THE HALF-DROWNED KING by Linnea Hartsuyker

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

The Half-Drowned King is historical fiction, set in Norway during the early years—and early campaigns—of Harald Fair-hair, whom later history remembers as the first king of Norway. (Much of Harald’s life and reign is contested historical territory: there are no contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of his life.) Hartsuyker chooses not to focus on Harald himself, but instead on two siblings from a coastal farm, Ragnvald Eysteinsson and his sister Svanhild.

ARABELLA AND THE BATTLE OF VENUS by David D. Levine

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

Arabella and the Battle of Venus leaves me feeling rather bombarded by the way it foregrounds its particular racisms without ever really showing the world from marginalised people’s points of view. For some people, this won’t be a barrier to their enjoyment of the novel. For me, it took all the joy out of reading about airships in space. As far as I’m concerned, Robyn Bennis’ The Guns Above does airships, capers, and 19th-century-esque warfare much better.

 

LUNA: WOLF MOON by Ian McDonald

Reviewed over at Strange Horizons:

In some ways, Wolf Moon feels more like a sprawling family saga than the tightly intricate political/corporate/criminal thriller that was New Moon. Here there is no instigating event, like the assassination attempt in New Moon, that unfolds into an escalating series of crises. Rather, Wolf Moon deals with disintegration and with consequences: the disintegration first of the Corta family and the consequences of their fall from power, the disintegration of the Mackenzie family into warring factions, after an act of malice destroys their main family holding just like they destroyed the Cortas’ family seat, and the disintegration of all the old norms and certainties on the moon.

 

My Worldcon75 schedule

Non-binary Representation in Fiction

Thursday 11:00 – 12:00, 101c (Messukeskus)

Non-binary characters have begun to appear more frequently in both literature and media, such as Steven Universe, Eth’s Skin, and Lidia Yuknavitch’s Book of Joan. The panel discusses the good and the bad non-binary representation in recent and not so recent fiction.

Nick Hubble (M), Emma Humphries, D Franklin, Nino Cipri, Liz Bourke.

Reviewing 101

Thursday 16:00 – 17:00, 102 (Messukeskus)

So you want to review books, movies, games, anything? Come here the experienced reviewers tell about how to get started with reviewing, whether in a blog, Youtube, podcast or anything!

Juan Sanmiguel, Soikkeli , Liz Bourke (M), John Clute, Fred Lerner

Storytelling in Dragon Age and Mass Effect

Sunday 16:00 – 17:00, 205 (Messukeskus)

Dragon Age- and Mass Effect-gameseries have memorable characters, relationships and epic world saving quests. Panelists discuss what kind of stories they tell, what benefits there are for playing them in multiple times, what kind of romances and other emotional experiences they offer and why scifi and fantasy fans should play them.

Liz Bourke, Evil Ivo, Tanja Sihvonen (M).

Sleeps With Monsters: Stolen Tomatoes and Undead Deer

A new column over at Tor.com:

Ursula Vernon’s writing is filled with compassion, weird shit, and sharply observed humour: in some ways, much of her short fiction and most of her novels as T.K. Kingfisher is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett at his best. (One could call her an American, feminist Terry Pratchett — but that would do her a disservice: Vernon is very much her own unique self as a writer and an artist.)

SLEEPING WITH MONSTERS: Learning to Read Critically

Over at Tor.com, I have a post up about my Sleeping With Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction collection, “Learning to Read Critically:”

Learning to read critically is an interesting process. You find you can’t turn it off unless you try really hard: you’re always paying attention to what kind of work the narrative is doing, and what sort of thing it’s setting itself up to be. You learn to recognise what particular works are interested in, and the shape of the story they’re telling. In many cases, you can tell what sort of book any given volume’s going to be—good, bad, indifferent, actively offensive; whodunnit or military-focused or romance or thriller or coming of age—within the first few pages.

 

Sleeping With Monsters is available now in paperback and electronic versions from Aqueduct Press. You can buy it there or from:

The Book Depository

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

And more places as I become aware of them. (There’s no listing on Barnes and Noble yet, or on Chapters for Canada.)

So far, Aqueduct Press is the only place where the ebook edition is available. But I’m pretty sure that’ll change.

Sleeps With Monsters: Older Women and TOMORROW’S KIN

A new column over at Tor.com:

Science fiction is rarely great at depicting older women: it seldom does, and when it does, rarely does it seem interested in them as women—with grown children, family issues, rich inner lives, friends and relationships both platonic and sexual—as opposed to ciphers. When I find a book that does depict an older woman well, and moreover puts her in a central role, in the narrative forefront—well, that’s a special occasion.

INTO THE BADLANDS: a weird wire-fu Western. A Patreon review

 The first three episodes of Into the Badlands were requested for review by Fade Manley.

Season 1 Episode 01: “The Fort.”

Season 1 Episode 02: “Fist Like a Bullet.”

Season 1 Episode 03: “White Stork Spreads Wings.”

I’m not sure this is a review, exactly: I’m not recapping any of the events, that’s for sure.

Before we begin, I’d like to note that Into the Badlands has an extremely striking main cast, and the first season counts five female characters in the main credits to four male ones. That, all by itself, was a positive sign.

I’d never heard of it before, but Into the Badlands began airing with a six-episode first season in 2015, and its second season is presently ongoing (and has been renewed, it seems, for a third season).

This show grabbed me a lot faster and harder than I expected. Into the Badlands feels very influenced by Hong King cinema, or by anime, or perhaps some combination of the two. It feels a little as though someone crossed a wire-fu epic with a teenage-focused anime and married the results to a Western.

This makes the experience of watching it both fascinating and weird as fuck. I don’t know which generic conventions it will use from moment to moment, much less which ones it will use for the narrative’s pivotal points. It is nonetheless immensely compelling.

What makes it compelling? Let’s start with how visually stunning it is. It’s saturated in colour (in a way that reminds me of this year’s The Great Wall) and its martial arts are clearly choreographed by people who take superhuman feats of martial arts skill seriously. (It uses wire-fu, but it doesn’t go too far overboard.) The fight sequences express character. Daniel Wu’s character Sunny and Emily Beecham’s character of The Widow (who are the two characters that, so far, I’ve seen fight the most) have different styles and approaches, but not so different as to appear to come from wholly distinct fighting traditions.

Daniel Wu (who is extraordinarily striking, I just want to point that out) plays a role more familiar in Japanese film than in American, that of a loyal and honourable retainer (Sunny by name) who serves a man not really worthy of his loyalty. In this paradox of honour, he’s torn between his loyalties to his Baron, and his loyalty to the woman he loves, who is carrying his child. Veil is a doctor and a maker of replacement limbs for the maimed. Madeleine Mantock, who plays her, has immense presence: she commands every scene she’s in.

Sunny’s Baron, Quinn, is caught up in a rivalry with a neighbouring Baron, the Widow. Quinn controls the production of opium poppy, but the Widow controls the oil which is needed to refine the poppy. Into this picture comes M.K., a boy with strange powers, whom the Widow wants to control and Sunny — sort of — tries to protect. With a cast of characters also including the Widow’s teenage daughter Tilda, the Baron’s wives Lydia and Jade, and the Baron’s ineffective son Ryder, this is very much an ensemble show — an ensemble show about power, loyalty, politics, and family.

The world of Into the Badlands bears mention. We are told at the outset that the Barons brought peace, long ago, and banished weapons like guns. In the narrow confines of the Barons’ holdings, the most common method of transport is by horse or afoot, but the privileged control some motor vehicles, like Sunny’s motorbike, or the car in which we first see the Widow. The houses of the wealthy have electricity, gramophones, other luxury conveniences — a doctor shows a Baron an x-ray image — but the rest of the world gets by with torchlight, candles, gaslamps. M.K. says that he originally comes from outside the world controlled by the Barons, which tells us that this world is bounded, and not by the nothing which various other characters claim. (One has the vague suspicion that the Barons’ lands are some kind of vast social experiment. But that might be a different genre altogether.)

Taken all together, this is a fascinatingly fun show, one that constantly surprises me. I want to see the rest.

 


This review is brought to you courtesy of my amazing Patreon backers. Onward to the next milestone, guys!

LOTUS BLUE by Cat Sparks: a Patreon review

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Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks. Talos Press. March 2017. TPB, 388 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1940456706

Cat Sparks is an award-winning Australian author. With Lotus Blue, her debut novel published by American imprint Talos Press (and with a gorgeous cover by Lauren Saint-Onge), she’s making the leap to international exposure.

Lotus Blue is post-apocalyptic science fiction with a very Australian feel. Seventeen-year-old Star and her ten-years-older sister Nene are part of a caravan of nomadic traders who travel the Sand   Road, a route that cuts through a ravaged landscape, on the edge of a desert where semi-sentient war machines roam. These, half-human soldiers called Templars, and sealed fortress cities, are among the leftovers from a time before the present age.

Deep in the desert, an ancient and mostly mad AI is stirring, one of the generals that prosecuted the war that ruined the world. When a relic satellite falls to Earth, events are set in motion that lead Star very far from her sister and the life she knew, on a journey across a desert sea. Her journey, and her discovery of secrets about herself that she never knew, intersects with the journey of a Templar called Quarrel — half-broken, his memories confused, his people skills non-existent — who is determined to stop the mad AI general before it can destroy the world even further.

In this world, we see through Star’s eyes, through Quarrel’s and through the eyes of a young thief called Grieve. As well, we have the viewpoints of an old Templar called Marianthe, who controls a small community of outcasts on the edge of habitable land; two young men from a fortress city, one of whom really wants to make their mark and doesn’t give a shit about anyone else; and a handful of other people, including the AI general himself. This diffusion of viewpoints at times gives the novel a rather scattered feel, with some initial plot threads that appear important — such as Star’s relationship with her sister, who kept secrets regarding Star’s origin from her; or such as the role of the fortress cities within the landscape and social ecosystem of this particular post-apocalyptic world — not taken up or developed in any significant way. Sparks creates a vivid world with an interesting post-apocalyptic ecology and some very entertaining Cool Shit, but, while Lotus Blue offers a broad canvas and some really striking potential, it ends up sprawling out on its way to its conclusion, and not quite successfully drawing back in to form a unified whole. It finds its thematic arguments late, and does not press them in a way that brings together all the novel’s threads. There is adventure here, and incident; high stakes and intense emotion. But it feels as though Sparks is setting out the opening volume of a longer work — although nowhere on Lotus Blue‘s cover copy is this suggested — in which the threads of this novel might be taken up and developed further.

Lest I mislead you on this point: there is a conclusion, and an explosive one at that. But it leaves several questions still open and unresolved.

Lotus Blue‘s concern with ecological apocalypse and desert wasteland recalls the Mad Max movies. Its oddball concern with hunting strange things — semi-sentient war machines, in this case — from strange vehicles — ships that sail on sand — brings China Miéville’s Railsea a little to mind. And its concern with technology and a civilisation degraded from a former age recalls any number of science fictional post-apocalypses, but for me reminds me rather strikingly of Ankaret Wells’ self-published duology Maker’s Mask and The Hawkwood War. But Lotus Blue is very much its own thing, and working very much to Australian paradigms, I think — structurally, it reminds me of Australian epic fantasy along the lines of Karen Miller and Jennifer Fallon.

It’s engaging and readable. I found it fun, but I don’t feel as though it really did enough right by me to have me find it compelling — or to encourage me to pick up a sequel, if one should emerge.

(I might have felt differently if it had been a bit queerer. I make a lot of exceptions for work that sets out a better welcoming mat in terms of inclusion.)


This review is brought to you courtesy of my amazing Patreon backers. $3 to the next milestone, guys!