Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress
Aliens have landed in New York.This wasn’t a bad read, but it didn’t excite me with its ideas. Yesterday’s Kin focuses on a scientist who has just made a fairly interesting discovery at a minor university. But it doesn’t seem like an Earth-shattering discovery until the aliens who have recently come to Earth take notice of it. As the blurb above says, the aliens also reveal that a deadly cloud is floating through space towards Earth. Marianne, the scientist, becomes involved in the scientific effort to save humanity and the story is told in alternating chapters between her point of view and one of her sons’.
A deadly cloud of spores has already infected and killed the inhabitants of two worlds. Now that plague is heading for Earth, and threatens humans and aliens alike. Can either species be trusted to find the cure?
Geneticist Marianne Jenner is immersed in the desperate race to save humanity, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Siblings Elizabeth and Ryan are strident isolationists who agree only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Marianne’s youngest, Noah, is a loner addicted to a drug that constantly changes his identity. But between the four Jenners, the course of human history will be forever altered.
Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent human extinction—and not everyone is willing to wait.
I think I would have been more excited by this story if it had taken a “scientific mystery” angle. That’s not quite what it did though. The mystery and race to save humanity is one of several threads in the story, not given more urgency that other threads (in terms of how it made me feel, anyway). It seemed to be given equal importance as Marianne’s feelings towards her family and her son’s ambling journey through life before and after he becomes involved with the aliens. Not to mention the fact that I felt a bit let down my the resolution.
As science fiction, this isn’t a bad read, but I wanted more from it. It wasn’t actively bad or offensive or anything like that, but it just left me feeling “meh” about it. I would recommend Yesterday’s Kin to fans of science fiction, particularly near future SF with biological influences.
4 / 5 stars
First published: September 2014, Tachyon Publications
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Tsana’s October Status
Well the good news is that I’m less behind on reviews than I was last month. I still have some way to go to catch up, though. I’m hoping that when I am caught up I’ll have better luck resisting taking on too many review requests.
In other news, I interviewed Kaaron Warren and Jo Anderton about their past novels. And, as per usual, you can read my round up of spec fic reviews on the AWW website.
And in real-life news, the renovation hell I’ve been living in for the past six weeks is FINALLY OVER and I can sleep in peace. Such a relief. And as a bonus, we have a shiny new bathroom, which is not to be sneezed at.
What Have I Read?
- Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson — dark, gritty fantasy; one might even call it grimdark. The first book in a new series.
- A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett — collection of essays covering all sorts of topics
- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley — an excellent new fantasy series from an excellent new-to-me author
- Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack — a time travel novel in which no one listens to the actual historian
- The Ark by Annabel Smith — post-oil apocalypse, epistemological novel set in a seed bank in the Snowy Mountains
- Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love — the latest collection in the Twelve Planets series. A variety of spec fic stories
- Lock In by John Scalzi — a plague, a positive government response, some exploration of disability rights/ableism, and an interesting gender thing
- Loving the Prince by Nicole Murphy — science fiction romance with a solid SF plot
- Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie — sequel to everything-winning Ancillary Justice. Really awesome book.
I’m about halfway through the latest anthology from FableCroft and edited by Tehani Wessely, Phantazein. It has a very strong fairytale vibe through it so far.
I also just started reading The Sorcerer’s Spell by Dani Kristoff, an urban fantasy erotica novel. I haven’t really read far enough to begin forming an opinion yet. I suspect I’ll end up reading it slowly, probably interspersed with another novel.
I’m also still part-way through Help Fund My Robot Army. It’s one of those books you can’t read in large chunks. Or at least, I can’t.
Assume review copies unless otherwise stated. Smaller haul than usual, which is a relief to me.
- Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely (currently reading anthology)
- Skywatcher by Donna Maree Hanson (sequel to Shatterwing)
- The Ark by Annabel Smith (already reviewed)
- Difficult Second Album by Simon Petrie (short story collection with a great title)
- The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller (purchased, start of a new fantasy series)
- Undercity by Catherine Asaro (set in the Skolian Empire world, same characters as a story in Aurora in four Voices)
- Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (sequel to Ancillary Justice, already reviewed)
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Ancillary Sword by Ann LeckieAncillary Justice, which won all the awards this year. If you enjoyed the first book, I see no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy the second. Also, be warned that this review contains spoilers for the end of Ancillary Justice as that is what the sequel builds on. The blurb is similarly spoilery.
The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.Much the heavy-lifting with regards to worldbuilding was done in the first book, Ancillary Justice, leaving the reader able to relax and enjoy the world and the story in Ancillary Sword. For me that made Ancillary Sword more enjoyable; I knew how everything worked and was able to just enjoy the character interactions. Another big change is that Breq — more commonly referred to as Fleet Captain now — isn’t telling a story across two time periods as in the first book. The tale here is much more linear and I found that made her and other characters’ development more obvious.
Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized — or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent.
Speaking of character development, a new lieutenant was introduced in this book who goes through a very tumultuous arc. I don’t feel like I can really elaborate for spoilery reasons but it was satisfying to watch her change and also the corresponding changes in the relationship between her and Breq.
Seivarden, who was a very prominent character in the first book is slightly less significant in this one, but I absolutely adored her interactions with Breq. Her shift from something resembling a charity case in the first book to the most experienced lieutenant in the second is satisfying. Her emotional attachment to Breq is sweet and I thought it was cute how she got the soldiers under her command to sing like Justice of Toren's ancillaries used to.
I really enjoyed Ancillary Sword. I found it a cosy, comforting read which delighted me with Breq’s competence. It’s rare to see a protagonist that makes relatively few mistakes still be a compelling read. If you haven’t yet started reading this series, why not? You should definitely give Ancillary Justice a try. If you’ve already read the first book, then absolutely do not hesitate to read the second. I am very much looking forward to the next book, which is unfortunately a while away.
5 / 5 stars
First published: October 2014, Orbit (UK)
Series: Yes. Imperial Radch book 2 of 3?
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play
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Lock In by John ScalziRedshirts, which won a Hugo. Lock In drew my attention because of an excerpt I was able to read before requesting the ARC. And once I started reading it properly, I found it rather difficult to put down. (And it has a very long blurb, but it’s a useful one so I’m not going to trim it.)
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.The main thrust of the plot of Lock In is Chris the new FBI agent’s first case, which turns out to be more exciting than usual. Chris is a Haden’s sufferer who generally gets around in a threep (robot body), The case is related to Haden’s, which is the focus of the FBI unit Chris is assigned to. There’s murder, explosions and corporate bad guys; it’s an exciting plot. It’s also a plot tied very closely to the worldbuilding, which is where the most interesting stuff is.
One per cent doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the United States, that’s 1.7 million people “locked in”…including the President’s wife and daughter.
Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.
This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…
I’ll discuss the more minor thing first because it will facilitate later discussion. This could be construed as a minor spoiler and if that bothers you, you should jump to the next paragraph. With Lock In written in first person, Scalzi has been very careful to not to indicate a gender for Chris, the protagonist. Haden’s sufferers can live their entire lives online or inside threeps (which are usually androgynous, was my impression, but I may be wrong), which lifts most of the constraints on gender presentation. It’s an interesting point to make but I have to say I found Chris came across as male. And I’m usually one to assume first person characters are female until some jarring pronoun/name corrects me. Your mileage may vary. In any case, it’s interesting to note the extent to which the protagonist’s gender doesn’t change the story at all. (And if you’re wondering, there was no romantic component to the plot, which I’m a little disappointed about because I think romance between Haden’s sufferers would have been an interesting point to explore further.) But since I thought Chris sounded male, I’m going to cave and use male pronouns in the remainder of the review.
My favourite thing about Lock In was the background commentary on disability rights and treatment of people with disabilities. It is depressing, but not implausible, that a very specific subset of disabled people — locked in Haden’s sufferers — are given access to the technology and medical treatments developed for them. This may sound obvious until you realise that other types of disabled people — quadriplegics, people locked in for other reasons and people with other mobility restrictions — aren’t allowed to use threeps or the Agora. Not even an matter of the technology not being subsidised, just plain not allowed by the FDA.
In fact, the only reason so much money was ever thrown at Haden’s is because a) the president’s wife and daughter got sick and b) such a large number of Americans were affected. (The rest of the world successfully exists in this book, but we don’t hear much about it other than that it also has Haden’s and deals with them similarly.) It doesn’t seem implausible to think that without a), b) would not have made as much of an impact. Indeed, the next president is about to reduce a lot of funding and subsidies for Haden’s, which is a part of the background that’s crucial to the plot.
The other disability-related thing I appreciated in Lock In was the way the Haden’s community had developed in its own virtual space. And especially for people who were young when they caught Haden’s, the virtual world can feel more like their natural habitat than the physical world which they are forced to use if they want to communicate (outside of email) with non-Haden’s people.
So basically Lock In is a surprisingly good exploration of what happens when a plague causes severe disability in a large number of people. I think it deals with various issues well and I found the premise believable. It’s also an FBI procedural tied closely to the worldbuilding. If near future SF and/or crime SF and/or medical SF is your sort of thing, then I highly recommend Lock In. Aside from all the stuff I’ve discussed above, it was a fun read.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: August 2014, Tor
Series: Not yet? (But there’s at least one novella set in the same world)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love
Secret lives, replete with possibilities. Elsewhere exists as a better place, in a better time, for a better life. The trick is how to get there from here. These stories give the answers. Share in the secret lives of books. Fly to Mars, the first stage, perhaps, in the onward journey to elsewhere. Hear the music of the heavenly spheres and be forever changed, providing the bad guys don’t hear it first. Discover Gaia may not be quite what we think she is. Discover the universe is a rather big place. Embrace Utopia for women too, if only …It’s called Secret Lives of Books, but I think what it’s really about is the secret lives of stories. All five stories within grapple with the story of stories on some level. “The Secret Lives of Books” is literally about the secret story of a particular collection of books, “Kiddofspeed” is about a story that developed around some photos, “Qasida” is about the mysteries of Mars and the plausibility of fantastical stories, “The slut and the universe” (which has a couple of long subtitles which I’ll leave for you to discover yourselves) is about the stories of feminism and misogyny. Fitting least into this patter, “The Kairos Moment” is a story about music, muisic itself being a type of story, albeit not necessarily in the narrative sense. There is, of course, the expected feminism in this collection, but I found it mostly manifested through the existence of female characters, apart from in “The slut and the universe”.
My favourite story was “Qasida”, which I decided would probably be my favourite when I was still halfway through it and had two more stories left to go. It’s sort of a surreal story about Mars and magic (for lack of a better term) travel and aliens, except it’s not all that surreal. It’s told rather sensibly, which I think is part of the appeal.
I highly recommend this collection to all SFF fans. The stories were all equally good and almost equally unusual. I’d tentatively say this is probably in my top four of the Twelve Planets. Which might not sound like much, but you have to remember there’s some very stiff competition.
Secret Lives of Books — This was a strange story that didn’t go the way it initially seemed it would. The main character is a recently deceased writer, trying desperately to get a living person’s attention. And then there’s his extensive book collection, which he has always been very attached to. I’d call this soft horror, as we incrementally — creeping — learn more about the books.
Kiddofspeed — Another unusual story, sort of chronicling the adventures of a girl taking photos of Pripyat (near Chernobyl, and based on real events) and sort of talking about the nature of story.
Qasida — Probably my favourite story so far. It’s another story of stories, this time about Mars and strange happenings. Visits to Mars, objects from Mars and the
The Kairos Moment — An odd story about the uplifting feeling people experience when listening to good music. And a researcher trying to study the phenomenon. And some strange happenings. I was entertained and quite amused. (And in case it isn’t obvious, this story is certainly represented on the gorgeous cover.)
The slut and the universe — I seem to have noted that all the stories in this collection are unusual and this is no exception. It’s a post-apocalyptic fairytale about feminism. Despite the post-apocalyptic setting not much seems to have changed and there is discussion (literally) on such feminist topics as the meaning of the word “slut” an why feminism is the root of all evil. It was also a rather entertaining read.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: June 2014, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: Twelve Planets (but these are not connected volumes in any way; different stories by different authors which do not have to be read in any particular order)
Format read: Paper, shockingly
Source: Twelfth Planet Press stall at LonCon3
Disclaimer: The publisher is a friend but, as always, I have endeavoured to be impartial
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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