ReMade episode 7 season 1: Mourning train

Mourning train Book Cover Mourning train
ReMade #1.7
Carrie Harris
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
October 26 2016
e-book
35

Converging on the mysterious train, the survivors make their hasty getaway after the horrific caretaker attack and greet new faces while counting those lost. But with a wild landscape streaming past and no idea where they are headed, the question quickly becomes: who is driving?

So this week's episode is sort of the second half to last week's, which introduced us to new characters Teddy and Inez, and their setting, making everything even weirder than it was, which is pretty remarkable, given how ReMade has been going so far!

So here we are on the mystery train, revisiting Nevaeh's past life. At first glance it looks like a rehash of her previous episode, but this time some things are clearer - and uglier.  I think we're being told that Nevaeh has already had a chance to grow a lot as a person, which makes sense, because she spent so long in what was pretty much social and practical stasis.  I enjoy the effect, though some probably find this episode a little redundant.

Everyone is exhausted and terrified and mourning, falling asleep or lashing out, and maybe it simply requires someone like Nevaeh to even attempt to pull them back together, because everybody else just... knows better.   Loki responds to her like a cornered housecat, and we're powerfully reminded that we don't know the end of his story yet.

And hey! This is episode 7 out of 15, which means we're halfway through the season. Does that mean things get even busier, now?

Monstrous little voices: New tales from Shakespeare’s fantasy world (Collection)

Monstrous little voices: New tales from Shakespeare's Fantasy World Book Cover Monstrous little voices: New tales from Shakespeare's Fantasy World
Monstrous little voices #1-#5
Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Kate Heartfield, Foz Meadows
Fantasy
Abaddon Books
January 6 2016
e-book
336

Mischief, Magic, Love and War.
It is the Year of Our Lord 1601. The Tuscan War rages across the world, and every lord from Navarre to Illyria is embroiled in the fray. Cannon roar, pikemen clash, and witches stalk the night; even the fairy courts stand on the verge of chaos.
Five stories come together at the end of the war: that of bold Miranda and sly Puck; of wise Pomona and her prisoner Vertumnus; of gentle Lucia and the shade of Prospero; of noble Don Pedro and powerful Helena; and of Anne, a glovemaker’s wife. On these lovers and heroes the world itself may depend.
These are the stories Shakespeare never told. Five of the most exciting names in genre fiction today – Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield – delve into the world the poet created to weave together a story of courage, transformation and magic.

Including an afterword by Dr. John Lavagnino, The London Shakespeare Centre, King's College London.

Most of my Shakespeare knowledge comes exclusively from piecing together references in everything else I read (or watch, or listen to).  Like the titles in James S.A. Corey's Expanse series,  or Seanan McGuire's October Daye, and the whole fae setup in the Dresden files, too.  Films like 10 things I hate about you.  

It's a bit awkward that I've never really read Shakespeare. (It can happen that way when you don't do your schooling in an English-speaking location! I did a huge amount of extracurricular reading, but my emphasis was with Russians, and though I always had it in mind, I never really found a good time or place to enter into the Shakespeare-thing.)

So, that out of the way, let me assure you that Monstrous little voices is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of stories, even to someone who isn't intimate with the material it plays around with.  

There are five stories collected here, different but interconnected, pulling together.  Foz Meadows' Coral bones is an unexpectedly happy escape-story featuring Miranda and Puck,  and leaves me awkward describing it that way, because an important point in the story is to do with choosing new names for oneself. 

My favourite in the collection is Kate Heartfield's The course of true love, featuring Vertumnus, Pomona, Mab, Hecate and Oberon, and probably several other known characters I didn't notice. I always love a female character who's too old to waffle about, like, you know, Granny Weatherwax, or, in this case, Pomona. 

The collection's last story, Jonathan Barnes' On the twelfth night, is different from the others - its protagonist is Anne Hathaway, her son Hamnet, and her husband, Will, who never went to London, and never wrote a play. 

Now that this collection has stirred my interest again, maybe it's time for me to go looking for some audio drama productions of a few plays - I just don't quite know which one to start with... 

ReMade episode 6 season 1: Reality no-show

Reality no-show Book Cover Reality no-show
ReMade #1.6
Kiersten White
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
October 19 2016
e-book
46

New week, new ReMade!  Here's the blurb for this one:

New faces appear in a not-so-fun house in the sixth episode of ReMade, the 15-part serial that combines contemporary YA with classic Science Fiction to fling you headfirst into adventure.

Teddy, a teenage heart-throb and reality TV star, is used to being followed by cameras and waking up in strange beds with strange girls. But robot cameras with no operators, beds made of plastic, and girls that have no desire to be in bed with him? That he very unused to. Suddenly trapped in a weird alt-version of his own life – with a rare girl who wouldn’t even have wanted a part in his old one – the teen star seeks questions, and a way out.

So we're definitely not picking up where the previous episode left off - instead, we meet Teddy Young.  He's a reality TV star by virtue of being a teen football player with, evidently, a handsome face.  Everywhere he goes, there are cameras. Every interaction is scripted.   Still, Teddy is an interesting celebrity jock. Because  of those things that never make it onto the screen, of course.

There's a reason Teddy doesn't actually freak out when circumstances dramatically change and the world just stops making any sense. It's not a good or pleasant reason, but one he's been preparing for and accepting for many years already. In a way, he's relieved, because he always thought it'd be worse.

Of course, once he meets certain other teenagers in dirty orange jumpsuits, they might be inclined to disagree - things are bad.

Anyway, this is sort of the first part of a double episode, so the next one will continue directly from this.  Meaning Teddy is here to stay... at least for now, right? Not to forget Inez, who inexplicably finds herself in the same place as Teddy, though she is certainly not an adoring fan.  Inez seems to be wielding some serious leadership skills, and those could certainly come in handy.  May is great, but at this point, I vote Inez.

-

Dear Serialbox Santa:

I want a Serialbox app on my new pink android phone, pretty ple-eeease!

ReMade episode 5 season 1: Umta

Umta Book Cover Umta
ReMade #1.5
Matthew Cody
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
October 12 2016
e-book
34

Blurb first:

Even in a group of misfits, Umta sticks out. An adult with more history than any of the youths around her can possibly imagine, she knows about survival – and suffering. Brought back and remade seemingly to take care of the helpless children around her, she plays the mysterious guide and hunter with skill…but despite her knowledge, she is just as vulnerable as all the rest when the caretakers make their long-dreaded return.

Umta's story turns out to be more or less what we were led to expect, but it also summons a big whammy of why.  Really, it's only an echo of the big, glaring why of the whole premise - why is any of this stuff happening?  But, yeah, Umta is a special case, and as such, she adds to the mystery.

Now, I was looking forward to this episode for the backstory part of it, but what this episode does is turn attention back to the present.

Oh boy.

"Gruesome" is a fine word, y'know? Here, have some grue, there's plenty of it.  Because the caretakers are back. To them, the word of the day is, perhaps, havoc.

ReMade is a current serial over at Serialbox, and it is my favourite addiction this season.

ReMade episode 4 season 1: The most dangerous game

The most dangerous game Book Cover The most dangerous game
Remade #1.4
E. C. Myers
Science fiction, young adult
Serialbox
October 5 2016
e-book
44

Wah! ReMade episodes are too short when they get this immersive - I want to know mooore. 

This episode introduces Loki - actually, Serialbox offers character portraits now, and this is their idea of him:

"

...I read the episode before I ever saw this, so of course, this is not the Loki in my head. But yay, cool portraits!

As you could likely guess from that image, Loki was a gamer. Specifically, he spent his time in a game that sounds a little bit like World of warcraft, though it might be an even clearer reference to something else I've never played, because whatever Loki is playing has a few quirks that are unfamiliar to me - fortunately, because those quirks allow a lot of misery to come Loki's way.  As if his parents weren't bad enough.  He can't even talk to his sister, who's been busy at all hours since she moved out. 

Loki's alone.  Except that wouldn't have been so bad, to be truly alone. Then there'd be no one around to point out the mismatch between him an the name Loki.

...

This episode was even more heart-wrenching than the previous Neveah one, which I did not expect. There's some action going on in the present tense - a lot of action, actually - but even a hungry tiger-thing is less scary than Loki's life immediately before coming to this place, whatever this place is.

(And just as I'd caught my breath, I learned that the next episode is about Umta, which I CANNOT WAIT FOR.)

Here's the blurb:

Respawning in an unfamiliar place with no resources, weapons, or fuel sounds like a gamer’s nightmare – and Loki knows a thing or two about those. As the group tries to navigate finding food, creating shelter, and staying calm in a jungle with killer robots, he can’t help but wish for a reset button that takes him back – though he knows more than anyone that his life hasn’t been great for the last several checkpoints. When a new predator begins to stalk the survivors he sees his chance to prove himself in the real world, but he’s pretty sure he’s already used his one life in this game.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2016, edited by Paula Guran

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2016 Book Cover The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2016
The year's best science fiction & fantasy novellas
Aliette de Bodard, C.S.E. Cooney, Nnedi Okorafor, etc.
Science fiction, fantasy
Prime Books
July 26 2016
e-book
528

The second volume of Prime Books’ annual anthology series collecting some of the year’s best novella-length science fiction and fantasy. Novellas, longer than short stories but shorter than novels, are a rich rewarding literary form that can fully explore tomorrow’s technology, the far reaches of the future, thought-provoking imaginings, fantastic worlds, and entertaining concepts with all the impact of a short story as well as the detailed depth of a novel. Gathering a wide variety of excellent science fiction and fantasy, this anthology of “short novels” showcases the talents of both established masters and new writers.

I love the novella format. It's long enough to fit a proper story, yet so short that there's no time to dilly-dally - everything comes out concentrated and punchy.  Thus, I read a lot of them.  This anthology contains a few I had read previously:  Nnedi Okorafor's Binti,  which is excellent, and feels like an episode of the kind of new Star Trek show I desperately want.  K.J. Parker's The last witness, a kind of whodunnit, though it is fantasy, with a scathing narrator and a world you fortunately can spend more time in by seeking out the author's other novellas.   Both of these are great examples of why I have huge faith in everything published by tor.com. 

Then there were the novellas that were new to me. I'll just mention a few of them:

Aliette de Bodard's The citadel of weeping pearls is the first piece of science fiction I've read from this author, and it's beautiful. Very immersive - but because I feel like it doesn't have quite enough of a plot skeleton under all the velvety detail,  it wasn't my favourite in the anthology.

I had been planning to read Usman Malik's The pauper prince and the eucalyptus jinn for a long time, and now finally did. In a way, having read it, this feels like it must have been a several hundred page long epic - a dense family story that takes you back and forth between dusty Lahore and Florida, from dust and chai to quiet university halls. 

Carter Scholz's Gypsy begins like this:  

The launch of Earth’s first starship went unremarked. The crew gave no interviews. No camera broadcast the hard light pulsing from its tail. To the plain eye, it might have been a common airplane.

...And that is how to hook me as a reader, apparently. The story is dreary and immensely sad - and beautiful - bringing to mind a plethora of lonely spaceship scenes from various films.  After reading this, I immediately went off hunting for more Carter Scholz.

My favourite story in the anthology is Bao Shu's What has passed shall in kinder light appear (translated by Ken Liu).  The basic premise is strangely simple - it turns the modern timeline around, telling a story of human culture where someone grows up with smartphones and grows old with rapidly deteriorating levels of technology. Add in cultural and political events, Chinese ones, and it still doesn't sound that clever, but then add the magical narration, and there it is.  That's the sound of story clicking with this reader.  (Soon I have to pick up Ken Liu's books to put to rest my suspicion that it's his voice that captures me when he translates Chinese fiction.)

Anyway, The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2016 is an anthology worth every penny, especially if you haven't read the tor.com published bits of it. (And if you have - you likely really want to read the rest of this...!)