Tag Archives: Becky Chambers

Series I Have Continued or Completed in 2017 – Part 1

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Over the past year, I’ve becoming increasingly conscious that I’ve getting into the habit of plunging into a series with a book that has caught my eye and simply not getting any further. Given my go-to genres heavily feature series books, which are always part of a longer narrative, this is a habit I’d like to break. So this year, I’ve decided to make myself more accountable by recording my progress with series that I have either completed, or brought right up to date – hence this post now that we’re more than halfway through this year.

The Tide Dragons duology by Sarah Ash
The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice and Emperor of the Fireflies
This delightful fantasy series is strongly influenced by Japanese mythology and culture, so as well as the wonderful dragons of the title, there are kitsume and demons, emperors and generals and a formidable goddess all weaving through this richly textured world. I loved it and Emperor of the Fireflies is one of my outstanding books of the year so far.

 

The Wayfarers by Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit
This science fiction space opera series made a big impact with the hit debut book which had a real vibe of the hit TV show Firefly as an ensemble piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second book featured one of the ship’s crew and a waif who needed refuge and while it is set in the same world as the first book, you don’t need to have read it to appreciate what is going on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these two books and am keen to discover where Chambers next takes this series.

 

The Witchlands by Susan Dennard
Truthwitch and Windwitch
This epic fantasy initially features two young witches, Safi and Iseult, who manage to get themselves into an almighty scrape at the start of the first book, entangling them in a major plot. I like the fact that their friendship is one of the main emotional drivers throughout the story so far and that the magical system is structured with clear rules and involves a high price from magic-users. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the third book, Bloodwitch, due to come out next year.

 

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne
I love this sand and sorcery adventure! Hamilton’s punchy writing style and vivid scene setting means both of these books have stayed with me as memorably enjoyable, exciting reads and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, which will hopefully arrive next year.

 

 

Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Tiger and the Wolf and The Bear and the Serpent
This epic fantasy adventure takes place in a pre-agrarian world where clans divide depending on what animal they shape-shift into. Both books are full of incident and tension, along with splashes of humour as Tchaikovsky’s vivid, three-dimensional characters leapt off the page and into my heart. I’m very much hoping there is going to be more of this amazing story…

 

The Falconer trilogy by Elizabeth May
The Falconer; The Vanishing Throne and The Fallen Kingdom
This riveting series features a young, well-bred woman, Lady Aileana, who leads a double life – by day she is the wealthy heiress in an alternate Victorian society, while by night she hunts and kills the fae after witnessing her mother’s brutal murder. Violent and enthralling, this trilogy is one of the reading highlights of the year so far.

 

 

The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy is set in a brutal world ruled by twelve kings possessing great magical power – and the efforts of one lowly-born girl to overturn their stranglehold on the desert city-state. I loved the story so far and will be looking out for the third book, A Veil of Spears, due to be published next year.

 

Planetfall by Emma Newman
Planetfall and After Atlas
This dystopian science fiction series is amazing. Both books are set in the same world, but on different planets and can be read as standalones – I loved each one, though the tone and mood were quite different. After Atlas is my book of the year so far and I will be pouncing on the next book, Before Mars, just as soon as I can get my hands on it.

 

 

Luna by Ian McDonald
New Moon and Wolf Moon
This duology envisages that the industrialisation of the Moon has been divided between five families, all ruthless entrepreneurs who have taken capitalism to the extreme as they continue vying for yet more power – with shocking consequences. McDonald has called this series ‘a game of domes’. I loved the brutal, detailed world and the charismatic characters.

 

Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric and the Demon; Penric and the Shaman; Penric’s Mission; Mira’s Last Dance
This series is a joy. Each one of these engrossing, beautifully written stories gives us another slice of Penric’s adventures as he copes with the demon he accidentally acquired while helping an elderly woman at the side of the road. Fortunately, Himself is also a serious fan and immediately buys up these gems as soon as they published. Quite right, too.

 

 

Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
The Drafter and The Operator
Harrison explores a fascinating premise in this military science fiction thriller, where black ops agents are able to shift small amounts of time to kill or dodge attacks. The snag is that as they alter the timeline, they forget chunks of their lives with the aid of a drafter who helps them avoid a catastrophic neural overload that occurs if they remember more than one version of reality. This is really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining duology.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes
This lush, eastern-influenced classic fantasy duology is another one of those which is set in the same world with a few linking characters, but follows different storylines. Each one is a delight, full of incident and beautiful descriptions that pinged off the page and lit up cold rainy days as I read.

 

 

The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens
This delightful portal worlds adventure is gritty, wise and astonishing. It is one of my favourite series with its emphasis on a number of nuanced, feisty female characters of all ages. This one has lodged in my head and won’t leave – particularly the poignant ending…

 

There are more to come – but I’ll be rounding up the others in another article.

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Sunday Post – 29th January 2017

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Sunday Post

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

It hasn’t been a busy week as I’ve not been very well, trying to cope with a persistent, low-grade headache. It started on Sunday and I struggled on through teaching on Monday and Tuesday – I also had one of my lovely writing groups over for a meal and feedback on Tuesday night. But come Wednesday, I’d had enough. I declared myself beaten and retreated to bed where I’ve been mostly sleeping and reading and occasionally facing the computer, which has made me feel sick again. Feeling better now, though still getting tired far too easily. Hopefully I’ll be feeling a lot better next week.

Number One Son flew out the States on Monday and it was relief when I heard he’d arrived safe and sound. God bless modern communication technology.

I’m officially fed up with winter. The nights have been so wretchedly cold and Monday was horrible with freezing fog, having to drive into Northbrook College at night. But at least it hasn’t snowed this year, yet, so I must be grateful for small mercies.

This week I have read:
A Closed and Common Orbit – Book 2 of The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, aclosedandcommonorbitfollowing a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chambers’ first book in this series The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but I preferred this offering. This dual narrative switches between Lovelace and Pepper, both engrossing and interesting layered characters. I shall be reviewing it in due course.

 

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
themassacreofmankindIt has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared.
So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.
He is right.

This offering is the approved sequel to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Baxter has triumphantly evoked the tone and feel of the original classic invasion story, while injecting plenty of original action and excitement. If you are a fan of Wells’ book, I recommend you have a go at this one – it’s a blast with a delightful twist at the end.

 

Radio Boy by Christian O’Donnell
Meet Spike, aka Radio Boy: a new Adrian Mole on the radio for the internet generation.radioboy

Spike’s your average awkward 11 year old, funny and cheeky and with a mum to reckon with. When he becomes the first presenter ever to be sacked from hospital radio, he decides, with the help of his father and two best friends, to take other steps. However, it all spins out of control…

This is an amusing children’s book with an engaging protagonist and plenty of action with some important underlying messages without being preachy or stuffy. Ideal for newly independent readers and one that I shall be reading to my granddaughter.

 

Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
windwitchAfter an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

The above blurb takes you to the start of this engaging sequel, so my firm advice is to get hold of Truthwitch before tucking into this enjoyable, YA epic fantasy. As might be deduced by the title, this offering focuses on Prince Merik, however we do still follow the fortunes of Safi and Iseult. The narrative comes to a dramatic ending but there are still plenty of dangling plotlines all waiting to be tied up in the next book.

 

Old Bones – A Detective Inspector Slider Mystery by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
A young couple discover human remains buried in the garden of their new house: could this be oldbonesthe resting place of 14-year-old Amanda Knight, who disappeared from the same garden two decades before, and was never seen again?
The problem comes almost as a relief to DCI Slider, still suffering from the fallout of his previous case. He is not popular with the Powers That Be, and his immediate boss, Detective Superintendent Porson, reckons that at least this little puzzle will keep Slider out of trouble. After all, with a murder twenty years in the past, this is the coldest of cold cases. Most of the suspects and principal players are now dead too, and all passion is long spent … Or is it?

Well this is fun! I haven’t read any of Harrod-Eagles writing before and I’m now a solid fan of this popular, prolific author. This established series is definitely going to be one I shall be revisiting. I loved Slider’s grumpy, desert-dry humour and while I guessed some of the elements of the mystery, it didn’t matter because I was so caught up with the characters, I was in for the duration.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 22nd January 2017

Review of Emperor of the Fireflies by Sarah Ash

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

PREVIEW of Empire Games by Charles Stross

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Friday Faceoff – A Room Without Books Is Like a Body Without a Soul featuring The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands by Susan Dennard

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry & Gene Autry chase Ghost Riders in the Sky – https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/01/26/johnny-cash-debbie-harry-gene-autry-chase-ghost-riders-in-the-sky/
In this delightful article, Thom gives us various versions of this classic song, after explaining why it matters so much to him. If you enjoy reading lyrically beautiful prose in praise of music, then this is must-read blog.

Tips For Helping Me Blog – https://onereadersthoughts.com/2017/01/27/ff-tips-for-helping-me-blog%ef%bb%bf/
Emma gives some useful tips in order to help keep our blogging schedules straight.

Never Press DELETE http://melfka.com/archives/2068
Joanna provides some useful advice for writers that I regularly find myself saying to my students – while horrified at how many who throw away or delete their own work…

Win 50 Books for a School or Library https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/win-50-books-for-a-school-or-library/
I thought I’d spread the word about this competition – let’s face it we all know schools or libraries which could do with 50 more books…

Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare’s The Tempest
https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/27/five-fascinating-facts-about-shakespeares-the-tempest/ I found this article particularly interesting as I’m in the process of rewriting my novel which is a sequel, exploring what happens to Miranda and Prospero once they leave their enchanted island…

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Series I Want to Continue in 2017

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I’ve already blogged about the favourite series I completed during 2016 here. Today I want to talk about the series I have started and want to continue reading in 2017.

WAYFARERS SERIES BY BECKY CHAMBERS

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Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

This is the blurb for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet as I’m allergic to providing spoilers for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. If you enjoyed Firefly on TV, then you’ll probably like this one. I loved it and for some reason missed requesting A Closed and Common Orbit from NetGalley, so have promised myself the pleasure of this one in the early new year as long as I have managed to get my TBR pile down a bit more.

 

THE STEERSWOMAN SERIES BY ROSEMARY KIRSTEIN

thesteerwoman

Steerswomen, and a very few Steersmen, are members of an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge. Although they are foremost navigators of the high seas, Steerswomen are also explorers and cartographers upon land as well as sea. With one exception, they are pledged to always answer any question put to them with as truthful a response as is possible within their own limitations. However, they also require anyone of whom they ask questions to respond in the same manner, upon penalty of the Steerswomen’s ban; those under the ban do not receive answers from the steerswomen.

This is a delight – a clever, nuanced world with a confident mature woman at the height of her powers who enjoys exploring and learning. While there’s nothing wrong with the slew of coming-of-age books out there, it makes an enjoyable change to read of a protagonist who is wholly comfortable in her own skin. I have the other books on my Kindle and will have the pleasure of reading them and completing this series during 2017.

 

PLANETFALL BY EMMA NEWMAN

planetfall

Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

I loved Planetfall – it’s one of my favourite books of 2016 and yet haven’t managed to get around to reading After Atlas. So this is one I’m going to track down and read this year.

 

EARTHCENT AMBASSADOR SERIES BY E.M. FONER

datenight

Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.

I was charmed by the quirkiness of Date Night on Union Station and have promised myself to tuck into more of these enjoyable science fiction novellas which are as much a comedy of manners as anything else. So I’m making a date with Union Station in 2017 to read at least a couple more – particularly when in need of some light relief.

 

THE MEMOIRS OF LADY TRENT SERIES BY MARIE BRENNAN

anaturalhistoryofdragons

Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

I recently read The Natural History of Dragons and absolutely loved it – so I’m determined to read more in 2017. A plucky Victorian lady battling convention to learn more about dragons by travelling to wild and inhospitable places – what’s not to love?

 

THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY’S SERIES BY JODI TAYLOR

jsutonedamnedthing

“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

I’ve recently finished reading the first book in this time-travelling series and absolutely loved it. Taylor’s writing is punchy and fun and her protagonist Max is a delight. The plot had so many twists and turns, I cannot quite imagine where the next book will take the story, but I’m betting there’s a fair amount of mayhem and chaos in the process. A must-read series for 2017!

And there are series I plan to continue reading in 2017. What published series have you promised yourself to dive back into during the coming year?

Favourite Space Operas – Part 1

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I have a particular weakness for space operas. It’s an abiding disappointment that I’ll never make it into space – but at least I can do so vicariously with the magic of books. And these are a handful of my favourites in no particular order…

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity theforeverwatchmust be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

Generational ship science fiction provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes. This is an extraordinary tale – and the final twist took my breath away. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
And this is another gem that makes extensive use of the generational ship device…

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal childrenoftimearray of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

Kern’s plans go awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all. In a tale of unintended consequences, it would have only taken a couple of tweaks for this to morph into a Douglas-Adams type farce. But it doesn’t, as the ship’s desperate plight becomes ever sharper and the species continues to evolve into something unintended and formidable. I love the wit and finesse with which Tchaikovsky handles this sub-genre and turns it into something original and enjoyable. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Fledgeling – a New Liaden novel by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Having trumpeted this post as being all about space operas, I’m now giving you a book where there is hardly any space ship action – but that is because it is the start of a long-running series, which deserves to read in the correct order.

fledglingDelgado is a Safe World. That means the population is monitored – for its own good – and behaviour dangerous to society is quickly corrected. Delgado is also the home of one of the galaxy’s premier institutions of higher learning, producing both impeccable research and scholars of flair and genius. On Safe Delgado, then, Theo Waitley, daughter of Professor Kamele Waitley, latest in a long line of Waitley scholars, is “physically challenged” and on a course to being declared a Danger to Society. Theo’s clumsiness didn’t matter so much when she and her mother lived out in the suburbs with her mother’s lover, Jen Sar Kiladi. But, suddenly, Kamele leaves Jen Sar and moves herself and Theo into faculty housing, immediately becoming sucked into faculty politics. Leaving Theo adrift and shocked – and vulnerable…

This coming-of-age novel is largely in fourteen-year-old Theo’s viewpoint. But it isn’t particularly aimed at the YA market, although I’d have no problem with any teenager reading it. The world is deftly realised and it took me a few pages just to absorb the strangeness and different customs, as Lee and Miller don’t hold up the pace with pages of explanation. So readers need to keep alert. However, this book is a delight. My very favourite sub-genre is accessible, enjoyable science fiction and this is a cracking example. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Marrow by Robert Reed
The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

This is definitely in the realm of epic space opera – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind marrowhas appropriated is immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Clockwork Rocket – Book 1 of The Orthogonal by Greg Egan
There are degrees of science fiction – some books are long on character development and the social consequences of futuristic living, while being short on the science that underpins it, known as soft theclockworkrocketscience fiction. Other books are far more concerned with the science and gismos that will actually power and run our future worlds – the hard science fiction. Egan, as a physicist, has always been on the harder side of the genre, but the important difference – for me – is that he is also able to write convincing characters into the bargain.

However, this time around he has produced a truly different world, where the laws of physics as we know them no longer work. He calls this a Riemannian universe as opposed to the Lorentzian version we inhabit. In Egan’s world, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity simply doesn’t make sense. Further, the basic humanoid template, so prevalent in most space opera adventures, is also off the table. Egan demonstrates a head-swivelling leap of imagination by producing a race of beings who don’t look like us, don’t breed like us… It’s an awesome achievement.

This is one of the most exciting books to be produced in the genre for years – I cannot think of another story that equals the sheer inventive genius displayed by Egan. Readers can take on board as much or as little of the physics as they wish – but his cleverness would be beside the point if the narrative was so hampered by the long passages describing the world that we all ceased to care whether the heroine prevailed or not. However, Yalda’s story gripped me from the start and didn’t let go. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled the-long-way-666x1024past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

Is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship.

It’s always a big ask to depict aliens such that they seem realistic and sympathetic, without being merely humans with odd names and the occasional nifty add-on. Chambers has triumphantly succeeding in providing a range of fascinating lifeforms that explore the notions of gender and how to cope with difference, while stretching our preconceptions of parenting and family life. Read the rest of my review here.

So here you have the first selection of my favourite space faring stories – are there any glaring omissions you would like to add?

My Outstanding Reads of 2015

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It was a cracking year, particularly for science fiction and fantasy. I read 121 books this year, wrote 108 reviews and these are the best – the books that have stayed with me long after I’d closed them up and written a review about them.

Fool’s Assassin – Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool by Robin Hobb
Hobb is one of my favourite authors anyhow, so I was delighted when she revisited Fitz and took his story further. And this new adventure didn’t disappoint.

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly thesefoolsassassin many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more… On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe. See my full review here.

 

The Straight Razor Cure – Book 1 of The Low Town series by Daniel Polansky
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and straightrazorcurea way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.
I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. This is a strong start to a remarkable trilogy, which has stayed with me throughout the year and if you like your fantasy gritty with a strong protagonist, then I highly recommend this offering. See my full review here.

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This was recommended to me by a couple of my students – and it didn’t disappoint. But whatever you do, don’t look up the reviews written in The Guardian or The Telegraph because they have seen fit to provide the main spoiler which makes a big difference to how you’d read the book.Weareallcompletelybesideourselves

What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
As soon as I started reading, the surefooted first person voice pulled me in – and then about a quarter of the way in, came the revelation which I didn’t see coming. At all. This is such a clever, original book. What you think must be the themes when you start reading about the fallout surrounding Fern’s disappearance on her family, once you get past That Point, you realise there is another agenda alongside the expected issues of loss and identity. See my full review here.

 

Mars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall
The fact that someone had decided I would be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and mars evacueesSORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well. I’d been worried I was about to be told that my mother’s spacefighter had been shot down, so when I found out that I was being evacuated to Mars, I was pretty calm. And despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived. If the same thing happens to you, this is my advice: ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.
Yes… I know it’s aimed at children – but this book enchanted me as well as my grandchildren and we are now all looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure in 2016. See my full review here.

 

The Detective’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
Kate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes thedetectivesdaughterof celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana. Her husband, never charged, moved abroad under a cloud of suspicion. Her son, just four years old, grew up in a loveless boarding school. And Detective Inspector Darnell, vowing to leave no stone unturned in the search for her killer, began to lose his only daughter, as young Stella Darnell grew to resent the dead Kate Rokesmith.
The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful book, which took me in so many different directions that I soon stopped trying to second-guess where Thomson would take me next and simply enjoyed the ride. It’s a happy feeling when I can sit back and revel in the story and the author’s skill in telling it. See my full review here.

 

The Future Falls – Book 3 of The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
When Charlotte Gale’s aunt warns their magical family of an approaching asteroid, they scramble to keep humanity thefuturefallsfrom going the way of the dinosaurs. Although between Charlie’s complicated relationship with sorcerer Jack, her cousin Allie’s hormones, the Courts having way too much fun at the end of days, and Jack’s sudden desire to sacrifice himself for the good of the many, Charlie’s fairly certain that the asteroid is the least of her problems. This could have so easily been an adrenaline junkie’s dream with constant action-packed pages of chases… scary magical confrontations ending in blood and gore – and it would have still been an engrossing read. But the cool, ironic tone of the blurb nicely echoes the emotional tenor of the books.

The aunts bake when they get together, and are often squabbling and eccentric. But as with any entity that is extremely powerful and knows it – they are also dangerous. Huff never lets us forget this. It’s a nifty trick to pull off. I love the fact that the Gale family never comes across as too cosy, or let the fact they are run by a matriarchy means they are kinder or softer… Understanding, maybe, but not kind. They can’t afford to be – they are running a family with sufficient power to level the world. And this is another trick Huff has pulled off – the Gales are something beyond human and the more we see about their adventures, the more alien they are. See my full review here.

 

Window Wall – Book 4 of The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
For nearly two years, Cade has been rejecting his Elsewhens, the Fae gift that grants him prescient glimpses of possible futures, by simply refusing to experience them. But the strain is driving a wedge between him and his windowwalltheatre troupe, Touchstone, and making him erratic on stage and off. It takes his best friend Mieka to force Cade into accepting the visions again, but when he does, he witnesses a terrible attack, though he cannot see who is responsible. Cade knows the future he sees can be changed, and when he finally discovers the truth behind the attack, he takes the knowledge to the only man in the Kingdom who can prevent it: his deadly enemy.
Meanwhile Touchstone is poised to become the best theatrical troupe in the country, though that isn’t the end of their problems. As Cade is wrestling with his own magical talents, Touchstone still have issues of their own to sort out – domestic life collides with the demands of touring; the pressure of constantly providing new, exciting plays; betrayal by someone they thought they could trust… So there is no trace of this series running out of steam – if anything it just goes on getting better. Though whatever you do, don’t pick up Window Wall first. You need to go back to the start to get a real flavour of this original, outstanding series and it would be a crime to do anything else. See my full review here.

 

Embassytown by China Miéville
EmbassytownEmbassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerse, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts – who cannot lie. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

It is a huge challenge, both imaginatively and technically to write convincingly about another species that has never been seen on our home planet. No problem for Miéville, though. He nails it. See my full review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship the-long-way-666x1024that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

So is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship. See my full review here.

 

The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. theshepherdscrownAn old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other. Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists. See my full review here.

 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Cary
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

The viewpoint is masterful, as is the pacing. I’m not going to mention any more about the story development, thegirlwithallthegiftsbecause Carey has deliberately constructed it so the reader goes on discovering more about the world as the story progresses. I personally love that particular style of storytelling above all others and devoured this book in three greedy gulps, reading when I should have been sleeping. Or editing. Or writing lesson plans. Or organising my trip to Bristolcon. In short, I broke one of my golden rules – I read for pure enjoyment during the day, rather to relax and unwind as a present to myself after a long day’s work. See my full review here.

 

Lock In by John Scalzi
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever lockinand headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’… including the President’s wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering. America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

Yes, yes – I know – the blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. See my full review here.

 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Run away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, theboneclocksdrawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. See my full review here.

Review of KINDLE EBOOK The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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When I requested the ARC of this book from Netgalley, I had no idea that this book has such an interesting backstory. Chambers completed the book with the help of Kickstarter funding and self-published it in 2014, where it gathered a following of fans, culminating in being short-listed in the ‘best debut’ category of the Kitchies – an impressive feat for a self-published book. Unsurprisingly, it has now been scooped up by Hodderscape and is to be re-released tomorrow.

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship the-long-way-666x1024that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

So is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship.

It’s always a big ask to depict aliens such that they seem realistic and sympathetic, without being merely humans with odd names and the occasional nifty add-on. Chambers has triumphantly succeeding in providing a range of fascinating lifeforms that explore the notions of gender and how to cope with difference, while stretching our preconceptions of parenting and family life.

Most of this is delivered during a long, relatively uneventful voyage. So if you need to immerse yourself in full-on action and battle scenes then this isn’t for you- you know what? Go and track down this book, anyway. You might have thought you needed full-on bangs, chases and lots of nasty-looking characters waving weapons around to create a page-turner, but this book gives you another option. Try it.

The world is detailed, interesting and intelligently depicted with plenty of narrative tension and I found myself reading looong into the night early morning to discover what happens next. I even dreamed about the book, waking up happy and excited that I’d finally achieved a walk in space, a childhood dream that I now know I’ll never achieve. But Chambers’ writing took me there, anyway. This is science fiction at its enjoyable best.

The book was provided by Netgalley, but the review is my own work and opinion.
10/10