Proverbial cakes

So here I am, idling, playing a bit of Sims 4 because I wanted to build some houses, and now there’s this thing where sim kids and teens learn an extra set of personality traits aside from the pre-selected ones. They’re traits you have to pick up by doing, concerning levels of empathy, manners, responsibility, conflict resolution, and whatnot. It’s cute, and it actually provides some incentive to play a sim childhood as something other than a pure skill-building exercise for whatever career the grown-up will have.  Currently I have an athletic teenager who can helpfully jog to clear mind, but also wants to play a guitar a lot because it makes her feel better.   Anyway…  aaaanyway.   I was thinking about certain traits I picked up through childhood and how they affect me as an adult.  I didn’t learn a lot of house cleaning, unfortunately, so now I spend a little more time than (I assume) the average, staring at the shop aisles of sponges and soaps.  A pretty minor problem, really.   On the other hand, I absolutely and thorougly learned about delayed gratification, and it, um, it went wrong. 

To clarify – you know how kids have to learn that if they eat the candy immediately, there won’t be any left for later.  If they open all their birthday presents at once, it’ll all be over too fast… et cetera.   Impulse control, or whatever.   It’s a useful thing to master, but here’s what happened to me:

I get hold of something super nice, like a fantastically scented soap, or an expensive box of delicious licorice, or… a book by a favourite author.  I decide to save it for some imagined future moment when I’ll be able to enjoy it the most, as a special treat.   I’m so good at saving these special treats that eventually I forget all about them. 

Hello, expired and dried out fancy licorice in the back of the drawer.

Hello, books I was crazy to get to read, and… didn’t.

This is why I still haven’t read the last book in the Flex trilogy, despite owning it for… at least a year, right?  And Becky Chambers’ A closed and common orbit.  And probably 20 more books I wanted so badly that I pre-ordered them, because it felt so urgent that I get to read them. 

So dumb.  I have to start teaching myself to do a little less having and a lot more eating of the proverbial cake.

Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing, by Lauren Beukes

Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing Book Cover Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing
Lauren Beukes
Short stories, essays, science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction
Tachyon publications
November 29 2016
e-book
288

In her edgy, satiric debut collection, award-winning South African journalist and author Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Moxyland) never holds back. Nothing is simple and everything is perilous when humans are involved: corruption, greed, and even love (of a sort).

A permanent corporate branding gives a young woman enhanced physical abilities and a nearly-constant high
Recruits lifted out of poverty find a far worse fate collecting biohazardous plants on an inhospitable world
The only adult survivor of the apocalypse decides he will be the savior of teenagers; the teenagers are not amused.

From Johannesburg to outer space, these previously uncollected tales are a compelling, dark, and slippery ride.

I think I've read all of Beukes' novels, that I know of. That alone says something about how I feel about her writing, doesn't it? "Edgy" isn't an adjective that often comes to my mind, but I suppose it applies, given that I tend to give her stories, like, 90ies MTV vignettes in my mind.

This is an excellent collection of stories, essays, and tidbits. A couple of these stories blew me away;  I wanted them to be something like 800+ page novels rather than ending in just their few measly pages, but of course, that's a feature, not a bug.

Still, Lauren Beukes, if you should ever consider making The Green into a grand-scale trilogy tale, you have at least one reader embarrassingly ready to press the pre-order button.  Seriously.  You take me to another planet, you plonk me down in a ragtag bunch of economically disadvantaged recruits, braving a terrifying alien jungle, mining for materials of military interest. There are things out there. Oh, actually, we've utilized some of these things.  Look, you don't mind slime molds, do you? ...  This was all very Weyland-Yutani and Ripley's differing views on the xenomorphs, and I adore it.

And I always want more slime molds in my fiction.

The title story, Slipping, is another excellent one. I never really expected to care about sports, but, as it turns out, I care a lot about Olympics if the participants are all variously... enhanced. Modified.  These Olymic Games are really showcases for technology, selling to the military or whoever else might take an interest.  Of course, when the abilities come from what you add,  the athletic prowess, or indeed anything else, of the person you add it to isn't terribly important.

Not all the stories in this collection are speculative in nature, some are near-future enough to be practically now, and some are entirely untouched, but the author's voice remains the same; Sharp, clear, and with a hint of a dry laugh between the paragraphs.

Non-fiction is gathered at the end of the book. Of these, I especially liked On Beauty: A letter to my five-year old daughter,  which is what the title says it is. Once you've made it this far through the book, you'll have a good idea what kind of message is being conveyed.

Definitely one of the strongest story collections of my 2016, and a lot of fun for those of us who liked Moxyland and Zoo City just as much as The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters.

Remade episode 13 season 1: Memories of Arcadia

Memories of Arcadia Book Cover Memories of Arcadia
ReMade #1.13
Andrea Phillips
YA, Science fiction
Serialbox
November 7 2016
e-book
32

Arcadia knows what it means to be lonely; she’s had no visitors for an awfully long time. So when a group of haggard teens tumble unto her streets, she welcomes then with open arms and plays host the best she can remember. Of course, they have no idea she’s there watching, listening, helping. But she doesn’t mind – after all, hers is half lost anyway.

So this episode has a brand new point of view - that of the mystery city, whose name turns out to be Arcadia. We get to see how carefully it chose that name, a very long time ago, and how its circumstances have changed, over a terribly long span of time.  Of course, we're not told the whole story. There are two episodes left, after all...

But, um, a city run by a master AI? Squee! Remade already had awesome robots, but... AI! I'm so pleased by this.

Through Arcadia's eyes, we also get to see the teenagers as they settle in, and, of course, argue about whether or not they should settle in, or just keep moving. There's no way to know if danger is following them, or if help might be waiting somewhere else, or if the entire planet is as empty as the city is. 

That doesn't mean life grinds to a stop.  Not for Gabe and May,  and not for Hyrum, who is painfully aware that it would be Christmas now, if things were as they should have been.  (And who else is awfully curious about Hyrum and how he died before being remade?)  There's Cole, still keeping secrets, and there's chocolate chip cookies.

This is the first time we get to view the group at a bit of a distance, which feels... ominous, perhaps. Or it just feels like the climax-buildup it clearly is, according to the episode schedule. (Like I said, two episodes left!)  I really hope for a massive infodump to come, though... I should probably start preparing for the possibility of having to wait for the next season to get all the answers.  Not that I know if there'll be a next season, but it seems like a reasonable assumption!

Nightmares: A new decade of modern horror, edited by Ellen Datlow

Nightmares: A new decade of modern horror Book Cover Nightmares: A new decade of modern horror
Ellen Datlow (editor)
Horror
Tachyon publications
November 1 2016
e-book
432

Ooh, look. Another horror anthology! I apparently read quite a number of them, and yet, Nightmares: A new decade of modern horror stands out from the rest.  This is partly because many of the stories wander over that line that separate entertainment-horror from needs a set of trigger warnings-horror.  It's probably good to be prepared for that, because going unknowingly from a ghost story to a tale of various kinds of child abuse can be upsetting.

Good horror can be upsetting.  It isn't always, or even most of the time, but it's definitely a part of the thematic landscape.  I'm not normally shaken by zombies and body snatchers and whatnot - but this anthology offered not just one, but many stories still haunting me weeks after reading.

So, well. I'll mention some of my favourites - not necessarily the most shocking, just the ones I personally liked best:

"Closet dreams" by Lisa Tuttle is bleak and awful. A young girl has been kidnapped and is held captive, a very long time, in a closet. Expertly written, and definitely one of the stories I can't get out of my head.

"The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan is a dark fantasy - Hansel without Gretel, a few years after the first visit to the witch's house.  Everything is really enormously grimdark, but the witch's special diet is the least of the terrible things.

"Lonegan's Luck" by Stephen Graham Jones - a clear favourite of mine! This story sits firmly in the aisle of fun-horror, introducing us to a classic snake oil-salesman in the old west, travelling from town to town.  He never revisits a town he's been to, with good reason.  Not that there'd be anyone left to recognise him, but still.

"The Shallows" by John Langan was a strange thing - it reminded me a little bit of Elizabeth Knox's "Wake", in that the story's present time is set after what was obviously a hideous apocalypse event - but in this story, the event must have been somewhat... Lovecraftian.  It is that flavour of weird, and I liked it a lot - I would have liked to explore this world at length, like, in a novel. 

"Shay Corsham Worsted" by Garth Nix - this story instantly made me add the author to my list of authors I need to read more of,  which is the kind of reaction I always hope to get from a short story.  An old man tries to stop a dangerous old military weapon from destroying everything, but he can't get through, the records are lost, and no one will believe him.  No one will recognise this particular weapon for what it is, just by looking at it...

Yep. Great anthology. Go get it if you feel like you could go for a smorgasboard of horror authors to further fatten your to-read shelf with.

ReMade episode 12 season 1: Modern history

Modern history Book Cover Modern history
ReMade #1.12
Carrie Harris
YA, Science fiction
Serialbox
November 30 2016
e-book
30

Cole is what you’d call a “salt of the earth” type. He works hard, loves his girl, and feels best when he’s being useful – which makes being injured particularly frustrating. When the others go off exploring and leave him behind again, he’s finally had enough. With Naveah as his accomplice he sets off to find answers of his own, and ends up learning more than he wanted.

We really haven't seen a lot of Cole yet, have we? He set himself distinctly apart from the rest of the teens with a remark or two several episodes ago, but then got injured and became sort of background as crazy things happened to the others.  Here he is, though.

...And he's still somewhat immobilized, but getting better. Of course, Nevaeh is helping out, possibly oblivious to how demeaning he finds it to depend on a lady's help.

Yeah, Cole is not quite like the other ReMade kids. In some ways, he seems even farther removed than Umta. Because at least with Umta it's quite obvious she doesn't match the template, but Cole - well, it takes at least a few sentences in conversation to realise what kind of world he's from.

In this episode he gets to stretch his legs, at last, and a museum is discovered in the mystery town. Well, probably a museum.  Cole might be the only one able to confirm that's exactly what it is.

May studies everything on display, of course, and a few questions about their situation receive definite answers - though there isn't quite enough information yet to be genuinely helpful.

I feel like they're actually closing in on a big "aha!", though, which is thrilling. Three episodes left, now...!

ReMade episode 11 season 1: We’re dead in this ghost town

We're dead in this ghost town Book Cover We're dead in this ghost town
ReMade #1.11
E. C. Myers
YA, Science fiction
Serialbox
November 23 2016
e-book
35

In hopes of finding civilization, people, answers, the group journeys to the city whose lights they’ve been able to see from miles away. But group dynamics can be just as hard to navigate as a new city – especially when death and dragons are involved.

Oh, that might be the vaguest episode blurb so far! So I'll be more explicit - this ReMade episode brings us back to Loki's story, which is about as crushing as we were led to expect. In the present, Loki explores the strange city, giving appropriate names to things that look a lot like dragons. 

Accompanying him is Holden, who actually becomes a more interesting character when we get to see him interacting with anyone who isn't Seyah, about things that aren't Seyah. It's refreshing.

This is one of my favourite episodes so far! Probably because I just really like creepy, abandoned cities.  This one doesn't immediately feel like a set (like where Inez and Teddy came from), but there's definitely a sense that we can't take anything for granted, just yet.  My brain keeps coming up with wacky explanations for the whole situation, but none that matches all of the known facts. 

Like, when Inez thought she figured out that everyone died at the same time, did anyone take Umta into account? Or are there more secrets regarding her background too, perhaps?

We're getting close to the end now, and I'm definitely feeling the tension!

ReMade episode 10 season 1: Mirror of fate

Mirror of fate Book Cover Mirror of fate
Remade #1.10
Gwenda Bond
YA, Science fiction
Serialbox
November 16 2016
e-book
29

Seyah makes a discovery to the delight of the whole group and gains some time to reflect. With her dreams of Broadway dashed with her untimely death, she can only wonder what the future holds…and if a special someone has already been cast as her co-star.

This week's episode of ReMade has Seyah's POV! Finally - I've been waiting for this since the first episode.  Once a character is tagged as the pretty girl they run a severe risk of becoming plain spoiled brat with no other traits - it happens so often - but of course ReMade didn't go that way. Seyah is an actual person, yay! We get to see some of her family and dreams for what she thought would be her future.

...And she's not a person who could have predicted precicely how she'd react to Inez.

The whole episode definitely has an air of calm before the storm. There are only five episodes left - exactly what kind of storm is brewing?

-

Oh, remember how Seyah and Holden were performing in A Midsummer Night's Dream? Since ReMade began, I've read the play. See, reading leads to more reading!

The lost child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell

The lost child of Lychford Book Cover The lost child of Lychford
Lychford #2
Paul Cornell
Fantasy
Tor.com
November 22 2016
e-book
136

It’s December in the English village of Lychford – the first Christmas since an evil conglomerate tried to force open the borders between our world and… another.

Which means it’s Lizzie’s first Christmas as Reverend of St. Martin’s. Which means more stress, more expectation, more scrutiny by the congregation. Which means… well, business as usual, really.

Until the apparition of a small boy finds its way to Lizzie in the church. Is he a ghost? A vision? Something else? Whatever the truth, our trio of witches (they don’t approve of “coven”) are about to face their toughest battle, yet!

We're going back to Lychford! Because, of course, this is not our first visit - or it shouldn't be.  You can absolutely read The lost child of Lychford as a stand-alone and be quite happy with that, but I recommend starting with Witches of Lychfordanyway. Because Lychford is worth the time spent there.

Lychford is home to a coven of witches. One of them, Autumn,  runs a magic supply shop - I can't help but envision the shop from The Craft, but it's not a good comparison - I don't think Autumn would lecture her neighbours about magic morality when they were only trying to buy a scented candle or some other knick-knack.   Mostly, Autumn spends her time wishing a romcom could just hurry up and happen to her.

Lizzie is a witch, but mainly a reverend. It's a long story, but she's quite clear-headed, thank you. Except when she isn't. In this story, Lizzie meets a ghost, and almost loses her Christmas spirit in attempting to figure out what the ghost is all about. 

Um, yeah, she might lose rather more than just her Christmas.

And then there's Judith, who I think is awesome, largely because she's old and crotchety and belligerent and simply not nice.  She appears to work for Autumn in her shop, though in reality, Autumn is Judith's apprentice.  But Judith isn't very forthcoming, about magic or about herself or about anything else.  Her home life is a mystery.  

...Unfortunately, for everyone involved.

Lychford is a small magical place residing somewhere amongst both faeries and something rather Lovecraftian,  and you should go explore it.

ReMade episode 9 season 1: Whiteout

Whiteout Book Cover Whiteout
ReMade #1.9
Andrea Phillips
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
November 9 2016
e-book
31

All May wants is some alone time – being stuck with a ragtag team of the previously-dead could drive anyone a little crazy (especially when no one has showered for a week). But in this strange and unfamiliar world, danger lurks behind every tree…and sometimes in every cloud.

Oh, man. As if the stranded-in-somewhere-somewhen teens didn't have enough antagonists already, they can now add weather to the list. 

May, never much of a social butterfly, direly needs some alone time - but that's not safe, so her running off on her own is not a bright idea. She still tries.  She wouldn't really know how to deal with Gabe's attempts to get to know her better, anyway. 

But of course, Gabe isn't a quitter, either. He's hurt from earlier misadventures and can't exactly keep up with her as she runs off to investigate a new area, but, oh yes, he tries. 

Until he can't. 

Oops.

This episode of ReMade might be a little lower on action, but I enjoy the pause - especially because I get to spend it with May. 

ReMade episode 8 season 1: End of the line

End of the line Book Cover End of the line
ReMade #1.8
E. C. Myers
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
November 2 2016
e-book
34

After a twitchy trigger finger leaves the train without a driver, the group scrambles to find a way off their runaway getaway. With food running out and still no idea where they are headed, it’s hard to imagine things could get worse…

New week, new ReMade.  And it's Inez-centric! I'd say the background and personality of Inez was heavily telegraphed from the moment she appeared, so there aren't any big surprises here if you drew the same conclusions I did.  Is it weird that someone really quite awesome almost comes out a bit bland, given the rest of the ReMade kids? Rough deal - poor Inez. 

(But I did notice a bunch of hate for her in the Goodreads comments, which baffles me. She takes Teddy in stride, that's impressive enough on its own...!)

Actually, what I liked best in this episode was not just Inez, but Inez drawing Seyah into conversation. We've hardly seen any of Seyah except through Holden's rose-coloured lenses - what we do know is that she's sort of unique among the kids, because she knows exactly what happened to her before she came here, and that it is, um, Holden's fault. And he's here too.  So that's awkward.

Oh, and they have to get off this train.

This isn't my favourite episode so far, despite some undeniable lifethreatening action. It's a little too much of a lull in the bigger story, and I'm getting so impatient now to learn more about, um, everything. The space station! The caretakers! The why?!