Monday
Sep172018

Space Unicorn Blues

I'm back from a month+ hiatus which included my first trip to WorldCon (which was cool and wherein I bumped into this novel's author, who is delightful) to tell you that you need to read this book. Everything you need to know is in the title, really. But I will try to expand upon the awesomeness that is Space Unicorn Blues.

There are a lot of things that I loved about this book. For starters, it's about a frickin space unicorn. Okay, Gary, the MC is part unicorn. But that somehow makes it even better. Everything about this book is zany. Magical creatures from mythology, referred to as Bala, are in fact real and just (often magical) aliens from other planets. And when humans reach out to the stars after destroying Earth, they make contact. And then war.

Because humans are kind of garbage. *looks at news* Yep, we're kind of garbage. One of the smart things I loved about this book is the way the author spells it out. She uses her zany world-building to magnify the garbage things we do. The lone white guy in the book is also the worst piece of shit bigot and I hate him so much. Poster boy for white mediocrity and failing up.

Anyway, there's a redemption arc in here, just not for the garbage white dude. And it takes the entire story for the mystery of Gary's "victim" to come full circle, but you'll hate garbage white dude even more when you get to it.

And while this story is a lot darker than I generally like to read, the utter insanity of the world-building and the total ass-kickingness of the two female leads -- disabled war vet, Jenny Parata, and con artist transwoman, Ricky Tang -- make it fun despite the darkness. There is some magnificent snark and banter to be found in these pages.

I could have done without all the times the bad guys misgendered Ricky, but this book had so much to say about diversity. I loved how Jenny's disability was portrayed. And it was also refreshing that sexual violence never came in to play. That's one of the many reasons my reading preference is shifting away from male authors.

And the book even offers a glimmer of hope that humans and the Bala maybe don't have to constantly be at war. The sequel comes out in the spring and I've already pre-ordered it. This has got a zany but brutal Kameron Hurley feel to it that I love.

Tuesday
Aug072018

Dragonbreath series

This is a middle grade book (for 7-12 year olds) that's basically Dennis the Menace but with dragons and other mythical beings.

The series follows Danny Dragonbreath, a real actual dragon who often has difficulties breathing fire, but whose loyalty knows no bounds. He's always accompanied by his best friend Wendell the iguana, and in later books, Christiana the crested lizard.

Danny's adventures are fun and whimsical and full of jokes, but also packed full of educational tidbits. There's also a really great bus system that can bring Danny anywhere. And if the bus doesn't go there, the portal in his great-granddad's fridge does.

Danny's adventures include evil clowns, giant bats, the deep sea, mythical Japan, fairies, phoenixes, and some very devious (but totally cute) pack rats. And the sentient potato salad.

This is a "for boys" series but me and my daughter absolutely loved it. We binge-read all 11 books in a couple of months. The author also has an excellent "for girls" series that I'll blog about later. Anyway, this series has fun illustrations and was an utter hoot to read. I highly recommend it, even if you haven't got a kiddo to read it with.

Monday
Aug062018

Rogue Protocol

This is the latest in the Murderbot diaries, a novella series about a cyborg-ish security unit who just wants to hide in its cargo box and watch TV while its humans are constantly demanding its attention. I love how Murderbot is always so down on what idiots its humans are while being begrudgingly fond of them.

In this one, Murderbot is a long way away from its almost-friends, trying not to worry about or get too attached to yet another group of humans who just can't seem to keep themselves from almost getting killed.

Murderbot is out on the edge of the galaxy, trying to find some solid evidence against the company that tried to kill its humans in the first book, All Systems Red. It gets a lot more than it bargained for in this book.

Murderbot still can't handle its soppy emotions, but is having a lot more of them, slowly inching toward acting more human. Of course, being human means being vulnerable, and Murderbot suffers a heartbreaking loss in this one that really shows it where its metaphorical heart lies, no matter how resistant it is.

The action in this story, like the others, is nonstop and the snark brilliantly keeps pace. I would ride or die for Murderbot. I've already preordered the final novella in the series and look forward to the full length novel slated to come out in a couple of years.

Wednesday
Jul252018

2018 Hugo Reading Round-Up

Okay, I have finally (with a week to spare!) finished my Hugo reading. Below are the major prose categories, with my choices in bold. I've included links to my reviews of the novels and the longer novellas, but will give a quick summary of what I thought of the shorter formats.

Best Novel

  • The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit); note: DNF so no review, I really didn't like the author's style and the story just didn't grab me
  • Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
  • The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Best Novella

  • All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
  • “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017); note: really cool idea but still not really doing it for me
  • Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing); note: DNF (for now), the world-building is really fascinating but the characters and story weren't grabbing me, but I'll likely go back to it when I have more time/patience
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  • River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

  • “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017); note: this was a neat story set in a world I'm familiar with, but it didn't quite have the teeth to compete with my top pick
  • “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017); note: also set in a world I'm familiar with, and a lot of fun, but lacking "teeth"
  • “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017); note: one of many fun stories on this ballot about the life and humanity of bots, this one had all the stakes but also a hopeful ending that I needed
  • “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017); note: this story was a lot of fun, but really felt like it should have been written from the assistant's POV since she was the real hero anyway
  • “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June2017); note: This was a gut punch of a story and I really really liked it, but it was a little bleaker than I like, even if the ending was hopeful. Also, I dislike vampire stories in general.
  • “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017); note: Cool concept but it really felt like a slog to read.

Best Short Story

  • “Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017); note: This story was way too bleak for me.
  • “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September/October 2017); note: I wanted to like this one but it just wasn't for me.
  • “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017); note: This one was a lot of fun, just didn't hold up against the fierce competition.
  • “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017); note: This story was so bleak I was depressed for days, even if the ending had a smidge of hope
  • “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, (Uncanny, May/June 2017); note: This was a bit of a gut punch, but in a good way. It's still making me happy and it's been weeks since I read it.
  • “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017); note: It was hard to choose between this and Vernon's story, but in the end this one just left me feeling absolutely gutted and I'm just so done with bleak stories right now.

As a side note, Tor.com is really kicking ass and taking names with its novella publishing line. I'm actually looking at writing a novella to send in to them, since they're kind of on fire right now. I love the novella format! A little more meat than a short story or novelette, without the time sink of a novel.

There was a lot of great SFF released last year! Some of which didn't make it onto the final ballot and choosing favourites in some of these categories was really difficult, to the point I was often deciding on the subjective principle of "it made me happy" because all of these stories are just so damn good.

I hope you'll go out and find the stories on this list. They're well worth the time! And I leave for California in exactly 2 weeks! (Even if it's nearly a month until the actual Hugos, which I'm going to miss anyway because the award ceremony is on Sunday night... who does that?)

Monday
Jul232018

Skyfarer

With my Hugo reading mostly done I finally get to read books for fun again! (Okay, most of the Hugo reading has been fun, but it's also been a bit of a chore because it's reading on a deadline, which is less fun).

So this book is definitely fun. It's billed as a Star-Wars inspired space fantasy and yes, that is a very good description for it. The SW parallels are pretty obvious. I thought it also had something of a Firefly feel to it too, especially the crew's relationship to their ship, Elysium, and to each other.

It's hard to talk about this book without spoilers, but the characters are fascinating and the world-building is pretty cool and it's got a fairly diverse cast, even if the characters who get the most page-time are both white. The villain, Azrael, is especially fascinating and I look forward to seeing where his character arc goes in the next book. (I will definitely read the next book.)

Anyway, this is an exciting, somewhat fluffy space adventure that fans of Star Wars and Firefly will like. And I didn't notice it doing anything squicky with representation, so that's definitely a bonus. Go forth and enjoy!