ReMade episode 2 season 1: Hungry

ReMade episode 2 season 1: Hungry Book Cover ReMade episode 2 season 1: Hungry
ReMade #1.2
Andrea Phillips
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
September 21 2016
e-book
39

Ooh, episode 2 is out!  Are you reading ReMade yet? 

In this episode we get to know May, as described in the blurb:

May likes being in control: with an obsessive drive to succeed and her aim set on Harvard, she knows how to keep her life on course. Plucked from her whirlwind of tests and achievement charts, and dropped into a world where civilization itself has crumbled, she wants more than just answers. But living with deadly allergies means you’re always on the razor edge – one peanut, one bee sting, one toe out of line could be your downfall, and nobody wants to die twice.

I imagine May is going to get some mixed responses from readers - me, I like her a lot. She's serious and high-strung and extreme, and probably fits adjectives like snooty and superior aswell, but that just makes her better, I think. 

And look, May's terribly allergic to a whole bunch of things. Isn't it strange how allergies don't show up more often in fiction? The first examples off the top of my head are kind of far-out space colonization stories in which humans turn out to suffer anaphylactic shocks in response to anything alien, which is an interesting kind of story, but isn't it terrifying enough for a character to have to guard against sudden death from everyday food items?  Or worse, food ingredients.  I don't have very difficult allergies myself, but I've known people with nut allergies, and it sounds so tiresome to check (and mostly reject) every single bread, cake, protein bar, falafel mix, et cetera forever. Just in case it's going to kill them. Yikes.

May's allergies serve a specific purpose to the story unfolding, too. There aren't any labels on the foods the teenagers forage from their surroundings.  If she eats a thing, she's likely to die, and if she doesn't die, that's a whole new set of worrying questions right there.

Give me episode 3!

Story genius, by Lisa Cron

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) Book Cover Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)
Lisa Cron
Non-fiction, writing
Ten speed press
August 9 2016
e-book
288

Following on the heels of Lisa Cron's breakout first book, Wired for Story, this writing guide reveals how to use cognitive storytelling strategies to build a scene-by-scene blueprint for a riveting story.

It’s every novelist’s greatest fear: pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite. 

The prevailing wisdom in the writing community is that there are just two ways around this problem: pantsing (winging it) and plotting (focusing on the external plot). Story coach Lisa Cron has spent her career discovering why these these methods don’t work and coming up with a powerful alternative, based on the science behind what our brains are wired to crave in every story we read (and it’s not what you think). 

In Story Genius Cron takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolves into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.

So the full title for this book is long:  Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)

Phew, right? Some of the writing advice books I've read could have their whole content summarized in a shorter sentence than that. Which is symptomatic of the genre, really - there's a lot of writing craft books out there that are more like discussions over one particular facet of how to craft a novel.  They tend to have pagecounts that are a widdle bit larger than they really needed to be to communicate the One True Thing the book wants to teach you.  This is also true of Story genius.  

I haven't read Lisa Cron's older book, Wired for story, so I don't know how the two compare.  Also, I am the kind of person who  reads books about writing craft, even though any actual writing tends to just... not happen.  Yeah.  Sometimes that's exactly why I read craft books, though;  Their advice and exercises are inspiring all by themselves.  Again, this is true of Story Genius. It's packed with exercises following longer texts about how and why a thing works. 

Rather than focus on plot, this book wants you to think about the plot as a consequence of your character(s), and how your characters need to have their papers in order, so to speak.  There's only so much story that can come welling out of a character who was essentially born on the first page.  Unless we're talking about a baby, but very new babies are also pretty bad at being hip-and-happening story protagonists, so that's... that. 

If you're looking for ideas, techniques, patterns or clues regarding how to build a useful and functional character, this is a good choice.  It does offer something different from the myriad "Get to know your character"-questionnaires out there.  Cron's writing is clear and instructional, and the examples are solidly detailed.

If you're looking for something more focused on plot structures or themes or world-building or anything other than characters and character-driven action,  you'll be better off with something else. 

ReMade episode 1 season 1: Shadows and dreams

ReMade ep1 s1: Shadows and dreams Book Cover ReMade ep1 s1: Shadows and dreams
Remade #1.1
Matthew Cody
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
September 14 2016
e-book
32

Hey, you know Serialbox? That thing that publishes excellent entertainment literature in episode-sized chunks? Yes, that. It's awesome. The pilot to the new series ReMade is out today.  Me, I had the kinda-misfortune to read this and the next episode a couple of weeks ago. In this context, "misfortune" obviously means I want more episodes and I've already waited weeks, waaah!

...

So, yeah. This is YA Science fiction, written by an ensemble of authors - the pilot is credited to Matthew Cody, whose other work I'm not familiar with, but might pay attention to from now on.  If I had to describe this pilot by comparing it to other things, it'd have to be something like "LOST, the tv series, you know, where everyone has a history, maybe except everyone's a strong Katniss-like teenager, and it wasn't a plane crash, but there's a space elevator!".   I could throw in some arrows pointing to Maze Runner or other "whoops, let's have a bunch of teenagers and zero adults"-setups, I guess.

Sometimes certain tropes show up so often in their genres, they eventually only make you cranky. It's not exclusive to YA, but I think you know what I mean when I say there has to be something special for me to bother with yet another superspecial girl who'll save everyone from the dystopian future, or yet another dome-like world in which kids are trying not to go all Lord of the flies-y, etc.   And ReMade is probably going to contain several of these types of storylines, but hey, guess what?

IT'S SO MUCH FUN.

There! That's all. I love it.  I'm already rooting for some characters and hating on others. It feels sort of like the first time I sat down to binge-watch Buffy. Except I can't really get with the binge, because I need more episodes. Moooore episooodeeesss.

Here's a link to the pilot episode available for free on Serialbox,  and here's the blurb, too:

You live. You love. You die. Now RUN. ReMade.

Every minute, 108 people die.
On October 14th, 2016, from 9:31-9:32 p.m. EDT, 23 of those deaths will be teenagers.
Now they are humanity’s last hope for survival.

Awakened in a post-apocalyptic world and hunted by mechanical horrors, these teens search for answers amidst the ruins of civilization. Fate, love, and loyalty face off in this adrenaline -pumping YA adventure.

ReMade will unfold across 15 episodes. "Shadows and Dreams" is the first episode.

Holden Black never imagined his crush knew his name, much less that he’d suddenly be driving her to a party. But life can change in a second, especially when you’re 16. A look. A flash of headlights. A scream. What do you do when the unexpected jumps straight to the unbelievable, the dream becomes a nightmare, and waking changes everything except your heart’s desire?

By the way! If you prefer audiobooks, Serialbox publishes that way too. Yay, knowing things!

An accident of stars, by Foz Meadows

An accident of stars Book Cover An accident of stars
The manifold worlds #1
Foz Meadows
Fantasy
Angry Robot
August 2 2016
e-book
496

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex'Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl - an accidental worldwalker - really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

Sometimes I see books described as portal fantasy, and it just seems... insufficient. Not inaccurate, but in cases like this one, it's like trying to describe a beach by using adjectives that only apply to a couple of pebbles in the sand.  An accident of stars is a lot more than a magic wardrobe.

My mind kept jumping to Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire world, for quite obvious reasons: A certain amount of war gore, diverse cast in nonstandard social constellations, and, y'know, many worlds.  The world of Kena is overall a slightly less harrowing place than what you'll get from a Hurley book, though. For now.

It all begins in Australia, which is already something like an alternate universe (to me, anyway - I live in the snowy and comparatively spiderless part of the world). Saffron is dealing with high school life and an annoying boys will be boys-response to the harassment she suffers.  And then, out of nowhere, comes a foreign woman who wasn't supposed to get involved.

And Saffron most certainly wasn't supposed to follow the woman once she left.

Follow her into another world, in fact.   Oops.

In this new and unknown world, Saffron's exposed to real and undeniable physical trauma, leaving a mark that'll follow her back to her own world - making it impossible to doubt or deny that it really happened.  I like this a lot, because I always want the other-world to be a real thing, and not just maybe-probably-likely a daydream or metaphor for personal growth.  Saffron gets to have a real experience, and that feels important, to me.  To my mind, it moves the world of Kena far away from inevitable-comparison Narnia.

The storytelling is a little halting at times, but I hardly noticed it while reading, because the text successfully hooked me and had me well immersed. This is a paragraph I began writing out of a sort of "I know and acknowledge these complaints about the book"-mindset, and now I'm stopping myself, because, um, actually? I liked this story. That's all.

 

I hope it won't be a long wait for the next book.

Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, by S.D. Perry, Markus Pansegrau, John R. Mullaney

Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report Book Cover Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report
S.D. Perry, Markus Pansegrau, John R. Mullaney
science fiction, reference, coffee table
Insight Editions
April 26 2016
e-book
160

This book is for people like me.  People who are up for rewatching any of the Alien films at pretty much any hour at all. Repeatedly.  People who understand other people's complaints about Prometheus and agree, sort of - but love it anyway.

So, yeah, Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report is for the fans. The already very established, very devoted fans.  For us, it's a cool coffee table kind of book. For other people, it's probably a bit weird, the way it's always weird to deal with someone enthusiastically yelling about stuff you don't think needs yelling about.

(Hey, look, I say "coffee table book", but I have to tell you, I read a digital copy of this and actually don't know what the physical copy is like.  I've heard it's beautiful, and hopefully I'll grab one for myself someday. But, yeah, I haven't actually seen the big paper thing.)

Now - don't expect much in the way of new content, because, aside from glorious and hitherto unseen artwork, there's really not any new story in here. Instead, there's detailed photos of spaceships and weapons,  flavour texts acting as summaries of each of the films, more W-Y texts stating the definite intent to capture an alien alive. For, you know, reasons.   There are blueprints and sketch drawings,  and details of various observed forms and life stages of the xenomorph.  Oh, and stuff about other W-Y technology - like the androids, of course, and stuff like the thing David uses in Prometheus to peek in on other people's dreams.  (Where's the side-story about that nifty thing, huh?)

I think you know whether or not you want to have this book.  (Hint: Have you rewatched Aliens twice so far this year alone? You want it, you want it so much.)

The Copper Promise, by Jen Williams

The copper promise Book Cover The copper promise
The copper cat #1
Jen Williams
Fantasy
Angry Robot
July 5 2016
e-book
535

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…

Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.

For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.

But sometimes there is truth in rumour.

Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.

The copper promise is a fantasy adventure with a lot going on.  It's awesome.  Though, I didn't know that at first. For a few pages there, I was sighing and thinking I'd got my hands on "just" another caper/heist type of things.  Which aren't my favourite thing, you know, if they lack extra flavours. 

So hooray for being wrong!  I was so wrong.  This book has, above all else, characters.

The brood army was what made this such a joyous read for me. You know, the brood army, the army spawned by the god of rage and destruction and the human whose blood had to be shed to kick off all the, uh, spawning.  (Not a spoiler, because you won't see it until you see it, but: Oh, how I crave a spinoff story about Toast.)

The rogue protagonist, Wydrin (also known as the Copper Cat), is a badass with divine shark tattoos and carefully named weapons. She enters the novel along with Sebastian, an ex-knight, deknighted for reasons to be divulged in later chapters, but he still carries himself with dignity and grace. At least when compared to Wydrin.  They're hired by a down-on-his-luck lord who needs them to take him into some old ruins to find something. He's close-lipped about what it is he's looking for, and certainly not prepared for what else they'll find in there.

The fantasy genre, from high to urban, often deals with gods, or blah blah divine entities that might as well be called gods.  The copper promise has a character asking, pointedly, whether the gods are actually what they say they are.  It's a self-aware raised eyebrow, and I like it a lot.

So are you looking for fun? Read this.  And read the next two books in the trilogy, which I haven't yet, but I will.

Paper Girls vol.1, by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson

Paper Girls vol. 1 Book Cover Paper Girls vol. 1
Paper Girls #1-5
Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Illustrator), Matthew Wilson (Illustrator)
Graphic novel, science fiction
Image comics
April 5 2016
e-book
144

In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Because I, like apparently everyone else in the world, have loved Saga so much, I pay attention when Brian K. Vaughan puts his name on stuff. Like Paper girlsIt has a blurb that makes it sound a little like a Spielberg-y, Stand by me-ish coming of age story, featuring a group of tween girls, fully equipped with strengtheners like suburbia and Halloween  and it's all just pretty awesome.

And that's before we even get to the weird and crazy bits of it.

“Wait, you’re mac? As in, MacKenzie?”

“So what?”

“You were the first. The first paperboy around here who wasn’t a… you know.”

Granted, on Halloween, you expect people to look and act a bit odd.  But everybody disappearing is a big trick to pull, isn't it?

...And that thing looks an awful lot like a pterodactyl.

Um... Cyborgs? Futuristic teenage cyborgs?

Yeah, to be honest, as I got further into this volume, I felt like I had no idea what was going on (but I liked it).  It ends on a big, unresolved cliffhanger, which is a little irritating, but as this is not a "series, book 1" but rather the collected first five issues of an ongoing story, that's... acceptable and forgiven.   All the weird piles on top of this 80ies-tweens-against-evil setup, which I adore, and especially when the tweens in question happen to be girls, because that's still unusual. (The only sort-of classic of the genre I can think of is the film Now and then, which is often described as "the girly Stand by me", though it completely lacks the supernatural bits. It tries to make up for it by starring Christina Ricci, perhaps.)

The artwork is amazing, of course. The cover sends all the right signals:  This is what it looks like, we are channeling the eighties, we are sort of futuristic, we are girls who are tough cookies, you can't even guess what kind of events will be filling out these pages.

Eagerly awaiting the continuation of this, for sure.  It might actually become my first subscription on Comixology.  (Which, by the way, I adore, especially since I got a huge hi-res tablet. It has made graphic novel reading a big, beautiful, well-lit delight. A delight in which I do not have to change out of my jammies to acquire the new graphic novels I want to read. Win!)

I heavily recommend this - first and foremost to devotees of the tweens-against-evil trope,  also to people looking for new graphic novels in which diversity/inclusivity is a given and not an effort.   Go, read!

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox gambit Book Cover Ninefox gambit
The Machineries of Empire #1
Yoon Ha Lee
Science fiction
Solaris
14 June 2016
e-book
284

I loved Ninefox gambitSo much that it has to be the first thing I say about it. Okay!

Here's the blurb:

When Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for her unconventional tactics, Kel Command gives her a chance to redeem herself, by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake: if the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.

As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.

The novel starts by throwing you right into the deep end - which can be more than a bit overwhelming, because this world is dense with intriguing names for things and tech and concepts you don't know anything about yet.  I enjoy concept-candy myself, but I didn't really trust the book until Cheris very firmly took the stage.  Because, oh, yeah, while the book is dense with cool stuff, it still has room for excellent characters - much like Ann Leckie's Radchaai trilogy.

Of course, Cheris is not the sole protagonist - where she goes, General Jedao goes.  Jedao, who once went mad and massacred his own army. How could anyone calmly choose to preserve him as a weapon for future battles?  What did Cheris sign up for when she suggested he was the required weapon for the recapture of the Fortress of Scattered Needles?

If you're a fan of Ann Leckie, or Peter Watts-ian eeriness, you'll want to read this. And be so, so grateful that it says #1, indicating there will be more of this. I can't wait.

The wolf in the attic, by Paul Kearney

The wolf in the attic Book Cover The wolf in the attic
Paul Kearney
Fantasy
Solaris
10 May 2016
e-book
320

1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien... and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

The wolf in the attic was enjoyable to read - it read well, to convert a term from TV  cooking shows. The prose really does bring to mind dusty, mahogany-and-green offices laden with books and ashtrays and inkwells. I suppose "Oxford" can be effective shorthand for that.

Before I read this, I had unfortunately come across some oddly misleading blurbs - ones that led me to believe this would be a story about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, which had me ruffling my feathers once it turned out their named(!) presence had no real impact on Anna Francis' story.   That sort of thing happens - it isn't the novel's flaw at all.

So: It read well, I devoured it fast, it was a nice time.  Unfortunately, I found it ended up somewhat limp and aimless.  All the more disappointing because there were good things going into the book - For instance, I found it educational - I didn't know much about the events that drove Anna Francis and her father away from Greece, so I sort of fell into wikipedia (because of my own curiousity, not plot necessity)  to read up on the Ottomans and the Balkan wars.  I mention this as a clear positive trait of the novel, because it made me want to know things.

Anna Francis is a very likeable young protagonist, which also helps a lot.  It is very much her coming-of-age story.

But then her friend Luca and his people make me squirm a little bit. There's more than just a whiff of other-izing a clearly identifiable ethnic group, which just doesn't sit well, no matter how much it "fits" the narrative.  For this reader, anyway.  It sours what would otherwise be a decent and utterly cosy option for times when you want some, uh, Oxfordian magic.

Central station, by Lavie Tidhar

Central station Book Cover Central station
Lavie Tidhar
Science fiction
Tachyon
May 10 2016
e-book
288

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.

At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive...and even evolve.

Central station is a collection of loosely knitted short stories - that's nice to know beforehand, which I didn't. I still very much enjoyed the reading, but was perhaps left with the impression of an even more gloriously sprawling mess than I would have, otherwise.

There isn't a lot of plot here, or, well, resolved threads of any sort. This normally makes me unhappy. But Central Station never feels like it's supposed to be setting up for that; Indeed, it feels like people-watching in an airport or train station, overhearing snippets of conversation, looking around at distinct groups and running children and individuals meeting each other, by accident or by plan.   The difference is that in Central station, all of these random people are very, very interesting.  So interesting, I want to know more about each and every one of them. I want to know about that implant behind the ear, I want to know about those immersion pods, I want to know why the kid is flickering, I want to know about those robotnik beggars, I want to know about the others. This is idea-dense enough to put me in mind of novels by Peter Watts.  Having read a couple of Tidhar novels, though, I sort of expect that if any larger story comes out of this, it'll be about the religious robots.  (Which I say in a very hopeful tone of voice, by the way!)

So - read it? Yes, if you want to sort of sail across the river in a glass-bottomed boat to watch, rather than put on the diving suit and get fully underwater.  Go for it.