Category Archives: racism

Sunday Post – 20th January, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another very busy week and now that I’ve finally got around to setting myself a daily wordcount for the rewrite of Mantivore Prey, I turned around to discover that I’ve now written 5,000 words in the last eight days. It’s not brilliant – but it’s a great deal better than I’d been doing before Christmas. I also wrote and submitted the blurb, acknowledgements and dedication for Netted, my post-apocalyptic novel set in Maine which is being released by Grimbold Publishing. I also have received the edits for my Roman steampunk short story, ‘The Last Journey of Vulcan’s Breath’ which is appearing in an anthology due to be published sometime during the year.

I woke up on Thursday morning feeling rather sorry for myself – I’d a terrible sore throat and stiff neck and felt it wasn’t appropriate to hand whatever had smitten me onto Tim, who I was due to teach that afternoon, so I cancelled our lesson and spent the day dosing myself with lots of water and vitamin C.

It did the trick, which is just as well because I surfaced to my phone pinging. It was my daughter who’d been up all night with a stomach bug and was now worried about carrying the baby up and down the stairs, changing her nappy etc while feeling so sick and giddy. I arrived just after 10 am to find the baby wide awake alongside my sleeping daughter. As I quietly made friends with little Eliza, she beamed up at me. And that set the tone for the day. I was in sole charge of coping with all her needs, having to quickly brush up on my rather rusty babycare skills as I changed her nappies, sorted out lunch, amused her and put her down for her naps. She is now six months old, and the sunniest-natured baby I’ve ever encountered since her mother. She didn’t cry at all during the day, except when she let out a single bellow at being put back down in the buggy when she was expecting a feed, instead. Fortunately, Rebecca was able to get a few hours’ solid sleep and her partner did the school run, so that by the end of the day she was looking a lot better. I brought the two older children back with me for the weekend, which has been huge fun while I’ve caught up with all their doings since seeing them just before Christmas.

I’m quite stiff and sore after lifting and carrying Eliza around, but it was a joy getting to spend so much time with her. Today we took the children home as the weekend passed in a blur and hopefully, it won’t be so long before we see them again.

Last week I read:

Children of Blood and Bone – Book 1 of Legacy of Orïsha series by Tomi Adeyemi
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
This is an emotional and at times, a harrowing read. But the story of the struggle between those with and without magic is very well depicted, effectively showing both sides of the divide. I loved this adventure and look forward to reading the next slice of the adventure.

Witch Slapped – Book 1 of the Witchless in Seattle series by Dakota Cassidy
What’s a girl to do when she’s a broke, shunned ex-witch with a very tiny, very hungry bat familiar named Belfry to feed? Hello. My name is Stevie Cartwright, and I’ve been witchless for thirty days.
If only there was a support group for down-on-their-luck ex-witches who’ve had their powers slapped right out of them (literally). Just as I was licking my wounds after returning to my hometown of Ebenezer Falls, WA, and navigating my suddenly non-magical existence with the help of my familiar, the only friend I have left in the world–things got sticky. Enter an ex-spy and newly departed spirit named Winterbottom, who’s infiltrated my life with his sexy British accent and a couple of requests…
As you can tell, this cosy murder mystery is a far lighter read. I thoroughly enjoyed the nonsense and will be definitely looking out for more from this entertaining author. Thank you Laura for the recommendation!

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 13th January 2019

My Outstanding Reads of the Year – 2018

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi

Review of An Easy Death – Book 1 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris

Friday Face-Off featuring The Story of the Amulet – Book 3 of the Five Children series by E. Nesbit

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Do you trust bloggers who don’t post negative reviews? https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/do-you-trust-bloggers-who-dont-post-negative-reviews-bookblogger-bookbloggers-blogger-bloggers/ This is an ongoing debate that regularly surfaces – and I really liked Drew’s approach to it.

Writing tip: Using Wordle to highlight overused words https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/writing-tip-using-wordle-to-highlight-overused-words/ It’s always great to get a really useful writing tip I can pass along to my students – it’s even better when it comes from an author I like and admire.

‘My Last Duchess’: A Poem by Robert Browning https://interestingliterature.com/2019/01/15/my-last-duchess-a-poem-by-robert-browning/ This is a wonderful example of a dramatic monologue and reading the final section always makes me shiver.

Elvis Presley, Tom Jones (never forgetting Lonnie Donegan!): It Looks Like I’ll Never Fall in Love Again https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/01/15/elvis-presley-tom-jones-never-forgetting-lonnie-donegan-it-looks-like-ill-never-fall-in-love-again/ As ever, Thom gives us all sorts of interesting info nuggets, amongst videos of different performers singing this song – but whatever you do, don’t miss that last clip…

Appreciate A Dragon Day https://bookwyrmshoard.com/uncategorized/appreciate-a-dragon-day/ And now I dream of a lovely little dragon, whose forelegs curl protectively across the spine of one of my favourite books – I waaaaant one!

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – have a wonderful week!

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Song of Blood and Stone Book 1 of the Earthsinger Chronicles by #L. Penelope #bookreview #Brainfluffbookblogreview

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Like so many of my Netgalley finds, it was the cover that caught my eye – such a beautiful, unusual image for a dystopian fantasy adventure…

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb. I’m willing to share. I really enjoyed Jasminda as a character – she is gutsy, intelligent and resourceful under pressure. It was a really nice change having a young girl being the one doing the rescuing during those first, desperate encounters on the mountain. The other main viewpoint character in this adventure is Jack, the wounded soldier who Jasminda finds herself trying to protect from the brutality of the soldiers hunting him for a spy. The beginning immediately pulled me in and had me fully engaged – fast-paced, full of adventure and peopled with strong, sympathetic characters. There is thoughtful, intelligent handling of racism throughout this book, which worked effectively within the story – I wish other fantasy authors would also tackle this subject. I also enjoyed the world and the magic system, which made sense and had definable boundaries – always a bonus.

I powered through the book until I got nearly to the halfway stage when the whole tenor changed as it morphed into a love story – furthermore, a love story with a fair amount of graphic sex. As I was under the impression that this was a YA read, I was slightly taken aback because the amount of description and time devoted to the sex scenes felt far more appropriate for a New Adult book. While the sex took part between two people who clearly loved each other, it isn’t what I’d bargained for, or expected from the cover or the blurb – and yes, that was something of a problem for me. However, I am aware that is a personal preference and there was nothing violent or untoward about these scenes, other than they went into a lot more detail than I was expecting.

Alongside the love story is the deteriorating political situation between the two countries involved, along with a power-hungry, autocratic wizard of immense power. The flashback scenes were well handled and no time was I confused about what was happening. The writing is smooth and the plotting well paced. All in all, this is a gripping, well told story with a good climax and strong ending. Highly recommended for fans of gripping romance fantasy stories. While I obtained an arc of The Song of Blood and Stone from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Austral by Paul McAuley

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The great geoengineering projects have failed. The world is still warming, sea levels are still rising, and the Antarctic Peninsula is home to Earth’s newest nation, with life quickened by ecopoets spreading across valleys and fjords exposed by the retreat of the ice. Austral Morales Ferrado, a child of the last generation of ecopoets, is a husky: an edited person adapted to the unforgiving climate of the far south, feared and despised by most of its population. She’s been a convict, a corrections officer in a labour camp, and consort to a criminal, and now, out of desperation, she has committed the kidnapping of the century.

I absolutely love this one. This first-person narrative by Austral grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let me go until the end. It very quickly becomes apparent that Austral is telling this story for the benefit of someone who she feels needs to know her family history, which is woven into this classic chase across the harsh peninsula as Austral and her kidnap victim try to stay one step ahead of those in pursuit – who aren’t necessarily the forces of law and order.

There is all the excitement and tension of their adventure as they encounter a number of memorable characters, some kind and helpful but most are nothing of the sort. This is a hard new land peopled by many refugees from a drowning world, which doesn’t engender soft fluffy feelings. I was waiting for the inevitable moment when the two fleeing finally bond – the huskie outcast and the rich, privileged child of a rising politician. But McAuley avoids that cliché. There is never a time when Austral can relax and feel her young companion will innately trust her.

Meanwhile, Austral’s unfolding story is one of abandonment of the promises made to keep Antarctica ecologically sustainable as once again, the vested interests of multi-nationals and capitalism trumps all else. The sub-species of huskies, whose DNA were edited to equip them for living and working on the land, are now no longer required for that prime purpose. Nor are they wanted by the normals, who fear their size, superior strength and stamina, so ensure the law enforces their instinctive reaction to keep them as far away as possible.

The other character that features throughout is the landscape itself. McAuley’s scientific background shows in the depth and detail of this harsh environment. I love the fact that mammoths have been brought back as a viable eco-system has started to be designed – until forest plantations swallow up the fragile landscape and inappropriate crops are grown to appease the appetites of a people with no appreciation or real knowledge of how this emerging landmass is being eco-engineered. It all sounds horribly familiar.

Any niggles? While I felt that Austral’s storyline about her own family history worked very well alongside the ongoing adventure, the one ongoing narrative thread I could have happily done without was the fairy story Austral’s young teenage companion was reading. It was the one part of the story that didn’t really convince me, both as something that would interest Austral, or its relevance to the other two plotlines and to be honest, I mostly skimmed over those sections. However that aside, this story has lodged inside my head since I’ve read it and notwithstanding that one false step, this is an extraordinary book. Highly recommended for fans who like hard science fiction and cli-fi (climate fiction). While I obtained the arc of Austral from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

 

ANNDDD…

Today Lillian at Mom With a Reading Problem is featuring Running Out of Space as part of the blog tour, including her interview – where she asks which breakfast cereal I’d like to be…

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here, I decided to join this challenge and set myself the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women authors I’ve not previously encountered. For a variety of reasons, 2016 proved to be my best reading year, ever. So I actually read and reviewed 45 books by women I haven’t read before. There were so many great authors in that group and my top five are included in my outstanding books of 2016 – see here. So I want to feature my top five very near misses in no particular order:-

Radiance by Cathrynne M. Valente
radianceI enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own. Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. Therefore you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I also read and reviewed the second book, Counterpart in this intriguing series. There are indications that Stone is still feeling her way – this is, after all, her debut novel and the machines weren’t particularly vividly drawn – but I have never read a book where the issue of cloning has been so thoroughly and emotionally examined. Despite its flaws, this one has stayed with me.

 

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals. The Fettered Flame is the second instalment in the Shkode trilogy: a quirky and modern take on dragons and wizards, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, violence, compassion, and the ways we are all connected.

I was sufficiently impressed to seek out the first book, The Banished Craft, in this science fiction/fantasy mashup. The blurb may sound a bit gushy, but it is spot on. This is epic fantasy with a sci fi twist and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment when it is released as I love the characters and Bell’s quirky, insightful take on the world she has created.

 

Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. rosemaryandrueAfter getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

I loved McGuire’s writing and went on to read her wonderful novella Every Heart a Doorway. One of my promises to myself is to continue reading more of the Toby Daye series in 2017.

 

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsMortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk, but things don’t go according to plan…

Hamilton’s punchy, accomplished writing grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the end of this adrenaline-fuelled ride. Amani is a feisty heroine who attracts trouble like iron filings to a magnet and I found this one really hard to put down until it was finished and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

 

Given I nearly doubled the target number of women authors I read and reviewed, should I increase my goal for 2017? I’ve decided against doing so. One of the reasons why 2016 was such a bumper reading year was because I wasn’t writing. Editing and rewriting, yes – but I wrote nothing new. So reading became a refuge that I don’t normally crave so intensely as diving into a new world of my own for the first time tends to thoroughly tick that box. Therefore, I shall launch my 2017 Discovery Challenge with the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women writers previously unknown to me. And if I have half as much joy in the coming year as I’ve had reading this year’s offerings, I shall be very happy, indeed.

What about you? Did you set yourself any reading challenges in 2016 – and if so, how have you got on? Do you intend to continue them into 2017?

Discovery Challenge Books I Read in 2016
1. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
2. Truthwitch – Book 1 of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
3. Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
5. Heart of Obsidian – Book 12 of the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
6. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
7. Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
8. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
9. The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
10. Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – Prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
11. The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
12. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
13. Cinder – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
14. Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
15. A Rural Affair by Catherine Alliott
16. Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts saga by Colleen Oakes
17. The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
18. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
19. Banished – Book 1 of the Blackhart trilogy by Liz de Jager
20. The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
21. Change of Life – Book 2 of a Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant
22. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
23. Speak by Louisa Hall
24. Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
25. Machinations – Book 1 of The Machinations series by Hayley Stone
26. Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
27. Shift by Em Bailey
28. An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
29. Across the Universe – Book 1 of the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
30. The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
31. The Changeling by Christina Soontornvat
32. The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
33. Aveline – Book 1 of The Lost Vegas series by Lizzy Ford
34. Escapology by Ren Warom
35. So Many Boots, So Little Time – Book 3 of the MisAdventures of Miss Lilly series by Kalan Chapman Lloyd
36. The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery
37. Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb
38. A Darker Shade of Magic – Book 1 of the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab
39. Synners by Pat Cadigan
40. Renting Silence – A Roaring Twenties Mystery by Mary Miley
41. Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the Stars duology by Tessa Elwood
42. Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
43. Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of the Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
44. The City of Ice – Book 2 of the Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
45. Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Graphic Novel Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter By Steve Carroll and Jeff Anderson

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I need to declare an interest – Steve is a fellow tutor at Northbrook College and a thoroughly nice chap. That said, I wouldn’t have volunteered to spread the word about Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter if I didn’t believe in the quality of the story. Steve and Jeff are delighted that Riddler’s Fayre is in the process of being re-released with a new publisher, with changes to more closely reflect the nuanced taleRiddler's Fayre they had originally envisaged.

Aeden is young man with no memory, adrift in a world of riddles. His only friend – a man hated for his race and creed, their only hope – a nun on the run for opposing the Holy Wars. Meanwhile a veteran of the Third Crusade is hunting Aeden, believing him to be the clue to discovering the greatest secret in alchemy – the identity of the First Matter.

As you may gather from the blurb, this is set in 1199 in the Middle Ages and there is a lovely map at the front of the book, along with a short prologue, giving us plenty of information about the period in order to appreciate the story. Aeden is a young man struggling to cope – and the only clue to his identity are a number of peculiar tattoos on his arm. Meanwhile, a returnee from the Crusades, Ludovic Parvell, is on a mission of his own. A mission that will ensure he will be on a collision course with Aeden and those looking out for him. The artwork is lovely – in graphic novels, the characterisation is achieved with the dialogue and the drawing. Facial expressions, gestures and their movements tell you as much about who they are and their role in the story as what is contained in the speech bubbles. In a good quality graphic novel, the drawings provide you with a rich seam of information, as each page adds another layer onto the story. Anderson has done a lovely job.

The mood in the castle is effectively portrayed as brooding and ominous by the dark colours and confined settings, with Parvell’s uncertain temper kicking off as he snaps out orders to his apprehensive underlings. I really like the story arc – if I have a grizzle, it was that I was just really getting into the story when it suddenly stopped to be continued in the next slice of the adventure.

But if you enjoy graphic novels, this beautifully drawn and engrossing tale of religious intolerance and growing distrust of strangers may be set in the distant past, but it also has something to say about our own turbulent times.
9/10

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

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This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.

Film Review of District 9

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district 9While my friend Mhairi Simpson was laid up after coming off her bike last week, we had the good luck to encounter this film, courtesy of the good ol’ Syfy channel. As Mhairi hadn’t seen it, I was very glad to have an excuse to watch it again.

Released in 2009 by TriStar Pictures and directed by Neill Blomkamp, this science fiction thriller is set in the very near future, when a huge space ship appears in the sky over Johannesburg in South Africa. And just hangs there. Three months later, a task force eventually breaks into the ship to find it contains around half a million sick and starving aliens. Transported to a camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the aliens are provided with food and the most primitive, rudimentary basics required for existence and left to get on with it. They do.

Living in squalor, they barter whatever they can for tins of cat food and pieces of meat. Inevitably, illegal interest in their technology is centred around their impressive weaponry. Despite the fact that humans cannot activate these lethal pieces of kit as they are keyed to alien DNA, a Nigerian crimelord based in the centre of District 9 is busy building up an arsenal. He is convinced that if he consumes enough alien body parts, he will eventually be able to activate these guns which will give him an unassailable advantage in the human criminal underworld.

The years wear on and the alien population continues to grow, despite their revolting living conditions. Ill educated and brutalised by their bleak existence, the aliens – or Prawns, as they come to be known – don’t make comfortable neighbours and the humans living alongside them become increasingly vociferous in their complaints. So some twenty years after they first appeared, a scheme is hatched to move the aliens on from District 9, where they have been living, to District 10 – a barren hellhole right out in the bush. The move is to be overseen by a tough military organisation, the MNU, who go in mob-handed with an enthusiastic Afrikaner office jock by the name of Wikus van de Merwe played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley. However, things don’t go according to plan…

The timeline is fractured, with much of the backstory very effectively told as a documentary, first of the alien roundup and then of the unfolding events. The wobbly camera-work, abrupt stops and various narrators giving their thoughts and opinions on what occurred is very cleverly interleaved with the visceral action.

It doesn’t take a genius to quickly realise that this film is more than just an escapist junket about yet another alien visitation. The district9.2proposed clear-out of District 9 is based on the forced evictions and removals of whole populations, both during the South African apartheid years and since, when in an attempt to dislodge some of the shanty towns that had built up during apartheid, the government have resorted to the kinds of tactics shown in this film. The less than subtle nod to recent history – District 9 in reality was the infamous District 6, where 60,000 blacks were forced to move out – gives the action extra emotional punch. This is echoed in the haunting soundtrack, which plays as aliens are shown scrabbling around on rubbish tips…

However, I don’t want you to go away with the impression that this is just some neo-political rant about man’s inhumanity to man. This film also produces plenty action-packed chases, fire fights and destructive explosions to keep the most avid action-junkie satisfied. I loved the ending – which managed to be moving and tie up the main story arc, while conveniently leaving the door open for the sequel. And if this team get together to produce said sequel, I’m definitely going to be right up at the front of the queue to see it at the cinema. An intelligent, thought provoking science fiction thriller that exposes humanity’s greed and brutality in an entertaining action-fest doesn’t come along every day of the week…
9/10