Tuesday, April 20, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord


The Best of All Possible Worlds is the second novel by author Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo (Review Here) and Unraveling (Review Here).  I read Redemption in Indigo earlier this year and really loved it, and after seeing a few people mention The Best of All Possible Worlds online, I had to reserve it from my library.  Lord's work with her characters in the prior two books I read was always fascinating and really well done - with Redemption in Indigo in particular being positively delightful and charming - and with this book moving from fantasy to scifi, I was really interested in seeing how it would turn out.  

And well, The Best of All Possible Worlds is a really delightful and charming hybrid of multiple genres - most notably of anthropological scifi and romance.  The story features an telepathic offshoot of humanity, their home destroyed, coming to a planet where some of their ancestors/cousins settled to try to find a way to rebuild their race, forcing them to discover all the ways those ancestors' cultures have changed over the ages.  It also features a scientist native of the planet trying to help the main diplomat of the telepaths around, and the two slowly falling for each other, despite their very different cultural ways.  The characters and peoples shown within are really well done, which makes this one yet another winner from Karen Lord.  

Trigger Warning: One small part features a character using telepathy to control his family, in a parallel essentially to using emotional abuse/manipulation in our real world.  I doubt it'll cause any concerns for most people, but it's there.  

Monday, April 19, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey


The Echo Wife is the latest novel by Hugo award winning (and multi-time nominated for lots of awards) author Sarah Gailey.  I've had an interesting appraisal of Gailey's novel-length fiction (When We Were Magic, Magic for Liars)....their work has always been incredibly interesting, bringing up really interesting themes to go along with fascinating characters, but I've always felt that those works never quite managed to stick the landing: there usually has been like one thing that bugs me at the end of each work to prevent it from truly working perfectly for me.  Still, when I say "incredibly interesting", I really mean it, and as such, I pretty much always will check out the latest of their work, and so I had reserved a copy of The Echo Wife well in advance of publication with my library.

And The Echo Wife is a hell of a novel, a scifi tale that uses the idea of a cloned person who has been programmed or conditioned as to certain behaviors to tell a tale of abuse that is incredibly powerful and both really hard to put down despite being hard to read.  Of note:  I've seen this described as a domestic thriller and that's technically true, but the heart of this novel isn't really that of the thriller genre - the book has less interest in whether or not the protagonist Evelyn will get away with what happens than about how what happens causes her to rethink how she herself was conditioned by abuse she received as a child and as a spouse, and everything in between.  It again has perhaps some ending issues....and yet, the ending is so powerful, and a bit depressing, that I'm not sure it even matters.  This is a tour de force that I'm going to be thinking about for a long time.

TRIGGER WARNING:  Parental abuse (physical, emotional), Spousal Abuse (emotional) and the implications of abuse in general - and abusive conduct by our protagonist as an Employer and person in power as well.  Abuse and its impacts, and whether one can really escape being shaped by it, are the central themes of this novel, so if you can't bear to read that, this book is not for you.  There is absolutely no sexual abuse however.  

Friday, April 16, 2021

SciFi Novella Review: Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden


Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden

Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters is I believe the debut* novella by Aimee Ogden (who has other short fiction credits).  Oddly, thanks to an eARC I actually read her second novella, which comes out in April - Local Star - a few months back and reviewed it already on this blog - and I enjoyed its space opera polyamorous queer story a good bit.  So I was very interested to see how this novella, advertised as a space opera reimagining of The Little Mermaid, would be.  

And while I'm not sure Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters will necessarily remind anyone of The Little Mermaid who hasn't seen that comparison beforehand, it's still a solid enjoyable novella with some really interesting themes and characters.  Like her other novella, it's very much a queer tale, featuring a girl from a sea dwelling race who change genders who had a childhood friend, a witch, turn her into a land-dweller so she could be with the man she loved....only to be forced to confront her past choices once her love falls ill with a plague.  The themes of love, of choices not taken, and of being okay with that in the end and still finding happiness work pretty well.  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim


Scavenge the Stars is the first in a young adult low fantasy duology by author Tara Sim.  The duology is an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, featuring as one of its two protagonists a girl sold to a debtor ship as a little girl before coming back fully grown, pretending to nobility in order to enact her revenge.  The book was originally published by a Disney imprint, but if you're expecting a book filled with light fare, you'll be surprised, this book is hardly grimdark but features some really dark moments and some serious themes to go along with everything.

But Scavenge the Stars makes that darkness generally work really really well.  Both its main characters, Amaya, the girl who wants revenge but finds herself slipping without an identity, and Cayo, the boy who is trying to recover from a gambling/alcohol addiction to be the man his sister wants him to be, are really really strong and the plot gives them substantial room to develop in fascinating ways.  More experienced readers will see a bunch of the twists coming fairly early in the plot, but the book executes them very well, with the exception perhaps of one deus ex machina at the end which helps set up the following book.  In short, this is a really strong YA fantasy and I will be very much looking forward to reading the sequel.  
Note: I read this in audiobook, and I did enjoy the reader a lot, so this is definitely worth your time in that format.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur


Full Disclosure:  This book was read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy) obtained via Netgalley from the publisher in advance of the book's release on April 27, 2021 in exchange for a potential review.  I give my word that this did not affect my review in any way - if I felt conflicted in any way, I would simply have declined to review the book.       

Folklorn is a novel by Angela Mi Young Hur from publisher Erewhon Books, which as a new publisher of off-beat SF/F and magical realism has really been putting out a ton of great stuff.  So I was already going to be interested in Folklorn anyway but I've also seen some high praise for it on twitter by a few writers I follow.  So yeah, I was really excited to pick up this one to see it for myself.

And Folklorn is like few novels I've read honestly, but it is absolutely tremendous.  A story of magical realism following a first generation Korean-American physicist feeling torn between worlds, between the stories of her seemingly gone-mad mother and the abuse of her now aged father, the racism and prejudice she has felt all over the world, and how all of those things seem to haunt her wherever she goes - literally perhaps as she begins to see her childhood imaginary friend guiding her toward...something. Don't get me wrong, it's not an American story really (it takes place as much in Sweden and also begins in Antarctica), but it absolutely the story of a woman, due to her Korean heritage and family, always seemingly out of place no matter where she goes, and it's utterly fascinating and compelling from beginning to end, even as it's often difficult to read.  

Trigger Warning:  The story features an abusive (physical) father and what can arguably be considered an abusive (verbally) mother, although such scenes are more often described than actually seen in the physical violence sense.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fantasy Novella Review: Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov


Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov

Tower of Mud and Straw is a novella that was serialized in four parts in Metamorphoses Magazine in 2020, the first part of which can be found online here.   It also was perhaps the biggest surprise finalist for the 2021 Nebula Awards, being nominated over a number of seemingly more notable novellas.  Naturally, with Nebula nominations coming out the week before Hugo nominations were due, I was immediately inspired to pick this one up to see if it was really worth an adjustment to my own Hugo ballot.*

*The Nebulas are voted for by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), so obviously I do not have a vote there.*

And well, uh, The Tower of Mud and Straw felt to me to honestly be more of a mess than anything.  It features a number of notable ideas and character traits and actions that are clearly inspired by or appeal to today's world (the protagonist begins the story having disobeyed an order to gas protestors, for example), but even in serialized novella form doesn't seem to have enough length to really make much hay of them all - leading to the story seeming to flip flop back and forth on plot devices constantly.  This is not unintentional - the protagonist remarks about it in the last act for instance - but it inspires more whiplash than anything else, muddling any message or character development that seems to be intended.  

Monday, April 12, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Stoneskin by KB Spangler


Stoneskin is a 2017 short novel from KB Spangler, best known for her A Girl and her Fed webcomic and its related self-published novels and stories, as well as for her editing and presence on twitter.  I've really enjoyed the webcomic and Spangler's social media presence (and editor of much of Ursula Vernon's self-published work), so I definitely wanted to check out Spangler's unrelated work like Stoneskin for a while.  Stoneskin is a bit of an oddity - it's a novel billed as a prequel to a series that wasn't even out at the time of its release - Spangler's "Deep Witches Trilogy."  But after a twitter follow kept promoting both books this week, I finally gave in and read this one.  

And Stoneskin is really interesting, if unsurprisingly not really complete as an installment.  The story revolves around a sentient energy force called the "Deep" that fills the galaxy which possesses the ability to move stuff...if it wants to and/or is directed to by those it befriends.  Those people, the Witches, use it to speed up logistics - moving people around the galaxy faster than with conventional FTL drives - around the galaxy.  The presence of such a force in this galaxy and those who can interact with it, presents a really interesting concept with interesting themes, and Stoneskin revolves around a young girl who is thrown into the role of a Witch way too early, and who has to figure out what it means to interact with the Deep, in a setup for the upcoming trilogy that doesn't quite stand on its own.  Still as an introduction to this world and the upcoming trilogy, it certainly has me really intrigued.