Sleeps With Monsters: My Year In Queer

A new post over at Tor.com:

Are we reaching some kind of critical mass this year in terms of queer content in books published by mainstream SFF imprints? Where queer people have a central role to play, and where, moreover, being queer does not end universally badly? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that this year—including some novels I’ve read that aren’t published quite yet—is a banner year.

Sleeps With Monsters: Power Ballads and Professionals

A new post over at Tor.com:

Meera is utterly in love with her boss. She thinks she’s got a really bad crush on a straight girl. What she doesn’t realise is that her feelings are requited. This is a story about how awkward it is to figure out whether or not you can have a relationship with your boss—or with your employee—while investigating the bizarre thefts of dresses designed by a cult fashion designer, including one from off the back of his widow, and also falling off rooftops. (Carina finds being the Skeleton relaxing compared to being in the spotlight.) The awkward dance of does-she-like-me? does-she-like-me-back? is complicated by Meera’s many ex-girlfriends, with all of whom Meera still seems to be on good terms, and who are, to quote Carina, “really thirsty.”

THE BLOODPRINT by Ausma Zehanat Khan

A new review, over at Tor.com:

I wanted to like it [The Bloodprint] more than I did. In terms of voice, characterisation, and prose style, it feels not quite cooked yet: it only begins to feel like it gels together into something greater than the sum of its disparate parts in the last 100 pages (quite late for 400-page-plus book), just in time for it to cliffhanger on the way to volume two. I’m an old and jaded critic, and I have come to prefer books that feel narratively satisfying within a single volume, even if they are clearly part one, than books that feel as though they stopped more because they ran out of room than they reached a natural break point.

Sleeps With Monsters: The Cold Blade’s Finger

A new column over at Tor.com:

I want to rave about Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull. Actually, it feels like I need to rave about it: a glorious, dramatic, lush and striking fantasy set in the same continuity as the Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and The Steles of the Sky), with a brilliant cast of characters and an opening that involves an ice wyrm attacking a caravan on its way up a frozen river. It’s no exaggeration to say I was hooked from the first page.

HORIZON by Fran Wilde

A new review over at Tor.com:

The things I’ve liked best about Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe books—2015’s award-winning Updraft, last year’s Cloudbound, and now the trilogy’s capstone, the compelling Horizonhas been the character of Kirit Densira, accidental hero, accidental city-breaker, and determined friend; the weird, wonderful worldbuilding (invisible sky-squid that eat people! enormous bone towers in which people live far above the clouds! a society based around unpowered human flight!); and the deep concern with consequences.

Horizon is all about consequences.

NULL STATES by Malka Older

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

This is a story about governance and governing, about power and systems, and the edges of both—the parts where they break, and warp, and potentially break down. Older’s gift is to make those systems fascinating and human: relevant, and easy to grasp. Well, one of her gifts: she has great skill with evoking place and its complicated histories, when her characters stay in one location long enough.

THE REAL-TOWN MURDERS by Adam Roberts (Patreon)

the-real-town-murders-by-adam-roberts

 

The Real-Town Murders, Adam Roberts (Gollancz, ISBN 978-1-473-22145-1, HC, stg£16.99, 230pp). September 2017. 

The Real-Town Murders is the first novel by Adam Roberts I’ve managed to finish, if not the first I’ve tried to read. (The Thing Itself was, perhaps, excessively Kantian.) Instead of bouncing off after a grimly determined start, though, with The Real-Town Murders I got instantly caught up in a mystery-plot that turned into a thriller, as Roberts’ protagonist is caught up in a coup playing out between government factions.

Alma is a private detective in a not-too-far-future England. She’s one of the few people who work outside the Shine — an augmented-reality immersive successor to the internet — and whose leisure, such as it is, also takes place outside the Shine — something that’s even more unusual. This is partly from choice, and partly from necessity. Alma can’t afford to lose track of time. Her partner, Marguerite, is bed-bound with a tailored disease: a disease that targeted Alma and Marguerite specifically. Marguerite needs treatment every four hours, and the window for treatment is five minutes long. Otherwise she dies. And Alma must be the one to treat her, because what is necessary for treatment changes every time, but it needs Alma’s DNA all the time.

We first meet Alma as she begins to investigate a locked-room murder mystery. A body showed up in an automobile factory. There was no way for the body to get there, but the man in question is definitely dead. Alma has just enough time to become properly intrigued by the puzzle when a government agent requests and requires her to stop investigating. Then she learns that said government agent has turned up dead — when another government agent shows up to require her to come with them.

This will keep her away from Marguerite for far too long. In order to keep her lover alive, Alma has to go on the run — a process of evading government scrutiny and arrest made that much more complicated by needing to return to Marguerite’s side, like clockwork, every four hours. While also getting to the bottom of the mystery and finding enough leverage, somehow, to get these warring government factions to leave her alone and let her take care of Marguerite.

This is a compelling book, despite Roberts’ occasional weird choices when it comes to representing dialogue. (“Own dare stand” for “understand,” for example.) The thriller-plot is cunning and twisty and tightly paced, and comes together effectively. But the heart of the book, for me, is Alma’s relationship with and to Marguerite.

In the so-specifically targeted disease that has physically incapacitated Marguerite, and which binds Alma to a four-hour timetable to treat her, there is a wealth of scarcely-hinted-at backstory. (One which probably answers the question of why does Alma, of all the private investigators in the world, get roped in to a government conspiracy?) These are fantastic characters, with a compelling relationship — and that’s before we get to the other characters that people this novel.

It’s very rare for science fiction and fantasy to show a relationship between two people, where one of the two is physically disabled and the other is her carer. It’s rarer to show a relationship of mutual respect and love, where the physical dependence of one upon the other isn’t shown with any diminution of personhood or intellectual independence.

The Real-Town Murders could, I think, have shown Marguerite a little more awake and a little more intellectually involved in Alma’s investigation, but in the time we see her conscious and not delirious with fever, we still see a woman with an enormous personality and immense confidence in her own mental capacities — a woman who solves the mystery before Alma can, even if Alma believes her contribution, at the time, to be feverish rambling. Alma never questions her own commitment to Marguerite, never thinks about letting her lover die. She’s going to be there. No matter what, she’s going to be there.

The Real-Town Murders is a deeply satisfying novel. If you enjoy near-future thrillers, I recommend it — maybe even if you don’t.

 


This review brought to you thanks to my Patreon backers.

World and Character in Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe

A new post over at Tor.com:

It’s long been a truism in science fiction and fantasy that the world is a character—sometimes, indeed, the central character, against which humans and other beings recede into insignificance. Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe—the trilogy comprising Updraft (2015), Cloudbound (2016), and this September’s Horizondoesn’t make the humans insignificant, but thanks to the wild, weird scope of its world, the world looms large in the reader’s consciousness—as large as the giant bone spires, high above the clouds, that are home to Wilde’s characters.

RUIN OF ANGELS by Max Gladstone

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

Although Ruin of Angels weighs in at more than 560 pages, Gladstone’s tight pacing and thriller-like narrative structure make it feel like a much shorter book—or at least a fast one. The characters are compelling, the worldbuilding batshit and complex and lush in the way I’ve come to expect from a Gladstone book. Any series runs the risk of growing stale, but Ruin of Angels is garden-fresh. It’s ambitious and epic and really good, and I look forward to reading much more of Gladstone’s work.

Sleeps With Monsters: Flying Beasts and Complicated, Amazing Woldbuilding

A new column over at Tor.com:

It all comes down to worldbuilding. Delightful, amazing worldbuilding. This is a world in which magic—the Slack, which trained people can use to manipulate the elements—co-exists with technological development. Increasing technological development in the hands of the Machinists has lead to conflict, because the magicians—”Tensors”—understand that their monopoly on doing certain things will be challenged by these developments.

A SONG FOR QUIET by Cassandra Khaw

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

A Song for Quiet is a short piece of work. So short that when I set out to review it, I wondered how much I would have to say. But Khaw has a real gift for writing truly disturbing horror with a solid core of human empathy and… I won’t say hope, exactly, but a sense that in the face of horror, persistence and humanity still matter. Khaw’s prose breaks open unsettling visions of twistedness, of things wrong and inimical to human life and sanity. (Really, it left me quite perturbed and in need of a comforting hug and a warm drink.)

Sleeps With Monsters: Peculiar Heroines

A new column over at Tor.com, that I am behind in telling you about:

 

At this time of year, perhaps we should talk about award lists and award winners—but really, I’d rather talk about the entertaining stuff that hasn’t made it onto the award lists. Like Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex and its sequel, Heroine Worship. I missed Heroine Complex when it came out last year, but I’m glad to have been able to catch up on these two unique entries in the superhero(ine) subgenre. Well, unique as far as I can tell: there aren’t that many superhero stories that star Asian-American women and mix soap opera, action, and comedy.

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.