Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
Apologies for our silence of late, real life has been getting on top of us. We plan to try to be a lot more active in 2018. Opening this is our participation in The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards.
As book bloggers we all love to discuss and shout about our favourite books of the year. But yet we can never read them all. So a group of us thought why not try to read each other’s and debate which ones we like best.
Thus Subjective Chaos is born!
This is not a real award in the way most people would use the term. There is no fancy ceremony or prize money. We are even each crafting our own announcements. Just a few SFF fans having some fun and reading some great books.
I will attempt to read all the entries and review on here all those written by authors who do not identify as male. (Links below). The others involved will also be sharing their thoughts:
So who is on the shortlist? After much wrangling, debate and a few fireballs thrown here is the shortlist:
Best Fantasy Novel
Chalk by Paul Cornell
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
Metronome by Oliver Langmead
Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
Godblind by Anna Stephens
Best Science Fiction Novel
The Rift by Nina Allan
H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
Places in the Darkness by Christopher Brookmyre
Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Split Worlds by Emma Newman
Binit by Nnedi Okorafor
Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus
The Winter Fayre by Christian Ellingsen
A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw
The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson
The Tensorate Duology by JY Yang
Best Blurred Boundaries
Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
We hope you enjoy reading these
Review by: Nisha Vyas-Myall
This book brought together two things I really enjoy: political dystopia and sci-fi (something I dabble in myself as a writer- not to plug myself, but I have a short story in Holdfast Magazine’s 2016 Brexit supplement and I have another story in the pipeline). When I picked up this book and read the synopsis, I knew I had to read it right away. It seemed right up my alley.
So this story follows a 16 year old girl called Kyla. When we first meet her, she’s in a hospital with very little knowledge about who she is or anything about her life, save for a few scattered memories that she refuses to reveal to anyone around her. As the first few chapters unfold, we learn that she is among many people who have been Slated. Slating is a procedure where someone has all of their memories removed and assigned a new name and family, something saved for terrorists so they are given a fresh start without remaining a threat. They have a device- a Levo- attached to them that monitors their mood and provides a warning if they have any violent thoughts.
The procedure is explained for Kyla and, as a result, us in the audience. It seems pretty clear cut, but things don’t quite seem right when she goes into her new life.
There is a very clear divide between those who are Slated and those who are not. Whilst the Slateds are given this treatment so that they can continue living, there is a huge stigma attached to them because it’s common knowledge that they are former criminals (although not what it is they have done to have their memory wiped). Kyla ends up running headfirst into a lot of prejudice from her classmates and can only find some solace in mixing with people who have also been Slated. This seems like a very poignant social commentary on prejudice feeding itself, although I’m not sure if that was the author’s intent. However, the divide between the two types of people opens Kyla up to an underground group who seem to stand against the Government. But the waters become so muddy that we all begin to question who really are the good guys. There are things about the process of Slating that don’t quite add up (e.g. that the maximum age for Slating is 16), and when a few non-Slated people go "missing", Kyla goes on a mission to find out what’s really going on.
The series is written in first person. Many readers find this a bit unnerving, but I’m always a fan of first person as it gives you a decent insight into the inner workings of the protagonist that you just don’t get from a third person narrative, where the author is basically telling you how a person is feeling rather than the readers experiencing it for themselves. In the case of Slated, this technical point is very important. For us to truly get Kyla’s sense of confusion, hostility and fear, we really need to be in her shoes. And the lack of an omnipotent narrator means that we only know what Kyla knows, so we can empathise with her. We can only trust who she trusts in that moment, because we don’t have any additional information. The other thing I love about first person is that you cannot look away if the character doesn’t, and there is one particularly jarring event in the story where, had this been a TV show, I would have been behind a pillow and instructing Kris to let me know when it’s over. Teri Terry takes you on one hell of a rollercoaster ride in this book- her writing style is fluid and readable, with a good mixture of heaviness and levity.
The concept of Slating is hard to analyse without throwing around spoilers like confetti. Terry gives us the different aspects of the idea in pieces- why it’s done, who it’s done to, who is excluded, what a person needs to have done before Slating is an option. She doesn’t go too much into the How, but I can’t frame that as a criticism with the knowledge that there are two more books to this series. For all I know, the How could be next. I’m very curious about the mechanics of how it works, especially how the Levo device manages to monitor the brain without wiring. As I said, we learn about Slating as Kyla does, and we are far from the end.
As a fan of shows like Pretty Little Liars, I enjoy a good mystery. And this certainly is a good mystery- I say this in the present tense as this is the first in a series so, while I have my theories about what’s really happening, I can’t say this book has really provided any answers. If you are looking for a good read but aren’t a fan of series, I probably wouldn’t recommend this as you will get to the end of this and go "right, now I need to get the next book to find out what this all means!"
If you’re like me and love book series, I say go out and grab a copy.
Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
Originally Posted At Geek Syndicate
There are two interesting recent trends in writing; well-respected short fiction writers releasing fantastic first genre novels (such as Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu or Mary Rickert), and the use of Lovecraft to explore the history of racism in America (e.g. The Ballad of Black Tom or Lovecraft Country). This intersects both of these as Ruthanna Emrys – an author I have been following since the brilliant Litany of the Earth came out on Tor.com – continues the reflexive Lovecraftian universe she put together in that earlier tale.
Whilst there is a bit of a thriller style plotline to drive the tale along this, for me, was a story of mood and ideas. This is technically a tale of godlike beings from beyond time, and Red Scare style body-swapping, but that is really window dressing. At its heart it is a story that launches itself at the way America has treated those that it considers to be aliens or outsiders and how culture and history, family and home is destroyed. In particular, it takes aim at the history of Japanese internment during World War Two but also touches on elements of many other events in US (and Western) history.
This could be problematic but, I would contend, Emrys is skilful in navigating this as she puts the citizens of Innsmouth as another group directly involved in these events rather than taking someone else’s history and appropriating for other purposes. As such, Aphra regularly has to navigate prejudice and micro-aggressions which are both specific and universalistic e.g.:
“’I am as human as you. Just a different kind.’ And truly sick of having to repeat that assertion to people who supposedly respected me.”
“’Would it be so bad to tell people? … It might shut them up’ ‘…people have studied us more than enough.’”
Although these situations are the encounters between People of the Water (e.g. the former people of Innsmouth) and the People of the Air (e.g. the dominant American group), the treatment of various different groups as being less than human or treated as some object of curiosity is a common stain across Western history.
Whilst these are the main ideas it employs, the real area in which it excels is in mood. Throughout we get such a great sense of loss and longing evoked, as the place and people Aphra and Caleb thought they would be around for centuries are completely washed away, and the understanding of their culture and religion has been demonised by People of the Air telling falsehoods.
At the same time, there is introduced a fascinating counterpoint. That is a real belief that The People of the Air may well wipe themselves out soon with nuclear war and be replaced by The People of the Water. So whilst The People of the Air may be doing their best to obliterate the history of other groups, it is seen as inevitable that they will really be the ones who fall and are replaced. Not by conquest but by their own hands. For as they survive by destroying others we have the sense they will inevitably destroy themselves.
Further within this, much of the motivation Aphra has is to recover the past that has been lost to her, as she attempts to reassemble what has been stolen in their past by White Americans. What were once important or religious artefacts are now put into research libraries for the perusal of academics. Once again, this has been all too common a practice in Western history but it is often something which is overlooked for how much emotional harm it can cause to displaced communities and why these items would have such significance.
What I love about the way Emrys goes about this is that she is explicit but not didactic. It would be all too easy to turn this into an angry essay but as we are pulled along with Aphra’s journey it becomes more powerful because we experience the world as she does, and get to feel how this would impact upon her.
However, as there is such a focus on mood and ideas I do feel that some other elements may have fallen by the wayside slightly. Outside of Aphra many of the characters are a bit bland. Even Neko and Caleb, who get the most development, can sometimes feel a bit short-changed. Much like the more thriller-esque elements of the plot alluded to earlier they are really here to serve the ideas and not vice-versa. This is a style of writing I enjoy but it is not one that is necessarily for everyone.
Winter Tide is an evocative and cerebral debut novel that takes an interesting approach to Lovecraft’s work. Building on her earlier novelette, Emrys uses these themes to take an uncomfortable look at the history of race relations in America. As such the plot and character do sometimes take a back seat to the ideas and mood but it is a book well worth experiencing.
Recommendations by Dozey
Hello, I am Dozey! I am travelling the Meowtiverse having great adventures, exploring great writings. Why should humans have all the fun?
I have most enjoyed being an elf. I get to jump between the trees, eat grass and play with string and feathers. Not sure why the other elves kept telling me off, foolish creatures.
Here are some of the favourite realms of Women Elves I have visited:
Daughter of the Drow by Elaine Cunningham: I can relate a lot to Liriel, she wants to adventure in the outside world even though people tell her she should not, and in doing so has to learn a lot about who she is.
The Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey: Whilst the Drow are the darker half of elvenkind, in Norton and Lackey’s Halfblood Chronicles they are the evil overlords of humans. Here we follow Shana as she learns of her destiny to end their rule.
Jelayne by Lynn Abbey: Another dark take on the elves. What I loved about this most was the character journey we see Jerlayne go on and the difference between the human and elven lands.
Coexist by Julia Crane: Now to a much more normal contemporary teenage story… one where it just happens the main characters are elves. Blends effortlessly teen drama and epic fantasy.
Elfquest by Richard and Wendy Pini: And lastly one of the most famous elven tales, Elfquest. The adventures of The Wolfriders and The Sun Folk have been enjoyed for many years and should be for many more to come.
I am now travelling through the portal to a new adventure, robotic women!
I am Dozey! It has been your pleasure to read this!
Written by Jodi Taylor
Review by: Nisha
Just like many bibliophiles, I have an obsession not just with reading books, but acquiring them as well. And I married a man who shares that obsession, so we basically enable each other. So when I walk past a shelf of reduced books in a supermarket, I think “ooh, let’s see what they have…”
The title of this book amused me so much that I picked it up, along with the following two instalments, and off to the checkouts we went. This is always a risk- buying a book series on a whim. What if it’s reduced for a reason? What if I just wasted money (although, admittedly, less than a fiver) and time on something that’s poorly written?
Nevertheless, it made its way to the top of my TBR and I got stuck in.
In my experience, whilst I love book series for the most part, I have three main criteria:
It’s a young adult series
It’s about witches (or a supernatural creature of some kind)
It’s written by Cate Tiernan
This book did not meet any of these criteria.
I bloody loved it.
“Just One Damned Thing After Another” is told in first person narrative by historian Dr Madeleine Maxwell or, as we will come to know her, Max. The story begins as she is contacted by a trusted university lecturer with a suggestion that she apply for the latest job opening at St Mary’s Institute. She goes for the interview and sees a historical research facility that seems a little more eccentric than one might expect, including a heavy-duty security team, a costume department and a 24 hour cafeteria (although Max instantly decides she’s quite happy with the last one, which endeared her to me immediately). Once she accepts the position and signs a very big pile of ‘mention anything about this ever and we’ll lock you away’ papers, the mystery is revealed.
Historians at St Mary’s don’t just verify through research, they travel through time and see it firsthand.
A lot of time is covered in these books- at least five years. In this time, we see their training period, their first time travel experience as well as more daring expeditions to the Cretaceous period. It’s not all cheerful jaunts, mind you- when History senses something that’s not supposed to be there, it will try to squish it like a bug. Not to mention there’s another group of time travellers looking to cause trouble, as well as drama between the different members of the St Mary’s team.
First and foremost, this book discusses time travel- what precautions need to be taken, what to do when you’re in another timeline and the consequences of messing around with it. I’m not a huge history buff, but I really enjoyed following the crew to different places and seeing historical events through a different lens. Taylor’s writing is extremely vivid and you really feel like you’re with Max and experiencing what she’s experiencing. I imagine there probably are some inaccuracies in the writing in regards to historical accuracy, but I personally didn’t spot any. Indeed, some of the historians and researchers get into arguments about what is the most accurate, which results in plenty of humour, and there’s a sideways nod to the theory that dinosaurs had feathers.
Taylor manages to cover a large amount in what is a relatively short novel. In these 260-ish pages, we meet (and say goodbye to) a wide range of characters, see relationships build up and break down, visit different periods of history and several climaxes. I could not put this book down (when I did, it wasn’t without a fight). Taylor keeps the reader engaged throughout the story, as you hunger for what happens next, which mysteries will be revealed next? On top of that, Jodi Taylor’s writing is ridiculously funny. Writing as Max, she’s sarcastic, self-deprecating, intelligent and completely incapable of conducting herself in a decent manner around the object of her affection (although, admittedly, he’s not that much better, making their relationship mostly adorable). On the latter point, this book has several relationship plots, yet it never overtakes the overriding time-travel plots or becomes the central focus. However, at the same time, the relationships are written really well and make you very emotionally involved. Also, to balance out the ‘looooove’ section, it’s gory. Remember what I said about History squishing you like a bug? Gory. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, Taylor does like to get graphic. With death and violence… also with sex (remember when I said “climaxes”. More than one meaning, readers). That being said, the gory nature is not gratuitous. Nothing drags down a book more than being sexually explicit or full of blood and guts for absolutely no reason. The plot, and Max’s voice, do call for the detail, and it contributes to the overall atmosphere of the St Mary’s world. Stakes are high, and emotions are higher.
Also, Max is a very strong lead. She’s intelligent, funny and very relatable, even if you’re not a time travelling historian. She encounters situations that many people may encounter in their lifetime, which opens up brief discussions on politics, abuse, homelessness and sexual assault. I won’t dive into that, as it will spoil the plot, but I wanted to mention it as a trigger warning. Taylor doesn’t go into too great a detail, but it may have an effect on those who have experienced any of the above.
This is one of those books where you do need to set aside some time to just curl up with a blanket and read. If you’re due to go somewhere, set an alarm, otherwise you might come out of reading to realise you just missed a wedding. Unfortunately, ‘I was reading this really awesome book’ doesn’t tend to get accepted by anyone outside our little book-manic minority.
I highly recommend this book. I’ve already made my way to the third instalment and loving it!
N. K. Jemisin
Review By Debbie Phillips
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin is a Hugo award winning novel, which takes place on a planet with a single supercontinent called the Stillness. Every few centuries, its inhabitants endure what they call a "fifth season" of catastrophic climate change.
I wanted to start, in true schoolroom style, with ‘This book is about…’ but I couldn’t finish the sentence. It’s about so many things. Survival. The horrific things people do to each other. Endings. Who gets to be a whole person. Who doesn’t. Loss. Who you let define you. Love. How societies function. Beginnings.
There’s a lot going on, is what I’m saying.
This is an amazing world – brilliantly realised, and always just enough information to keep you grounded and allow you to understand what’s going on. It’s a world that’s tectonically unstable, constantly on the brink of destruction. Certain people – orogenes – are able to sense and control the movement of the earth. They are both valued and hated. Life revolves around constantly being on the alert for a Season – an apocalyptic event, which can take several forms – and the preparations necessary to survive them.
We follow three viewpoints throughout the book. Essun, who is grieving. Damaya, a child who isn’t wanted. And Syenite, who is an orogene, trained to obey and be a tool of the leaders of Yumenes, a city that has lasted through many years by virtue of its location in a more geologically stable area. All three women are rounded, complex characters, as are the people they encounter. It’s an incredibly rich world, brimming with history and detail.
What I really liked about this book is that it leaves you to do a certain amount of the work yourself, and because the world is so immersive, you don’t even notice you’re doing it. There’s so much to make you think – issues like gender identity, slavery, and the reliability of history all feature, making you question your assumptions along with the characters.
It’s a book with a lot of darkness. There are some truly horrific events in this book, the kind of thing that makes you hope you’ve misread something. But there is lightness too, so you’re not completely overwhelmed.
The prose is gorgeous. Jemisin writes beautifully and accessibly, sucking you right in and not letting you up until the end. I can’t wait to read the sequel and find out where the story goes.
N. K. Jemisin
Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
Sequels come with advantages and risks. On the one hand most of the setup is out of the way. You have read the rulebook, understand many of the troubles and triumphs. You can now play on the board without much confusion. However, you are no longer able to have as much joy of discovery and the more you try to replicate the closer you get to seeing it as just a painted wooden board and metal counters.
This balances a middle line well between the two. It opens up more mystery of the world without moving out of the fantastical, but concentrates predominantly on the human reactions to the disastrous situations. This makes sense both from a storytelling perspective and a meta-thematic one as we are watching a world that is being destroyed by natural disasters but, if it is to be saved, it is by the choices made by the individual actors being put together here, those that have the power to really make a difference.
Looking back on The Broken Earth Trilogy so far, the things I remember most are not so much the plot but themes and moods and dramatic scenes. For the soundtrack for this is not high octane modern classical or pop-rock, this is very much new age elemental pieces. Songs of earth and fire and metal. This story is one that is much broader and deeper than what you can usually get on the page. Whilst what is actually happening is in itself fascinating, what it means and how it makes you feel is even more important. Jemisin has an absolute gift for dialogue and can create heartbreaking and profound moments in only a few words, what is going unsaid and the way in which it is spoken is both fully on display and even more meaningful than what has been spoken. Even when some of the details of the story begin to fade, the beautiful arresting images she has created continue to stick in my mind.
The ideas of prejudice are strong in this novel and the Black Lives Matter inspiration becomes even more prominent than in the first book. For example, when Jija talks to her Daddy about loving being an orogene, in spite of his reactions and feelings on the subject, it is heart breaking, watching her slowly have to come to terms with his self-deception and hatred.
The conclusion to the story is one where many people make decisions which on the one hand seem horrific but on the other hand are perfectly understandable as we are led upon their journey. As we move into the final part it will be fascinating to see where the story goes next. I am sure it will be harsh, mind bending and yet beautiful, like a Broken Earth.
Review by Kris Vyas-Myall
This finishes the Broken Earth Trilogy, the most interesting book series of the decade. So the first, and most obvious, question is does it manage to land the ending? The answer is a resounding yes.
Probably the most surprising development in The Stone Sky is how easy this was to follow in spite of the complexity. This is still just as experimental and layered as the previous two installments. However, as the story comes to a crescendo I felt myself as fully a part of the world understanding the strange workings as just a part of life.
The pace also refuses to let up. The Broken Earth and The Obelisk Gate did such a good job of building up the world that the slow thoughtful explanations are no longer necessary, we are allowed to move at speed counting down to the main event.
The themes and ideas explored throughout the trilogy continued to be refined and brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
All this to say, the whole series seems to be deserved to be seen as a truce classic of the genre and to be read for years to come.
By Matt Cavanagh
Hello readers so if you’re looking for a short trip into the land of SF&F here are five stories we would like to recommend to you:
Speak by Cassandra Khaw
In this story we explore the very topical issue of what makes the news and what should be the news. A journalist is increasingly tormented by the stories he is coming across which speaks of injustice and the cruelty of the world. However their editor keeps rejecting them on not being newsworthy enough. Khaw creates a very very near future world where direct access to the stories and images ultimately forces our journalist to attempt to help the victims. This one is pretty much turning into science fact now and is staying with me many days after reading it.
Ordonta at Rest by Nancy Au
From Liminal Stories Issue #2
In this story Au has created an amazingly alive character in the form of Bernice, the daughter of Chinese immigrants in the US. Through their school system she is effectively on a scholarship to a Catholic school. This is a tale of culture clashes. Bernice is clever, witty and is reviewing how her family decided to stop being flying Ordonta to move to the West (or at least this is what she believes) with a teacher who tries to tell how Western life is ‘better’. The story doesn’t take blatant sides but it does say something about how we expect people to conform to a way of life.
The Solace of Counted Things by Natalia Theodoridou
Liminal Stories Issue #2
For a darker take this story looks at a brother sister relationship gone very very wrong. A taxidermist creates strange creatures which mirror his inner thoughts and struggles. It’s unsettling and you quickly pick up what may have led to this strange sense of affairs…also keep counting what you see…
Rusties by Nnedi Okorafor & Wanuri Kahiu
From Clarkesworld Issue #121
This story does in a few paragraphs what many recent Hollywood blockbusters have completely failed at. Compelling world building as we see Africa slowly changed by the growth of AI which takes many forms but includes the friendly Rusties – traffic robots who control many of the cities’ dangerous streets. But many people start to blame the robots for taking away jobs and rebellion leads to war. This story mixes these global scale events with a more intimate look at a young woman’s failing relationship with her boyfriend and her childhood’s friendly ‘rustie. Absolutely fascinating.
A Diet of Worms by Valerie Valdes
From Nightmare Magazine Issue #49: People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror
Many of us may have had a job that we all knew when we accepted it was just to keep us ticking along before we moved on and then we would escape. Here our main character is doing a quick night shift in the theatre they despise but quickly they find themselves jumping through time (and in the same job!!!). There is an eerie sense of dislocation as we jump to various points of time in someone’s life. It may have touched a nerve or thousand, read this one!!
Malka Ann Older
Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
This is a book I absolutely adored, in fact it is in the running to be my favourite book of the year, but I am not sure I would necessarily recommend it for everyone. I spend all day working with big data, I volunteer with political parties in my spare time and I love to read polling data to relax. For someone who finds cross breaks as exciting as I do, this is the kind of science fiction novel we would dream about.
For this explores the future of democracy in an explosion of ideas. It takes all the trends in information, social media and politics and explores them in fascinating ways. All of it is plausible and attempts to neither laud or condemn this future, more this is one possible way the world could go.
Some people may dislike the level of information that is introduced at the start but I loved it. Older has clearly spent so much time working out the complex formulation of the world and it is necessary to discuss exactly how it works before you can really dive into it. However, in spite of this, it is not a vision that is absurd or hard to understand. Whilst I have not read this as a manifesto this kind of proposal is the natural extraction of where we may be heading.
One of the big things that has emerged as so important this year is the realisation that information is not neutral and access to more information than ever before has not made people more informed, but has caused them to become siloed. Even with the organisation “Information” the question still becomes: what is really true information? How informed are people?
This does not free people. Domination by corporations, for example, seems to be accelerated not reduced. People with interests still seem to be able to control things. This could turn into the kind of standard techno thriller that bores me but it keeps firmly asking the questions, not merely using it as a vehicle for action sequences. Neither does it purely become a social-science lesson, a specimen pinned and labelled, this world that is built is to be explored and lived in.
If there is a fault I did sometimes have a hard time keeping track of where the characters were at each point in the middle of all the data dumps. However, this was the right call to make, as you see the experience from different points of view and they are well differentiated. Also I am very much a person who likes to see the woods rather than the individual trees.
However, the characters did strike me as very real, I have been at elections where I have worked for one political party but been friends with people campaigning for opposition in the same region, where we’d sit up and watch the debates both cheering our own candidate on. I’ve had meetings with commentators, activists and even been yelled at by people telling me all politicians are the same and the system is corrupt. As such I felt like I recognised many of the different people on show. Hell I am certainly the person who sits there crawling through the data trying to grab on to any hope in the trends.
And as such, hope is not what I would say is in good supply. What we get is a possible vision of the future that is so real. Neither a warning or a satire, just what may be. This kind of thought-provoking science fiction is, in my opinion, exactly what the field needs.
I would recommend anyone interested in this to first check out the opening chapters on Tor in order to see if this is what you are looking for: