scifi

an update on r/fantasy bingo

I said last year I’d be doing the r/fantasy bingo, which runs from April to the end of March. I’ve completed it, mostly, except for the SFF-related nonfiction square. I know you can replace one square with any from a previous year but if I’m being honest, I don’t really have the energy to go look for previous ones, and I’d rather just admit I’ve not done the one square. 24 out of 25 prompts feels pretty good if I’m being honest!

I also lost track of which ones I managed in regular or hard mode, and sometimes I have the regular+hero (review) mode. I had a tracker in my planner, with little star stickers, but I switched reading journals and planners with the beginning of 2022 so it’s weird to go back…

It ended up being mostly reading whatever I wanted and then matching it to the prompts. I think if I do it again this year, I’ll try to assign books from my TBR to the card first, then tick them off, it feels more in the spirit of the game.

Let’s have a look at what I read!

Continue reading…

Small reviews: Hugo-nominated novellas

After a thread from Seanan McGuire earlier this year, I decided to get myself a supporting membership for Worldcon. It’s in DC this year so it’s safe to say I’m not going, I likely wouldn’t even go if there weren’t a pandemic on – but the supporting membership gives you votes in the Hugos (for a much much lower price than an attendance membership/ticket) and that means the voter packet.

The voter packet is all the works the authors and publishers agree to give you access to, for free, so that you have a chance to read them and vote fairly. This year, since Worldcon is in mid-December, there’s still some time to vote, and I’ve been working my way through the nominated works. This month I’ve focused first on reading all the novellas, since I heard a lot of good things about most of them.

I honestly don’t have a marked preference at this point, so I’m not telling you which I think is best, just sharing some thoughts! They’re in the nomination page order.

Come Tumbling Down,
by Seanan McGuire

This one’s a bit different from the other nominations, because it’s #5 in a series. It’s also MG/YA (I’m honestly not fully sure what I’d classify it as) while the others are pretty adult. I’ve enjoyed the series so far, but it’s hard to judge it on its own merits. It comes after book 3 in chronological order, with 4 being a standalone. But this one is very much part of the series and I had to look up the plot of the previous ones to have a refresher… It’s strongly focused on identity, who makes us who we are, can you be a “good” monster, etc. I found it really good but it’s so different from the others that I find it hard to compare.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo

I quite enjoyed this book when I read it back in… March? It’s one of two in this list (with Upright Women Wanted) that I’d read before its nomination, and I even wrote a full review for it back then (alongside the second in the duology). I still think the second book was much stronger, and it was also eligible. But sometimes things happen during nominations, who knows. I’d have preferred to see the second book, but it’s still a very strong contender. It’s very… soft? allegorical? those aren’t quite the right words but it’s full of symbolism and stories within stories.

Finna, by Nino Cipri

Last year around spooky season I read Horrorstor, which is a story set in an alternate-Ikea where eldrich things happen. This is a similar concept, but queerer, more adventure than horror (although with its fair dose of horrifying things too), and with the same level of “corporations and capitalism suck your soul” commentary. I really enjoyed it! Worth also noting one of the main characters is trans/nonbinary, and so is the writer. I still find it rare enough to see nonbinary rep, it’s good to see them represented in the ballot also (Empress of Salt and Fortune also has a nonbinary MC, though idk how Nghi Vo identifies).

Ring Shout, by P. Djéli Clark

I’ve enjoyed everything I read of P. Djéli Clark so far (both Dead Djinn universe novellas, and… I think a short story somewhere?) but I was hesitant to read this one for a while because the KKK isn’t exactly a light subject, and I didn’t know if I was ready to read more about that (a privilege I know!) even in a fantasy universe. This novella, however, is an absolute delight. Black people – especially Black women, queer Black women at that – just taking back the narrative and kicking KKK ass, with magic and eldritch horrors… I did not expect it to be funny, or joyful, but it really is! Again, not a topic I’d have thought I’d enjoy reading about but I was proven wrong!

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi

Now, that’s a name that’s been all over SFF in the last couple years, I feel like. And I’d been wanting to read this ever since it came out, without quite knowing what it was about. It turns out to be a bit too much real-life for my liking, and I struggled to finish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely fantasy, but it deals mainly with (systemic) racism, police brutality, and the prison industry… which weren’t themes I was really ready to take on at that point in time. You know, I know about it, I’m outraged by it, but I do read for escapism mainly, while this is more a political novella, without the utter joy that there was in Ring Shout. There’s nothing bad about it, it’s actually really good, it just is not for me.

Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey

So this is one of the books I received round Christmas last year, and I absolutely loved it (but also I’m biased towards paper books so it helps). I wrote a full review back in January, but the gist of it is Western, Queer, Librarian women. It’s one of the strongest books on this list, for me. Like Ring Shout, it takes a bleak subject – here a military, totalitarian, anti-queer and anti-women regime over the US (worse than the past 5 years, I mean) and does something joyful with it.


Honestly my vote is split on this one, they’re all very strong, although I do have my favourites – and I think most of them are doing something important one way or another. It’s a good thing the ballot lets you put a #2, #3, etc. but even then it’ll be tough to choose.

Review: Alice Payne duology, by Kate Heartfield

Now this is one of those books that I’d heard good things about back at Dublin2019, and never got around to it. I did love another Heartfield short story, in a Shakespeare anthology some years ago, and I also own her novel, Armed in her Fashion (still on my TBR) so I had an idea that I’d enjoy it, but never got around to it. I found the audiobooks on Scribd back in late August, and listened to the two of them in a row.

The story

A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.

It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.

It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.

It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!

But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.

Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s a fun adventure series, maybe a bit short for the scale of what it’s trying to do. I especially felt like it was missing something in-between the two novellas.

The audiobooks were great, I quite enjoyed the narrator, and at the same time I felt like I’d have needed a paper copy to be able to leaf back through it and piece things together more easily. Time travel usually wrecks my brain and it turns out when you can’t double check what just happened to help you keep track, it’s even harder. But the narration was well worth it.

What can I say, I also enjoyed the characters, all three main one – Prudence, Alice, and Jane. The dynamics between Alice and Jane are… strange at times, at the limit of toxic, and I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. I found it a lot more enjoyable in the second book, where they’re more respectful of each other, and both have a lot more agency/ Jane can be a lot more active and so feels less frustrated by it. With the usual disclaimer that as a white woman I’m not the best placed to judge this aspect, I did find that the choice of two Black women as the leads, especially in times like the late 1780s, and in places like England and America, gave more depth to the story and was well handled.

And highway women robbing rapey and abusive men to get back at them? sign me the eff up!

I did have some… plot related issues with the time travel, like I think at times it did not fully respect the own conventions/rules that were set (e.g. characters remembering things they would have normally forgotten, that kind of thing) and I feel that maybe a longer format would’ve been easier to manage. But as much as I like scifi shenanigans, I still read mostly for the characters, and I was not disappointed in that respect.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Portal Bookshop | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

Review: Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir

I’m a big fan of The Martian – I watched the movie a few years back, promptly got the book, and loved it! I’ve rewatched the movie half a dozen times since then, too. So I kind of jumped on this new book almost immediately (or, like, as soon as the library would give it to me, and I wasn’t the only one requesting it…)

(I once again forgot to take a real picture before handing back the book…)

The Story

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster in this incredible new science-based thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian.

A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery-and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Because it was such a get-automatically book for me, I did not really read the blurb beforehand… I wasn’t exactly surprised that the premise was similar to The Martian, albeit in a very different context. Your man Ryland is alone on a spaceship, having to science his way to survival… sounds pretty familiar. In this case, he’s not left behind, and he’s not trying to return to Earth, though. He’s on a one-way mission to another solar system, and his crewmates died in transit…

Continue reading…

Review: Seven of Infinities, by Aliette de Bodard

Seven of Infinities was on my TBR list since before it came out, I think, but I wanted a paper copy… Nikki gifted me a gorgeous one and I did a buddy read with Tessa, which was quite fun! I wanted to post the review on Friday but lack of spoons happened so… here we are! I finished reading it on Wednesday and I’m still quite thrilled about it.

The Story

Vân is a scholar from a poor background, eking out a living in the orbitals of the Scattered Pearls Belt as a tutor to a rich family, while hiding the illegal artificial mem-implant she manufactured as a student.

Sunless Woods is a mindship—and not just any mindship, but a notorious thief and a master of disguise. She’s come to the Belt to retire, but is drawn to Vân’s resolute integrity.

When a mysterious corpse is found in the quarters of Vân’s student, Vân and Sunless Woods find themselves following a trail of greed and murder that will lead them from teahouses and ascetic havens to the wreck of a mindship–and to the devastating secrets they’ve kept from each other.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

First off, I should say, althought this is part of de Bodard’s Xuya universe, you don’t need to have read any of it to understand and enjoy this novella. I’ve read The Tea Master and the Detective (as well as a short story collection, Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight), so it was nice to be able to draw parallels, but it’s not necessary at all!

I absolutely enjoy those novellas, because they mix scifi/space opera with murder mystery and queerness, and if that weren’t a recipe to my heart already, there’s food and tea involved. I joked on twitter that Aliette’s books need to come with a tea recommendation, but what makes them work for me is the atmosphere. The universe itself is a bit Out There, as scifi goes, with ships that are borne of human mothers, and deep Space that will make you mad, but it feels realistic because of that mundane atmosphere of foods and tea and rituals that make these people real to you.

Like Fireheart Tiger, women are also all the characters that matter in this book: the scholars and the thieves and the villains, the mothers and generals and future government officials. I especially loved the two leads, but the best of all was Uyen, Vân’s student. That kid kicked ass in all the best ways!

I also love a good bit of miscommunication, so it was fun watching both Vân and Sunless Woods hesitate on how much they can and should trust each other, and trying to guess the other’s real intentions while having half the truth. I always enjoy when there’s drama even on the good side. And I thought it made the growth of their relationship more interesting and real.

The murder mystery itself was intriguing and good, though it’s hard to say much about it without major spoilers. You’ll just have to trust me on that part.

Overall another great story by Aliette de Bodard, and one more reason to read more of her writing! It’s one of those books that stay with you for a while after.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Portal Bookshop | or listen to it on Scribd*

*this is an affiliate link, I may receive a free month if you sign up, at no extra cost to you

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers

I’ve been a bit quiet lately. On the one hand the weather’s been gorgeous, and on the other, I’m lacking the spoons to actually write… and that includes blogging :/ But I’ve still been reading, and I’m very happy to tell you more about the 3rd Wayfarers book today! Becky Chambers is one of my, if not the, favourite queer authors, or favourite authors altogether. Her scifi is very human and I just adore the worlds she builds!

The Story

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read this in preparation for the last of the series coming out (I already own it but I take forever to read at the moment).

I love every one of the books in this series – the first one maybe most of all – and this one was no exception. It really punched me in the guts at one point too, I had to put it down and take a few deep breaths, but I just couldn’t stay away from it for very long. Just be aware it comes with a TW for major character death.

It can easily be read as a standalone, although if you’ve read the previous ones you’ll be happy to meet Tessa, Ashby’s sister.

I sometimes have trouble with ensemble casts because there’s always one or two I don’t particularly like, but this wasn’t the case at all here. Just loved every single one of them, and was invested in all their stories. I also especially liked the diversity involved, from the unruly teenager to the mom of two, to the queer archivist in her 70s or 80s. It’s very rare to read about older queer people, especially, and it just warmed my little heart!

But most of all for me, with any Becky Chambers book, is the worldbuilding. Here, the Fleet is the perfect alternative to capitalism, a place where everyone has food and a place to sleep. It’s also a place where sex work is not taboo, where death is made meaningful… I have a lot of feelings about the Fleet, and most of them can be summed up as “I want this, for myself, like yesterday”.

It was a hard read at times, but it always felt just right and was very satisfying in the end. Just a perfect cosy, low stakes scifi novel about normal people trying to find their way in life.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones (signed copies!) | Kennys | Portal Bookshop

ARC Review: Local Star, by Aimee Ogden

I originally planned to post this on F/F friday (I was somehow convinced it came out on the 9th, too, which would have been perfect!) but as it is out TODAY I thought it would be just so much better to talk about it now!

The Story

Local Star is a polyamorous space opera with a fast-paced, action-packed adventure that’s sure to punch you in the feels. It follows guttergirl Triz as she saves her hub from invaders from the Cyberbionautic Alliance, all the while negotiating her rekindled romance with Kalo, her ex who’s returned from battle and won’t stop hanging around the wrenchworks.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I received a free advanced reader copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

So I wasn’t really convinced by the sketchy type cover art, but the blurb really got me. And the novella does deliver. It’s short, maybe a bit too short in places, but it certainly delivers in action.

I especially liked how the scene was set, with this queernorm space station where poly is normal, nonbinary folk go round using neopronouns and being part of said poly families, and where the space station provides you with food and lodgings even if you’re out of a job. The perfect queer utopia!

The main character was interesting in that she had a bit of an outsider complex and really couldn’t believe she could be part of any family, so it was nice seeing her go through that. I thought her relationship/”rekindled romance” as the summary puts it, with the male love interest was a bit rushed, and I’d have appreciated if the author took a bit more time there, but at the same time it wasn’t really the focus.

What was, instead, was Triz’s work to exonerate her girlfriend/partner from the ridiculous charges against her, and in the process run up and down a station that’s shutting down, and trying to catch up a convict and actual war criminal.

There was clearly a lot of worldbuilding that went into this and got me intrigued about the whole universe Ogden built there. I wouldn’t mind reading more of Triz’s, Casne’s and Kalo’s adventures, or even another polycule’s in the same universe. There’s lots more I want to see, but this was a good self contained first look into that universe, and it felt a lot like watching an episode of a star trek show in the way it all neatly resolves. Very satisfying to read, both because of just how queer it was, and for the adventure it took me on!

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you