An accident of stars, by Foz Meadows

An accident of stars Book Cover An accident of stars
The manifold worlds #1
Foz Meadows
Angry Robot
August 2 2016

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

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
Angry Robot
July 5 2016

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

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
14 June 2016

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
10 May 2016

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
May 10 2016

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.

The days of Tao, by Wesley Chu

The days of Tao Book Cover The days of Tao
Tao #3
Wesley Chu
Science fiction
Subterranean press
April 30 2016

Oh! Look, it's a new novella, The days of Taotaking us back to visit Cameron and Tao! It's been quite some time since the events of The rebirths of Tao, and Cameron is now 21 years old... though, not at all done being somewhat puberty-addled and awkward.  Relations between the Prophus, Genjix and humanity are tense. Worse, Cameron got a D in art history.

So he's in Greece.  Greece suddenly becomes a bad place to be.  Once things begin to happen, there's not even time for the good gyros with the cute girl in Cameron's study abroad class.

He was never supposed to be doing Prophus work while simultaneously repairing his grades, and then he wasn't supposed to be such a bleeding heart, and, oh, is someone going to remind him what happens when he trusts people too easily?  Oh, Cameron.

The novella is fast-paced and full of zippy action, and I tore through it in a short afternon.  So yeah, it's a fun ride, even to a reader who really would prefer, by far, more about the Quasing themselves and perhaps less of the human interpersonal drama. That's just me, though - you give me a universe with symbiotic aliens in it, I want to know about them.  But just because your favourite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip, it doesn't mean you'll turn down a scoop of the caramel.

Maybe I found the ending a little lacking, but at least there's Roen and junk food.

(And as a fan of the original trilogy's book covers, I'm a little sad about how this one looks, even if it is pretty!)

Every heart a doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Every heart a doorway Book Cover Every heart a doorway
Every heart a doorway #1
Seanan McGuire
April 5 2016

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Here are the three stages of being faced with Every heart a doorway:

  1. OH GOSH it's a new Seanan McGuire!
  2. WHOA NELLY it's a Special School for Special Children type of story! By Seanan!
  3. GOODREADS LISTS IT AS #1! (implying there's going to be a #2 and even #3! Exclamation marks galore!)

Um, yes. Your truly admits to vast fondness of both the author, the trope, and, as it turns out, the book itself. Counting only 170-ish pages, it's a novella - and not a time-stretchy one, because I devoured it very, very fast. (And very, very happily.)

If you follow the author in various social media, you may know she really, really wants to write the X-men.  You know, that Marvel thing that has a special school in it, for special kids.  That hasn't happened yet, but I want it to, believe me. Because now I've seen Seanan McGuire writing the same trope - the kids aren't mutants, but the concept still fits - and she has done it beautifully, entertainingly, heartbreakingly, et cetera.

Yes, it's called 'gushing'.  I'm doing it.

Under the pseudonym Mira Grant, the author's Parasitology trilogy was concluded only a few months ago. That trilogy contains within it references to and snippets from an imagined children's book (which has been written in full, and was simply waiting for a publisher, last I heard) - you'll remember it if you read those books. It talks about broken doors.

This book talks a great deal about doors, and kids who accidentally found them.  I couldn't help but think back to that other book-within-a-book and its haunting verses, because haunting fits this one too.

In all kinds of good ways. I mean.  Did you ever think about Alice in Wonderland, and what her life was like after she left Wonderland?  Was it all merely a peculiar dream? Was it years and years of PTSD?

Did she ever think of going back there?

I'd ask the same about the Pevensie kids, but... but they had a morose ending, and I've read too much about Susan, and it's all mostly a painful mess.  But you see, portal-finders, they always have to deal with what comes after.

Sometimes the after is a strange boarding school, far away from everything.

(Hey, another thing that is awesome about any universe concocted by Seanan McGuire? Diversity and representation. This is no exception!)

You should absolutely read this book. Go, do!

United states of Japan, by Peter Tieryas

United states of Japan Book Cover United states of Japan
Peter Tieryas
Science fiction, alternate history
Angry robot
March 1 2015

Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons – a shadowy group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest subversive tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.

Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s tasked with getting to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something… He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than the censors originally suspected.

Part detective story, part brutal alternate history, United States of Japan is a stunning successor to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

Ah. If a book blurb alludes to things like "Alternate history", "PKD-esque", or "mechas"(!), you may correctly predict I will want to be all over it.   The united states of Japan knows this.

We start out with the classic idea - What if the axis had won the war? In this version,  Japan seizes control of the western US,  while we're told the Germans are still fighting it out over the east coast.  At the time of the events concerning protagonist Ben Ishimura, the history of these events is already rewritten as Emperor propaganda - both the very recent history and the more distant. (Ghenghis Khan was a great Japanese hero, see.)

I like Ben Ishimura - his character is the most memorable part of the story, which is a story it is nearly impossible to read without comparing it to, as everyone keeps saying, The man in the high castle. The comparison is unfair; They are different stories, and Tieryas is not actually trying to do a PKD thing. Not the way I read it, anyway.  What they have in common is a world in which Japan was among the great victors of the war, it has made life somewhat different in the US, and... that's it, really. PKD does his special which-reality-is-the-real-one thing, while this novel has Ben Ishimura tangled up with a mysterious portable game that portrays a world in which Japan lost the war.  A terrible game that must be stopped, obviously, because it casts Japan and the Emperor in an unfavorable light, and makes the conquered and subdued Americans out to be heroes with heroic values. And stuff. Frightful!

Unfortunately, the story didn't really flow for me until well after the halfway point. It took a long time to care even a little about any character, and while there was plenty of dystopian-totalitarian shock and horror, it just fell a bit flat for this reader.