the bunch is The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, a story of several generations back in the court Moon enters, when young consort Indigo ends up bringing home a consort from another court, Emerald Winter, who turns out to not be nearly so helpless as he looks. It’s a story which uses the particular behaviours and culture of the Raksura to its absolute best effect, showcasing their power politics and interactions in a context that doesn’t use the court structure with Moon and Jade and Pearl and the rest that readers are already familiar with. That said, the stories that do involve the regular cast are also very worthwhile. 9 out of 10.

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells. It’s the last of the Murderbot novellas, and without spoiling anything, it’s one you’ll want to pick up. It’s a good thing we’re getting a Murderbot novel next year to continue this brilliant study into robots, anxiety and friendship in a corporate dystopian future. 9 out of 10.

Pieces of Hate by Tim Lebbon. I’m not quite sure why I listened to this, or when I got to the stage in the past couple of weeks where I have time to listen to audiobooks I’m not entirely sure about. This is a novella (that I had from an audiobook collection) about a demon and the grim, immortal dude trying to track him down. It’s pretty relentlessly awful in tone, with a huge body count and very little in the way of redeeming features for anyone involved. Bafflingly, it also comes packaged with a prequel novelette that added nothing to the story, was set in a completely different place and just completely confused me. Alas. 4 out of 10.

Amazons! edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. Review forthcoming for Nerds of a Feather’s upcoming Feminist Futures series – which you should be reading from tomorrow!

Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones. This was right up my alley – a slipstream-y fantasy about two women at college in Georgia, one of whom has the history of a love affair between a woman and a glacier in her heritage, and decides to steal the Pacific Ocean and keep it in a jar. Unfortunately, the theft of the ocean annoys California, Oregon and Washington, who turn up with their best persuasive attitudes and curses to try and claim it back. Gorgeously written and full of watery beauty, this is one that’s really worth reading. 9 out of 10.

Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky. First in a shared universe series is set after a major war led by a demigod named the Kinslayer, who has been killed by our hero Celestaine. Celestaine is now attempting to facilitate reparations with another race of people who were badly affected by the Kinslayer’s actions. There’s a bit of a D&D vibe here, but with a distinct Divine Cities overtone to the mythology and a ton of inventiveness in the different races and worldbuilding. It all hangs together very well, as do the touches of humour and of character building as Celestaine pulls together a motley crew of anti-heroes to help her in her quest. 7 out of 10.

Black and British by David Olusoga. Another slow burner that I picked up after staycation and only just finished, this is a history of black people in Britain – which, at its widest, encompasses the entire British empire – from the Tudor period to the present. I have nothing but good things to say about this book, which taught me a lot about an area of British history that is too often swept under the carpet. 9 out of 10.

We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ. A reread, also for Nerds of a Feather, which you will hear plenty more about in due course.

Currently Reading

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien is, so far, a really lovely middle-grade novel about a young woman from the province of Shin who comes to study her culture’s ultimate skating-based martial art at Pearl famous academy of skate and sword. The worldbuilding in this is exquisite, and made btter, I think, by the audio performance – the entire city is effectively covered in icy skate surface and is full of handy rails and water spouts. You can’t go wrong with a good magical school novel, and this is already shaping up to be one of the best type.

The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley. Obviously I should not be double dipping with the audiobooks, but I did technically start this, the last novella in the Tor.com audiobook collection I’ve got, before settling on Peasprout instead.

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, the much anticipated sequel to Dickinson’s brutal empire administration thriller from a couple of years ago. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, although it’s also going to be interesting to see how the ending of The Traitor Baru Cormorant and its fallout plays into this one, especially as I’m a lot more sensitive and unwilling to engage with the tropes used here.

Station Zero by Philip Reeve is the final book in the Railhead trilogy, and I probably ought to finish it before it comes due at the library in *checks notes* four days. Oops!

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr. This is a reread, and it won’t encompass all the stories, but I picked this up for “The Women Men Don’t See” and am now trying to make my way through some of the rest of the highlights in here, especially as it’s the Lady Vaults book of the month.

Ten to Zen by Owen O’Kane. Bluebird books very kindly sent me a copy of this to review, and it’s an interesting one so far – a quick, readable guide to setting up a brief daily meditation and cognitive “workout” practice. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of it alongside other stuff and I’ll probably have my thoughts up within the week.

Acquisitions

… So, obviously my big day out in central London turned into a bookshop crawl, and there’s been a lot else arriving on my shelves in the last few weeks as well. It’s a bit

My pre-order of There Before the Chaos by K.B. Wagers arrived on Tuesday. Wagers’ Indranan War trilogy has been a highlight of my space opera reading in the last couple of years, and this is the beginning of a new trilogy with the same characters, so I’m excited to see where things go next. I also preordered and received The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi. I was a little underwhelmed by the Collapsing Empire, to be honest, but I still want to see where this goes.

I also got In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard, which I’m really excited for given all the glowing reviews I’ve seen!

I somewhat impulsively picked up V by Thomas Pynchon and Godmother Night by Rachel Pollack in a National Trust second hand bookshop while visiting Morden Hall Park with a friend.

A mini second-hand trawl netted me copies City of Lies by Sam Hawke – in a super shiny hardback edition, no less – and Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn. These are both books that have been on my radar for a while so it was exciting to find them here.

I also went to Persephone b=Books and it was every bit as delightful as expected, right down to the charming staff member giving really detailed advice to other customers that I could eavesdrop on without having to directly interact before I’d made my own decisions. I walked away with The World that was Ours by Hilda Bernstein, The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde, and The Persephone Book of Short Stories.

Rounding off a bumper Friday, I picked up Lumberjanes Volumes 2 and 3. I won’t be able to afford to buy all of these in pretty trade paperbacks, but its nice to have the ones I do!

My copy of Exit Strategy by Martha Wells (which, you’ll note, I already read) came from Blackwell’s Online. I’ve decided I’d like to (slowly) collect the hardbacks of this series, which made buying the hardback rather than the really-quite-expensive-for-a-novella ebook a more reasonable choice.

Small Beer Press had a 50% off everything sale which was too good to pass up (even if it did come with some slightly eye-watering shipping costs). I got Terra Nullius by Claire Coleman, Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer, and The Invisible Valley by Su Wei. Unfortunately, said shipping costs prevented me from also getting myself a paper copy of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, which would literally have doubled the amount I was spending on sending…

It made no difference to Too Much Buying, but I joined the library! On my first trip I picked up Station Zero by Philip Reeve, the Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett and Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon. As noted above, I haven’t exactly had much success in reading them, but it’s the thought that counts, and the great thing about the library is they’ll still be there next time I want them!

I also spent two audiobook credits I had saved, on Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien, and On Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns.

*Exhales*… and there we are!

Reading Roundup 1 – 7 October.

It’s a rough moment for humans with empathy right now. With Kavanaugh and Bolsonaro and the ongoing shitshow that is Brexit, it’s hard not to feel afraid for where we’re all going as a species. However, in this space, I am a book reviewer, and that’s what I’m going to do here, until the crushing impact of fascist capitalism comes crashing in over all our heads (or, hopefully, not). This week, I’ve got a staycation lined up, where I’ll be mixing adventures around my new home city with lots of reading and TV catchup. It’s not even been three months at my new job yet and it’s been a very intense induction, so I’m looking forward to getting a bit more space again to kick back and reintroduce some sustainability into my life and get ready to #resist #revolt #renew.

Books Read

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is, chronologically, the end of the Vorkosigan saga, and while I’ve now got one more book (the new novella The Flowers of Vashnoi) to read, it’s quite nice to have got through this seminal series. The book itself was pretty far from being my favourite, to be honest, and while I liked its characters, and the reveal that Miles, tireless intergalactic sleuth, was too caught up in his perception of his father to realise what relationships were going on there. However, I find Cordelia extremely frustrating, used as she is to channel what feels like authorial “common sense” in the form of scientifically-vetted psychological truth. This doesn’t work for me, because, first, we’ve seen in Shards of Honour how counterproductive Betan psychology can be, and second, a lot of Cordelia’s wry “I understand human nature” assumptions are just wrong (not least the bisexual = polyamorous nonsense which drives the entire plot). Fine if you’ve made your peace with some of Bujold’s quirks, but they are on full display here. 6 out of 10.

The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Well, it’s official, I bloody love Adrian Tchaikovsky. This novella, which I’d heard cautiously positive things about from other quarters, was right up my alley, and I think his worldbuilding and plotting are absolutely first-rate. To say too much about the Expert System’s Brother would be to spoil the effect of the slowly unfolding plot, so I’ll just note that it deals with a human society that has developed very a very specific, biologically driven form of community, and what happens when one of their members is accidentally cut off from the mechanisms which make that function. 9 out of 10.

Saga: Volume 9, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It’s the end of an era for Saga, in this last volume before the creative team goes on an “indefinite” (but not permanent) hiatus. Without spoiling anything at all, this wraps up a lot of the slow burning plot threads around Hazel’s family, the robots, and the Will, and pushes the overall tale in a direction that I expect to be more about Hazel herself going forward. This is still not a strip for the faint-hearted, but if you’ve made it this far, you’ll want to read this sooner rather than later. 8 out of 10.

The Future is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente. Hey, I did it! I’ll be rounding this up properly in my short fiction notes (which are coming really soon, I promise). I definitely don’t regret picking this collection up, although taken as a whole it gets a bit Too Much sometimes. 7 out of 10.

Temper by Nicky Drayden. Full review forthcoming, but I was really impressed with this second novel by Drayden, which cements her position as an author with some serious potential that I hope we’re only beginning to see the results of. 7 out of 10.

Currently Reading

On Audio: I’m still only halfway through the Falling World, the first in the Stories of the Raksura volume I’ve been listening to for a while. I’m going to try and dedicate some proper time to this soon, though.

On the Kindle: I’m nearly finished with State Tectonics by Malka Older, which is shaping up to be a very worthy end to this brilliant, right-up-my-alley series. I’ve also made a bit of headway with Black and British, and, seeing as it’s Black History Month here in the UK in October, I ought to push this to the front of my queue.

On Paper: Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho and Aubrey Aiese, is out on my desk at the moment and I’m reading it between loading screens in Pillars of Eternity II. It’s a bit of an incomplete experience right now, but I’m greatly enjoying the style and the characters so far.

Other: There’s a few TV shows I’m interested in at the moment: Killing Eve has come highly recommended from friends and I’m digging its drama-comedy vibe from the first episode. I’m mid-season 2 in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and I sort of need something to change the status quo among the characters to keep my interest, but I’m keen to keep going to the end of the season to see if that happens. I restarted Star Trek: Discovery the other day and, again, I’d like to make it to the end of the season and see if it continues to hold my interest. Plus, I never watched Season 2 of Stranger Things last year. More realistically, though, this week might be the time I end up putting a ton of effort into Pillars of Eternity II after a long period away – this is the kind of game that really rewards having a few hours at a time to sit and dedicate to quests, and this afternoon I managed to complete the pirate fort infiltration quest, which was amazingly good fun. I still love my snarky yet helpful psychic pirate queen, and her disappointingly colonialist ranger girlfriend.

Acquisitions:

  • Saga: Volume 9. See above. I need to take stock of which Saga volumes I own now and fill in my paper backlog, if I can.
  • Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones. A novella by Fireside Fiction, because apparently I trust them enough to buy £5 novellas now.
  • The Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp. Liz Bourke’s inclusion of this in her recent SFF with queer women in relationships roundup, and I decided I should probably have it
  • Amazons! Edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. There’s a project afoot, and this is part of my reading for it.

Reading Roundup: 24 – 30 September

So, like most politically aware western women, I’ve had a fucking nightmare of a week. It may not directly impact the country I live, but watching the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination play out is impossible not to get angry about if you care at all about our cultures’ treatment of rapists, and the sheer credibility gap between this awful, shouty, disgusting man and Dr Blasey makes it all the more disturbing that he is literally going to get everything he wants. Against that background, I’ve also had a long, unpleasant work week, and it’s basically taken all weekend to feel back on an even keel again. Luckily, I only have one more week at work, then a nice staycation week all to myself! There will definitely be time spent catching up on reading and reviewing then too, I hope – I’m low on buffer at the moment and the reading is piling up.

I’ll have a short fiction roundup of everything I read in September (which is a lot!) with you all in the next couple of days. For now, here’s the regular update:

Books Read

I’ve cunningly managed to read lots of things I can avoid reviewing until later:

Fireside Magazine, September 2018. This is the first ebook I received after becoming a Fireside subscriber. It’s short but strong! The flash fiction about alien shark economists was, as you’d expect from that description, a real highlight. 7 out of 10

The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera. You’ll get my thoughts on this one over at Nerds of a Feather soon.

Strange Horizons, August 2018. Another great issue from SH, including the Space Opera roundtable with Joyce Chng, Ann Leckie, Foz Meadows, Jennifer Foehner Wells and Judith Tarr. My favourite of the fiction offerings was Copy Cat, a marvellous tale of feline subterfuge by Alex Shvartsman and K. A. Teryna.  8 out of 10.

The Murders of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson. I’d put off this novella because horror isn’t usually my thing, but I should not have. It’s fantastic and the imagery has really stayed with me since I read it, which is the mark of a really strong story. 9 out of 10.

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher. I can’t even tell you how long this one has been slowly percolating through my TBR for — definitely one year, probably two — and yet when I actually sat down to read it, it took just two sittings. This is classic Kingfisher in the vein of later stories like The Raven and the Reindeer and Summer in Orcus (complete with intelligent animal companion), and while it’s not the strongest of the set, it more than holds its own as a story of women triumphing against male power and ownership. 8 out of 10.

Acquisitions

Hey, remember how I had a really shit week, professionally speaking? Well, there was only one thing to be done upon climbing that mountain, which was to blow a large chunk of my summer railcard refund (thanks I guess, Thameslink) on SOME SERIOUS BOOKAGE. Here they are, accompanied by my tinsel hedgehog (not a recent acquisition)

20180930_201055.jpg

I’m not writing up the whole lot, but for those who can’t see the terribly lit photo, this is:

  • Dreaming in Smoke by Tricia Sullivan
  • The Rig by Roger Levy
  • The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson (already read!)
  • The Peace Machine by Özgüa Mumcu
  • Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
  • Words Seen in Passing: 10 Years of Tor.com Short Fiction, ed. Irene Gallo (The biggest treat of the bunch!)
  • Monstress Volume 3: Haven (complete with signed notecard!)

Not pictured, but also technically an acquisition this week, was Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, by Leta Hong Fincher. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this for a while, as I’m a huge fan of Fincher’s previous book and an equally big admirer of the dedicated folk at the forefront of the Chinese feminist movement, whose work has become even more difficult and dangerous under the current leadership. Unfortunately, I forgot I needed to switch all my preorders from my parents’ house to my new place, so… it’s there. Luckily I can go grab it next week!

Currently Reading

On Audio, I’m still going on Stories of the Raksura Volume 1 by Martha Wells. The voices are a bit odd but it’s still great to return to this world!

On Paper, I’m also still going with The Future is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente. I’d underestimated how dense and difficult to read quickly a Valente story collection would be, so I’m now taking my time with this, and I’m just under halfway through, in a very odd tale about alien lions…! I also just started Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold and I love how it goes right to queer. Like, I knew the queer was coming, but I can just imagine the spit takes from conservative readers across the world when it turned out their beloved Aral Vorkosigan was in a polyamorous relationship with a significantly younger man. Then again, I’ve been less than impressed by Bujold’s handling of LGBTQIA+ storylines before, so maybe I shouldn’t get too comfortable…

On Ebook, I’ve started Black and British by David Olusoga. Again, this is one that has taken a while to rise up through the TBR but I was hooked on the introduction and I have high hopes that this is going to help fill in my understanding of Black history in the UK, which is far less developed than my knowledge of Black history in the US.

Reading Roundup: 17-23 September

I debated with myself whether to write a round-up this week. It’s been a pretty good one, in a lot of ways, but in terms of my actual reading? It feels like I’m as close to “nothing” as I ever personally get, and I was all ready to just put up an apologetic tweet for not having enough to talk about, and try to do “better” next week.

Which, I’m fairly sure anyone reading this will think is ridiculous. One, I didn’t read “nothing”, I finished three books (well, two books and a literary magazine), which is more than enough to talk about. Two, I wouldn’t get weird and judgemental about anyone else’s reading speed, so applying a standard of “three books in a week is not enough” perpetuates the idea that reading should be a goal-driven activity, and that readers reaching certain goals (three books a week would be over 150 books a year…!) are better than those who don’t read as much. I would never make that judgement about other people but I’m guilty of so much doublethink towards myself on that front – every year I tell myself I’ll read “less” and there’s no point in setting goals when you’re already reaching for books all the time, and every year I still feel validated and “good” when my reading counter ticks up higher anyway.

Which brings me on to point three: I’ve normalised a super unsustainable reading speed for myself this year, and I need to give myself space to reassess, without that reassessment feeling like a “failure” or like I need to stop doing community related things like reviews. (I’ve done pretty well at not committing to more on that front than I can handle, at least). There’s an essay in this month’s Uncanny Magazine by Marissa Lingen that mentions that her reading speed is usually highest when her illness is worse, and that insight really resonated with me: I’m pretty well, at the moment, relatively speaking, but I know I’m at risk as I approach my first actual winter in five years(!), and my 30th birthday(!!), in a new and unfamiliar environment.

So, here’s me talking through taking care of myself, and being open about how I feel about reading through ups and downs, because 1) why not and 2) maybe it is helpful to talk about this sort of stuff.

Anyway, enough of this. What did I read?

Books Read

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I listened to this in audiobook and it worked really well for me in terms of length and content. It basically does what it says on the tin: a fairly short, layperson’s guide to modern astrophysics, including some history of the field, and forays into intersections with biology and chemistry as well as the actual space stuff. I like Neil DeGrasse Tyson a lot when he’s not falling into the obvious and common pitfalls that 90% of scientists do when they start talking about politics and social science (which only very occasionally becomes an issue in this book), and his narration of his own writing is pretty great. If the title attracts you, you’ll probably enjoy this. 7 out of 10.

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’m hopefully going to be reviewing this one more comprehensively soon, but the short version is that I’m torn – and probably more so by this one than its predecessor. On the one hand, I really appreciate what Kowal is doing with the alternate history here; on the other hand, when compared to books like Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, the “post-apocalyptic” future and subsequent political changes that come out of the series’ big event is so frustratingly un-revolutionary. I also really struggle with Elma as the sole main character in a narrative which feels like it has so much richness “out of shot” because her POV is so inward-looking. I still really enjoyed it, and I rated it 8 out of 10, but it’s an 8 that feels like it should be a 10.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 24: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! So, if you’re not reading Uncanny Magazine yet,  allow me to stretch my hands out around this issue like the Will Smith meme, because it’s an outstanding example of why it’s so quickly become a guiding light (and awards darling) in the literary SFF field. There’s barely a note out of place in this extended collection of short fiction, essays (including a lot of short, personal pieces which reflect a wide range of experiences and feelings about disability) and poetry. I need to sit down with the table of contents and really go through my recommendations and feelings (two later flash fiction pieces, “A House By the Sea” by P.H. Lee and “This Will Not Happen to You” by Marissa Lingen, are my immediate picks for sheer emotional crushing power), but for now let me highly recommend everything in here. 9 out of 10.

Currently Reading

On Audio: Stories of the Raksura: Volume 1, by Martha Wells. Ah, it’s so lovely to be back in the world with Moon and Jade and Chime and Bramble and the rest. I’m not very far into the first story, but it’s all very promising, with lots of the internal Raksura politics and worldbuilding that makes this series so extraordinary. This is a whopping 10 hours long (compared to my last two audiobooks which were both around 5 hours each) so I think it’ll keep me going for a while.

On Kindle: I just started The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera, and am very excited about where this f/f Asian-inspired epic fantasy series goes next.

On Paper: I’m between books, but about to put The Future is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente on my bedside table for dipping into while I’m in novel mode on the ereader. It’s my beautiful Subterranean Press copy so no way is it coming around with me on a daily basis, though.

On Screen: I’m watching quite a lot of fun stuff! Caught up with Critical Role, caught feelings about The Dragon Prince Season 1 (oh my god this series, you guys)and caught the baking bug with Great British Bake-Off, which has inspired a rediscovery of my favourite double chocolate coconut walnut cookie recipe (although making a chocolate-encased pudding orb is always and forever going to be beyond my patience levels, so please don’t ask).

Acquisitions

So, one thing that I didn’t mention in last week’s roundup was a weird incident where, in the middle of my reading FIYAH issue 7, the listing disappeared off my “currently reading” list at Goodreads and was nowhere to be found when I went to look for it on the website. I thought this was super weird, but let social anxiety talk me out of raising it directly with anyone at FIYAH, convincing myself that they must know about it and have chosen to do something like that and that I shouldn’t harass them if that’s the case. Well, unfortunately, that’s not what happened (thread here for news and aftermath). After several days of utterly miserable discussion on the Goodreads forums, which I was mostly able to follow if not engage in, nothing is resolved, I’m doing my best to keep off Goodreads until the policy on this changes, oh and also I have two new subscriptions to more short fiction magazines No Longer on Goodreads: Anathema: Speculative Fiction from the Margins; and Fireside Magazine. Both of which look bloody amazing, and I hope are going to further fuel my current excitement about short fiction.

Other News

  • The moon is bloody huge right now and it’s staring right at me from over the cemetery at the back of the house… so if you don’t hear from me ever again, that’s why.
  • Oh, right, and I wrote a review of Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang at Nerds of a Feather.