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...!)

 

ReMade episode 3 season 1: Home, perilous home

ReMade episode 3 season 1: Home, perilous home Book Cover ReMade episode 3 season 1: Home, perilous home
ReMade #1.3
Carrie Harris
Science fiction, YA
Serialbox
September 28 2016
e-book
37

New week, new ReMade episode!

So - this time we get some suspicions confirmed, right off the bat,  simply by looking at Nevaeh's memories of her life before this odd jumpsuit-clad camping began.  She was not a determined and fierce go-getter, like May. She wasn't planning her college application extracurricular activities like May, or headlessly crushing on anyone, like Holden.  Nope.  What Nevaeh was doing was surviving.  For as long as she could.

She isn't socialized the way the other teenagers are, and it shows. What also shows is that Nevaeh is intelligent and resourceful and, above all, very kind. Maybe just exceedingly well trained by too many classes in mindfulness and meditation, but, well, it ends up looking like kindness. 

I know I said May was going to be my favourite, but Nevaeh has this intense quiet-on-the-surface thing going on, the sort of thing that reminds you oceans also occasionally feature tsunamis. 

Here's the episode blurb:

Waking up in a strange and scary new world isn’t necessarily the worst thing, especially when you are grateful to wake up at all. When Nevaeh opened her eyes to find no hospital bed, IV drips, or cancer riddling her body she counted her blessings and sang for joy – happy to face the deadly jungle, killer robots, and (if she’s honest, perhaps the most disheartening) disgruntled companions. They say smiling is the best medicine, but does it still work after death?

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.)