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.  

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Seventy-Five SciFi/Fantasy Works You Should Read


It's been about six years since I began to read science fiction and fantasy again, after a long stretch between High School and Law School where I barely read any books at all.  And if you follow me on twitter, you may have seen me occasionally post pictures of my spreadsheet of books read, which is now over 800 books long.  So I figured it was about time I posted a list of the books that I've read that I think people absolutely SHOULD read, if they haven't already.  

This list is of course only my opinion, and even for my opinion is not meant to be an exclusive list - it also errs on the side of more recent than older books, because that's what I read.  I will also include together series as a single work on this list, unless books in a series are clearly stand-alone and worthy of reading in and of themselves - and if I do choose a series, I'll highlight which entries in particular are worth your time.  If I've reviewed the books on this blog, I'll link the reviews, but otherwise, this will not be a post of deep thoughts, just the names of books and a quick list of subcategories those books belong to and themes contained within.  

Okay enough disclaimers, let's start.  These books are in no particular order.  Also please note that the number of themes/subgenres listed for each book has nothing to do with how good each book is:

Thursday, April 8, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne


Engines of Oblivion is the second book in Karen Osborne's "Memory War" space opera duology, which began last year with her Architects of Memory (which I reviewed here).  Architects of Memory was an....odd book for me: on one hand, its themes of the importance of memory to our own being was interesting and its dueling anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist (kind of, bear with me a bit) messages worked decently.  On the other hand, as the book went on, there were frequently points where I had honestly no clue what was going on, which prevented everything from hitting as hard as it could, and outside of our main duo of characters, everyone else really didn't get too much depth.  So I was a bit unsure of what I would find in the sequel, or even if I'd finish it.  

And yeah, Engines of Oblivion is as, if not more, confusing than its predecessor, at least to someone who reads like I do so quickly.  And it again doesn't quite have much depth in its side characters.  Yet despite my confusion, despite the lack of depth, the new* main character's storyline more than made up for all of that, as the story once again tells a strong story of memory, of individuality and personality, and of the monsters of capitalism, all in a space opera plot featuring strange alien tech and whatnot.  I probably wouldn't read a third book in this series (though I don't think there will be one), but I'm interested in seeing where Osborne's writing goes from here.  

*well, new to this book, the character was a side character in book 1.* 

Spoilers for book 1 follow: