Tsana's Reads and Reviews
Tankborn by Karen Sandler
Tankborn by Karen Sandler is a one of not that many YA dystopian novels I’ve read that is also proper science fiction. As well as the political aspects requisite in dystopian novels, it also deals with genetic engineering with a backdrop of planetary colonisation. I’d been meaning to read it for a while, since Shaheen recommended it, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.
Part of the blurb (last paragraph omitted because spoilers — why do publishers do that?):
Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. GENs are gestated in a tank and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.
When Kayla is Assigned to care for Zul Manel, the patriarch of a trueborn family, she finds secrets and surprises; not least of which is her unexpected friendship with Zul’s great-grandson. Meanwhile, the children that Mishalla is Assigned to care for are being stolen in the middle of the night.
The most prominent aspect of Tankborn is the rigid class structure that segregates the society. Natural-born humans are ranked from the rich, land-owning high-status trueborns down to the servant class low-borns. Beneath them all are the GENs — genetically engineered people with small amounts of animal DNA included in their make-up giving them extra talents and making them less than human. As one might expect with the main characters being GENs, a lot of the social commentary revolves around non-GENs being varying degrees of horrible to the GEN main characters. However, there’s definitely more to it than that.
For a start, the GENs have a different religion to trueborns. The trueborns follow a religion that is implicitly vaguely Christian (or at least monotheistic and involving worshipping a similar god), while the GEN religion involves worshipping the Infinite, who whispered to the prophets how to create GENs and whose plan for GENs involves servitude. It’s a case of using religion to control the masses, hardly a new idea, but not one that I think I’ve come across in YA. It was done well, even as it unravelled, and Sandler didn’t pull any punches.
She knew it was the Infinite’s will, that a GEN’s trial of servitude was the only way back to His hands.The GEN religion is very much based around keeping GENs in their place. A further example:
But liberation for GENs on Loka [their planet] would violate the Infinite’s laws. It would only be right for GENs to taste true freedom in the palm of the Infinite’s hand.And so forth.
As with any dystopia, we see the fabric of the society start to unravel, partially at the hands of our main characters. Despite this being the first book in a trilogy, I was pleased to see that it’s story was self-contained, hooks for the sequel notwithstanding, as I was half expecting the main action not to be resolved. Since book one merely described the first step in the (standard YA dystopian trend of) dismantling of society, I look forward to reading how it all progresses.
I had only two small peeves with Tankborn. The first is that both the romantic couples liked each other a little too suddenly and their relationships became serious a bit more quickly than I would have expected. I can see why it fit with the plot that way, but it did make me go “Hrm.”
The other thing is the technology. Tankborn is set on a colonised planet with the GENs being invented (for lack of a better word) some time after the colony had been established. (Incidentally, I hope we learn more about the colonisation process in the future books. I am deeply curious and would be disappointed if some form of Conspiracy didn’t surround colonisation.) So it’s a future where interstellar space travel has been perfected. But the technology they were using on the planet — aside from the GENs who had fancy artificial neural networks — consisted mainly of readers similar to iPads and smartphone-style wrist watches. Which isn’t exactly bad per se, but that’s kind of he level of technology we’re at now. It struck me as a bit unimaginative. On the other hand, the Author’s Note did mention that the story originated as a screenplay in the mid-80s, which could account for it.
All in all, Tankborn was a good read. I highly recommend it to fans of dystopias as well as fans of general science fiction. Although it’s marketed as YA, I see no reason for readers of all ages not to enjoy it.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, Tu Books
Series: Tankborn, book 1 (of 3?)
Format read: ebook on iPad
Source: US iTunes store (ebook not available outside of US, paper book only available as an import, as far as I can tell)
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School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins
School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins is the first in a new spin-off series from the Hex Hall books (Hex Hall, Demonglass / Raising Demons and Spellbound). You definitely don’t have to have read the Hex Hall books to enjoy this new series, however. The blurb:
Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy’s mom decides they need to take a break.I enjoyed this book a great deal. Izzy’s inner monologue had me laughing out loud many times, particularly as she tries to work out how to be normal (often comparing the situations she finds herself in with a teen soap opera she bought as “research”). It had me from the first chapter, in which Izzy fights a vampire pretentious enough to wear body glitter (best Twilight jab I’ve read so far).
Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who’s always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.
Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
School Spirits has shades of typical new girl and new school YA, but with the twist that Izzy has never actually gone to a school before. And before moving to Ideal, Mississippi she didn’t even own a TV. So fitting in and pretending to be normal is slightly more of a (hilarious) challenge for her. And although Izzy doesn’t have any magic powers (other than an ability to sense magic/magical creatures) she does have a lot of skills that normal teenagers don’t. Like vampire fighting and a knowledge of ghosts.
On a side note, I liked the way the love interest plot line played out. There was mercifully no love triangle and while there wasn’t much mystery about which boy was in fact the love interest, it was enjoyable to watch it play out.
While most of School Spirits was light and fun reading, it took an unexpected serious turn at one point which added some depth and, dare I say, reality to the story. I can’t elaborate further without spoilers but for me it was that moment that took the novel from pure fun to something a bit more serious. Also, the ending was a bit unusual and I’m dying to see how that plays out in the sequels.
All in all, I found School Spirits quite an unputdownable read. It was fun, hilarious and over too soon. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable quick read and, of course, to fans of paranormal YA.
5 / 5 stars
First published: May 2013, Disney Book Group (US edition — no word yet on UK/Aus release dates)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of ? (3?). Same world as the Hex Hall trilogy, but does not have to be read after Hex Hall.
Format read: eARC
Source: the publisher, via NetGalley
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Time to regale you with my new bookish acquisitions once more. This time, I purchased two books and received two review copies.
From Harlequin AU and Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry via NetGalley, and Andrea K Höst I received the following review copies:
- Ink by Amanda Sun
- Hunting by Andrea K Höst — already reviewed
- iD by Madeline Ashby
- Playing Tyler by TL Costa
And I purchased
both prequels to review copies I’d got earlier, although both books I want to read anyway.
- Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik (in paperback! Gasp!)
- Tankborn by Karen Sandler
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Hunting by Andrea K Höst
Hunting is Andrea K Höst’s latest release. Unlike the earlier books of hers that I’ve reviewed in the past (And All the Stars, The Touchstone Trilogy), Hunting is definitely fantasy, not science fiction. The blurb was what really got me keen to read this one:
Ash Lenthard doesn’t call herself a vigilante. She’s merely prone to random acts of derring-do, and occasional exhibitions of tomfoolery. Her friends, the Huntsmen, have never stepped over the line while patrolling the streets of Luinhall.
That was before the murder of Ash’s beloved guardian, Genevieve.
Now, Ash Lenthard is out for blood and even when the hunt sends her to the palace, on a collision course with a past identity she would do anything to forget, Ash cannot, will not, back down.
I have to say, when I first started reading, I was a little bit disappointed. Not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t as funny as the blurb sounded like it would be. Mostly, this is because things start on a sombre note, with Ash’s aunt dying and Ash’s circumstances being turned on their head. It wasn’t boring, it just wasn’t what I expected. But then! From about the halfway point it really picked up and I found myself laughing out loud several times. I enjoyed the second half a lot more. (If I rated them separately, I’d give the first half 4 stars and the second half 5 stars.)
Ash is a runaway who dresses as a boy. Before the opening of Hunting she was living with Genevieve, a herbalist who took her in when she was younger (she’s now 20 but dresses as a 17 year old boy). When Genevieve is killed, Ash swears vengeance but isn’t allowed to go at it alone, partly because others think she’s an underage boy. She is taken in by a foreign noble, Thornaster, who is investigating a spate of herbalist murders, and becomes his page-like servant. A lot of the humour comes from the banter and interactions between Ash and Thornaster, and there were some very amusing moments. I also liked that Höst didn’t make Thornaster a strict or cruel person, because that would have changed the overall tone of Hunting significantly.
The world Höst has built is detailed and not limited to the one city most of the action takes place in. It was a little tricky at first to keep all the places and titles straight in my head and I think the earlier parts of the book could have been improved with more backstory/descriptions. On the other hand, the full details of Ash’s past don’t come to light for a while, and I quite liked the circumstances in which the full story was revealed (and of course I had some idea of what was coming from hints earlier on).
An aspect I particularly liked was the way in which so many little threads all came together in the end. There were some things which I took in stride as “just” being part of the set-up or backstory which turned out to be relevant to the main story. Hard to say more on this without spoilers. Also, a small thing but the fact that the main character’s mentor was female not male was gratifying. And even though Ash was a girl dressed as a boy in a male-dominated society, there were actual other good female characters in the story (and only one of them was a laundry maid) who showed us other roles women could play in the society without having to dress as a man.
There was one particular aspect of worldbuilding that I found quite fascinating and that was the matter of religion. The gods in the world of Hunting are associated with the sun and moon (the two main gods) and planets (the minor gods which aren’t important). When people die, one of three things happens: their soul goes straight to heaven carried by the sun god’s butterflies, their soul is taken by the moon god’s moths for cleansing before later going on to heaven or the gods decide the person’s soul is beyond redemption and they’re damned — trapped on the mortal coil indefinitely, before eventually deteriorating into nothing. Somewhat painfully. What this means is that after you die, assuming you don’t die alone where no one finds you quickly enough, everyone knows what the gods ultimately thought of you. There was one character who was a horrible person and, as part of the backstory, was damned when he died. The repercussions on the family members that survived him, who generally weren’t terrible people, were not insignificant. This aspect made me think a lot about how people might change or police their behaviour if they knew there were real afterlife consequences for them. Food for thought.
Finally, there was a romantic storyline but it didn’t start until a good chunk of the way in. I liked that there were several possible love-interests and that it wasn’t until Ash realised she had a crush on someone that I knew which way it would go.
I ended up enjoying Hunting a lot and, as the length of this review may suggest, getting more out of it than I necessarily expected. I recommend it to fans of fantasy, particularly the kind of fantasy that is confined to one city. I’m tempted to call it “ye olde urban fantasy”. I think readers of Tamora Pierce’s earlier books (I haven’t read her later stuff) will also enjoy it, although I admit my reasoning may start and end with the “girl dressed as a boy” element.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Self-published (SmashWords link)
Series: No. Although there would be scope for another book in the same world.
Format read: ePub on iPad
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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Valley of Shields by Duncan Lay
Valley of Shields by Duncan Lay is the second book his Empire of Bones trilogy. Last year, I read and reviewed the first book, Bridge of Swords.
I had forgotten, when I first picked up Valley of Shields, just one much of a cliffhanger the first book had ended on. This second volume starts pretty much the same second the previous one ended, jumping straight into the action. As such, it was a very in medias res beginning, without any recapping. It took me a little while to remember everything that had been going on nine months previously when I read the first book. I suspect this is the kind of sequel that would be perfect to read straight after the first book. So if you haven’t had the chance to pick up this series, now might be a good time (and Valley of Shields doesn’t end on the same sort of cliffhanger).
Cast out from his homeland, Sendatsu has used his sword-fighting talents to survive in the foreign land of the Vales. With the assistance of Rhiannon – the first human to use magic in hundreds of years – Sendatsu has helped Huw and the Velsh defeat an invading army. Better still, Sendatsu now has the key to reclaim his children.
It will mean a return to Dokuzen – a city where deceit runs deep and Sendatsu expects an unwelcome reception. How will Sendatsu and his unlikely allies, Huw and Rhiannon, know who to trust when they can barely trust each other?
And when Dokuzen comes under fierce attack, Sendatsu’s fight to survive will need to be more desperate than ever. Especially when this attack reveals who the real enemy is …
Valley of Shields again follows Sendatsu, Huw and Rhiannon but this time a lot of the action takes place in Dokuzen, the Elfaren city. This brings a lot of different political struggles to the forefront and I think there was a bit more intrigue going on (those who know me know I’m a fan of intrigue) from all sides, including the main characters.
An interesting aspect which was present in the first book but is much more important in the second is the love triangle between Sendatsu, Asami and her husband, Gaibun. The thing that made it interesting for me is that it was seen predominantly from Sendtatsu’s perspective (since he’s the most central character), rather than from Asami’s as is common, especially in YA (not that this is YA, of course). I also appreciated that while we saw the two men trying to undermine each other, we also got to see Asami being annoyed at being treated like a prize, which made me happy. And while everyone (especially the men) made fools of themselves, it struck me as a pretty realistic state of affairs. I am looking forward to seeing how the matter is resolved in the final volume.
As fans of Lay will have come to expect, battles and training for them are again central to this book. If you’re the kind of reader who doesn’t like graphic violence (I wouldn’t call it at all gratuitous in this case), then I’m not sure this kind of fantasy novel (what I like to call BFF — Big Fat Fantasy) is for you. But for fantasy fans, I highly recommend Duncan Lay’s books. I also strongly recommend starting with the first book in this series, Bridge of Swords.
I enjoyed Valley of Shields a great deal. After a long string of not BFF books, it was nice and comforting (yes, I may have issues on that front) to get back into a nice long fantasy novel. I look forward to February, when the concluding volume is scheduled for release.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Harper Voyager Australia
Series: Empire of Bones, book 2 of 3
Format read: ebook on iThings
Source: purchased from iTunes store
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My First Twenty #AWW2013 Challenge Reads
The time has come when I’ve read my first twenty books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year. (Well, actually, I’ve read 21, but let’s just look at the first 20 for now.)
It’s been quite a mixed bag. I’ve been actively trying to read more horror and science fiction from Australian writers so the list is skewed a bit in those directions. In fact, looking at it now, there’s only one Big Fat Fantasy (BFF) series on there, where those sorts of books used to dominate my reading. Part of that is because of intentionally branching out, part of it more annoying factors I won’t go into right now. And I think there are probably more short stories than I would read if left to my own devices without challenges to motivate me.
The full list is at the bottom, with review links, in the order I read them. I’ve already highlighted the horror books I’ve read, in this post. Of the novels there was After the Darkness by Honey Brown, a contemporary novel with nothing supernatural in it but with an excellent sense of creeping dread, and Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott, a tale of two sisters and something that’s not quite right in their relationships.
Of the fantasy I read, the Fallen Moon Trilogy trilogy by KJ Taylor is the aforementioned BFF. The trilogy, consisting of The Dark Griffin, The Griffin’s Flight and The Griffin’s War deals with griffins (shockingly) and racism, oppression and discrimination. Highly recommended and worth a read for all fantasy fans.
I also read the YA fantasy book Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski, set in a more traditional fantasy world, but with a YA protagonist. And werewolves. And the multi-award winning Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan, with selkies.
On the urban/suburban fantasy front, I read Narrelle M Harris’s two Melbourne vampire books, The Opposite of Life and Walking Shadows. They’re an excellent read if the idea of a librarian teaming up with a geeky vampire appeals to you. I also read the YA (sub)urban fantasy Rise of the Fallen by Teagan Chilcott which treated angels and demons in a way that didn’t irritate me, in a way that angel books often do.
The Australian science fiction I read will soonish be summarised in its own post (I’m only two books away from my first milestone of the), but briefly, I read a novella, Rayessa and the Space Pirates by Donna Maree Hanson, a verse novel, The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (which was shortlisted for a Stella Award), and an excellent trilogy by Andrea K Höst — Stray, Lab Rat One and Caszandra — in which a Sydney girl accidentally wanders though a portal onto an alien planet.
On the short story/collected works front I read two collections in the Twelve Planets series, Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren, containing three creepy short stories and a disturbing novella, and Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer, containing four diverse and incredibly well crafted stories. There was also Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor, a collection of three horror novellas all dealing with the Assyrian/Babylonian goddess Ishtar in the past, present and future. And finally, I read a collection and an anthologyfrom FableCroft Publishing, The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton, which was wonderful and disturbing, and One Small Step edited by Tehani Wessely, a diverse collection of what Australian female spec fic writers can do.
All the reviews:
- After the Darkness by Honey Brown (review)
- Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (review)
- The Dark Griffin by KJ Taylor (review)
- The Griffin’s Flight by KJ Taylor (review)
- Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski (review)
- Rayessa and the Space Pirates by Donna Maree Hanson (review)
- The Griffin’s War by KJ Taylor (review)
- Walking Shadows by Narrelle M Harris (review)
- The Opposite of Life by Narrelle M Harris (review)
- The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (review)
- Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor (review)
- Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer (review)
- Stray by Andrea K Höst (review)
- Rise of the Fallen by Teagan Chilcott (review)
- Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst (review)
- Caszandra by Andrea K Höst (review)
- Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
- The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (review)
- Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (review)
- One Small Step edited by Tehani Wessely (review)
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The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa
The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa is the second book in the Blood of Eden series, which started with The Immortal Rules. The premise of the series is: when a virus threatens to wipe out humanity, vampires come out of hiding to protect their food supply and more or less set up “safe” areas where humans won’t die of the plague (which causes rabid zombie-like creatures) and can provide uncontaminated blood for their vampire protectors.
I enjoyed The Immortal Rules a lot. I thought the writing was cinematic with just the right amount of action and tension. By contrast, when I first picked up The Eternity Cure I was very disappointed. The writing was much more pedestrian and lacklustre. After about 60 pages I put it down and read something else. When I came back to it, about six weeks later, with severely lowered expectations, I found I was ultimately still able to enjoy the book. There were some descriptive and action passages which I found myself skimming over to get to the dialogue which was more enjoyable to read.
The mundanely written action scenes were a particular let-down since there was so much action in the story. And a lot of twists. It was nice to be surprised by expected developments but by the end there had been so many twists and turns, it was wearying. It did keep me turning the pages because the tension rarely let up, but many of the developments had me groaning.
On to more positive things! The worldbuilding and plot were well thought out. Every time I though “hang on, that doesn’t make sense” it would soon be explained how that particular element fit seamlessly into the plot/world. Although the ending sets us up for an obvious showdown in the last book, it also left me keen to find out how the worldbuilding questions will be resolved. (Will there be a cure for rabidism? Will humans be able to live independently from vampires on a large scale? Will Allison and friends indeed save the world?)
The characterisation was also well done. Allison continues to be a believable character and her angst about pretty much everyone else is justified and not angst for its own sake. The character that got the biggest rise out of me was Stick. In the first book, he was Allison’s friend pre-vampirification, but then things change. When we encounter him in The Eternity Cure, his new situation makes him a massive prat and I really wanted to bash him over the head with something every time he appeared. He was so frustrating! But getting an emotional rise (on purpose) is a mark of good character writing.
Unfortunately, unlike in The Immortal Rules, there weren’t any female characters other than Allison which was disappointing. Hopefully that will be remedied in the sequel.
I recommend The Eternity Cure to readers who enjoyed The Immortal Rules, with the caveat of not having overly high expectations. I think the story is worth continuing with despite some of this volume’s shortcomings. I am looking forward to reading the last book and seeing how everything turns out. For readers who haven’t picked up The Immortal Rules yet, I highly recommend doing so, particularly fans of vampires or dystopias who might be sick of the usual stuff.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: May 2013, Harlequin Teen Australia
Series: Blood of Eden, book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Charlotte’s Army by Patty Jansen
Charlotte’s Army is a novella by Patty Jansen set in the same universe as several of her other works but which stands alone. I’ve previously reviewed her novel Shifting Reality and short story “The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang” from the same universe.
Since I first heard about it, I’ve found the premise of Charlotte’s Army interesting: an army of artificial (clone-like) soldiers were all created with the same flaw. All of them are in love with Charlotte, one of the army’s senior medical staff. I was interested to see how it would all play out and what caused the flaw. The fact that it wasn’t Charlotte’s fault was kind of gratifying since she was quite a likeable character.
Other issues explored in this novella were how human the constructed soldiers really were. The human soldiers in the story generally treated them as second class and highly expendable citizens. Where the top brass see erasing one of their minds as nothing more than recalibrating a piece of machinery, Charlotte sees it as deleting a real person. It was an interesting dynamic.
Charlotte’s Army was a quick, enjoyable read. It rounds out the world I’ve read about in Shifting Reality nicely (although I want to stress again that it completely stands alone). I highly recommend it to science fiction fans and anyone interested in giving the genre a go.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, self-published
Series: Set in the ISF-Allion Universe but stands alone.
Format read: ePub on iThings
Source: Purchased from Smashwords a while ago.
Disclaimer: Although Patty is a friend I have attempted to write an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge
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Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Zenn Scarlett is the début novel by Christian Schoon. The titular character is a seventeen year old girl living on Mars who is studying to become an exoveterinarian — a vet for alien animals (although they do treat Earthly animals too).
Part of the blurb (which, in my opinion, is a bit too long and too detailed but could be worse):
Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.
Zenn lives in a sort of veterinary abbey with her uncle, a nun and a small number of other workers. I wasn’t entirely clear why there was a religious order dedicated to caring for alien life forms, but I hope we’ll learn more about that in the sequel. Most of the other characters, namely the townspeople, where the abbey was set apart from the town, were very irritating. In a good way, from a writing point of view, but in a very “need a good slap in the face for being a bunch of red neck xenophobic hicks” way. A lot of the tension in the novel arose from the townies being afraid of aliens and barely tolerating the abbey’s continuing presence, even when the vets were actively helping them with their own pets and livestock.
In some ways, I felt the story didn’t tackle the issues of xenophobia and tolerance deeply enough. For a start, it wasn’t until a good way into the story that we learnt why there were so many hicks on Mars — it was used as a transportation colony — a point which rather baffled me up until then. To some extent, it boiled down a bit too much to “good guys nice to animals” vs “bad guys hate the good guys” although it did get more complex towards the end.
A lot of things about Zenn Scarlett improved towards the end. I felt the writing grew more readable as we went along, particularly since there were so many flashbacks near the start. I was also gratified that there wasn’t a very long gap between my guessing a plot point and it being revealed in the text. The last quarter or so was full of excitement, albeit the very end, after the main climax, culminated in a very frustrating cliff hanger, however. Frustrating because I could see it coming when there weren’t nearly enough pages to resolve new events. I want to read the sequel cliff hanger or not, but there’s something slightly soul-crushing about the looming inevitability of not having a proper resolution at the end. (I think I prefer the kind of cliff hangers that sneak up on you… or softer ones with less in the balance.)
I feel like I need to comment on the science in Zenn Scarlett, since that’s my thing. I can’t say much about the biology because that’s not my area, but as the blurb suggests, almost all the animals involved were quite giant. If they were on Earth I’d be questioning the biophysical plausibility, but with Mars’s lower gravity, there’s more chance of them being OK. There was one slightly creative physics moment that had be heckling the page, but in the scheme of things, it could have been much worse (it could also have been better justified…).
All in all, Zenn Scarlett was a fun read. I recommend it to fans of YA science fiction. I want to say it’s good for fans of something a little different, but I have to admit there were aspects which reminded me a little of Avatar (the James Cameron movie), more thematically than literally. I’m not sure I’ve read any YA on a similar theme, however. Anyway, fans of aliens and alien creatures in their SF will also enjoy this book, I think. I look forward to reading the sequel.
4 / 5 stars
First published: (early) May 2013, Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 2?
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: the publisher via NetGalley
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One Small Step edited by Tehani Wessely
One Small Step: an anthology of discoveries is edited by Tehani Wessely and has just been launched by FableCroft at Conflux, this year’s National SF Convention. The blurb:
Sixteen stories of discovery from Australia’s best writers. Each story in some way addresses the idea of discoveries, new beginnings, or literal or figurative “small steps”, but each story takes you to places you far beyond the one small step you imagine… Journey through worlds and explore the reaches of the universe with this collection.
The theme of One Small Step is addressed quite diversely between the stories. My personal favourites (in a very subjective way) were the ones that dealt with discovery in a more literal kind of way. “Always Greener” by Michelle Marquardt opened the anthology strongly with human colonists on another planet and I felt it set the tone of expectation for what followed. The idea of deadly grass also stuck with me. “Firefly Epilogue” by Jodi Cleghorn about scientific discovery also struck me. “The Ships of Culwinna” by Thoraiya Dyer is another story that really stuck with me. Very well done, it’s a story about old discoveries but, I thought, freshly told. “Morning Star”by DK Mok was another space-based journey of discovery and quite an emotional note to end the anthology on. Although they were quite different stories, there was some symmetry between the opening and closing; a search for safety in a hostile universe.
I also quite enjoyed the stories by Deborah Biancotti and Rowena Cory Daniells for their ties to other stories of theirs I’ve read as much as the great writing. And Tansy Rayner Roberts’s story made me smile for certain references sprinkled throughout. “Sand and Seawater” by Joanne Anderton and Rabia Gale was also one of my favourites, with its richly painted setting. (I fully acknowledge that this paragraph is quite biased of me, since they’re all authors I was a fan of a priori.)
Because I can’t mention every story, I’ve included some brief comments/notes below that I made as I finished reading each of them. And author name links go to my other reviews of their works.
One Small Step is a showcase of some really great Aussie spec fic. (And, as I just learnt, it’s the first all-female Aussie spec fic anthology.) I highly recommend it to fans of the genre or to anyone looking to sample a variety of spec fic authors.
“Always Greener” by Michelle Marquardt — colonists on a difficult frontier world. There are aliens and hardship, but at least the grass is greener.
“By Blood and Incantation” by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter — Loosely speaking a story about motherhood and magic and things going horribly wrong.
“Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti — A journalist in the same universe as Bad Power. Over much too soon. Would love to see a novel in this world.
“Firefly Epilogue” by Jodi Cleghorn — a surprisingly sweet story about fireflies in Malaysia and brain waves.
“Daughters of Battendown” by Cat Sparks — a post-apocalyptic story set in a well realised world. A story of hardship and hope.
“Baby Steps” by Barbara Robson — grabbed me from the start. A fairytale told though emails.
“Number 73 Glad Avenue” by Suzanne J Willis — A story of time travel and the twenties. Like if the Doctor was a woman and also threw parties (so quite dissimilar to Doctor Who).
“Shadows” by Kate Gordon — Quite readable. About a girl who sees shadows. Thought it ended a bit abruptly.
“Original” by Penelope Love — Post-human people, spread throughout the the galaxy, come face to face with an original human.
“The Ships of Culwinna” by Thoraiya Dyer — People of a primitive culture encountering other cultures less and more technologically advanced.
“Cold White Daughter” by Tansy Rayner Roberts — A tale of the Frost Queen’s daughter, carved of ice. Inspired by Narnia, I suspect.
“The Ways of the Wyrding Women” by Rowena Cory Daniells — One of the longer stories. A tale of power, loyalty and plots. Set, I believe in future world of the Outcast Chronicles.
“Winter’s Heart” by Faith Mudge — A woman goes in search of a sorcerer for help. Interesting shift of perspective towards the end.
“Sand and Seawater” by Joanne Anderton and Rabia Gale — Creepy sentient dolls (kind of cute, I thought, when not being creepy), protection magic and a volcano island.
“Ella and the Flame” by Kathleen Jennings — Sisters and villagers with burning torches. I liked the story within a story.
“Morning Star”by DK Mok — When most of the human population of Earth suddenly dies, an android, a sentient ship and a peculiarly immune boy set out to look for survivors among the stars. A lovely and at times sad tale. The longest in the anthology.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, FableCroft
Format read: eARC
Source: review copy courtesy of the publisher/editor (but you can get a copy here)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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