Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis

Cover of Otherbound

Corinne Duyvis
387 pages
published in 2014

It was thanks to The SKiffy and Fanty Show that I got to know about Dutch author Corinne Duyvis and her début novel Otherbound, when they had an interview with her about her book. This interview intrigued me enough to buy the ebook and start reading it immediately, because Duyvis was saying smart things about diversity and disability; it also helped that in the Dutch SF round table was raving about this book. And they were right to. This is a smart, well written fantasy novel with a clever, original idea at the heart of it that deserves to be a huge success.

Nolan would be just a normal high school kid, where it not for his crippling epileptic seizures. Amara is a servant girl, her only job to keep the fugitive princess Cilla safe, functioning as the lightning rod for the princess’ curse. Any drop of her blood spilled will attract the world’s vengeance on her, so instead Amara has to draw the curse to her, because she has a healing power that will allow the curse to do its worst and still leave her alive. As a side effect of her “gift”, Nolan was dragged into her world, her mind, seeing and experiencing Amara’s life every time he closes his eyes, every time he blinks. So when Cilla’s protector and Amara’s overseer, Jorn, punishes Amara for her neglicence by thrusting her arms into a fire, Nolan feels the pain alongside her. It’s this what’s really behind his epilepsy, this loss of control as he’s sucked into Amara’s world and can’t pay attention to his own.

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The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley

Cover of The Mirror Empire

The Mirror Empire
Kameron Hurley
540 pages
published in 2014

Kameron Hurley’s debut novel Gods War had an impact many other writers would envy her for, only equalled by the buzz generated by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice last year. It wasn’t just an accomplished debut novel, it also helped revitalise science fiction at a time when it started to grow a bit stale again. Expectations are therefore high for Hurley’s new novel, The Mirror Empire, the first in a new series and the first fantasy novel she has published. Would it be as good and inventive as her previous series, would she be as good at writing fantasy as science fiction?

Halfway through Mirror Empire I finally realised what it reminded me off: Steven Erikson’s Malazan series. Not so much in setting or plot, but rather in complexity and willingness of both authors to throw all sorts of interesting ideas into their novels, ideas you may not expect in what at first glance seems to be a standard epic fantasy series. Where they differ is that Hurley is much better at inclueing the reader about who all these people are and how everything fits together, where Erikson had a magnificent disdain for the reading, leaving them to sink or swim on their own. Hurley is … more forgiving but still requires you to pay attention. This is not a novel to read with your brain in standby.

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The Steerswoman — Rosemary Kirstein

Cover of The Steerswoman

The Steerswoman
Rosemary Kirstein
279 pages
published in 1989

As long as I’ve been online and talking to other fans I’ve been hearing about The Steerswoman, how it’s one of those great lost books of science fiction and how sad it was that it had fallen out of print, how everybody who read it loved it; I never heard anybody say anything bad about it. Now, finally, after twenty years of hearing this I had the chance to judge for myself and you know what? Everybody was right. And if you want the chance to see for yourself why this book is so highly rated, the ebook is very reasonably priced.

But reading The Steerswoman, after having heard so much about, brings on a strange tension. As with any such book, you come into it with a certain knowledge about it, an expectation about how the plot would roughly develop, somewhat of an idea of the central gimmick of the novel, of what makes it special. It makes me wonder how I would’ve read The Steerswoman had I stumbled over it in 1989, before I had that knowledge. So erm, for any reader who doesn’t know about it, do me a favour and read it before you read the rest of this post and tell me what you think? Don’t read on, just go out and buy it from the link above.

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The Honor of the Queen — David Weber

Cover of The Honor of the Queen

The Honor of the Queen
David Weber
384 pages
published in 1993

The Honor of the Queen is the second novel in the Honor Harrington series, which finds Honor promoted after the events of On Basilik Station and off to command a small flottila escorting a diplomatic and trade mission to the Grayson Republic, which the Manticoran Kingdom hopes to gain as an ally. The thing is, Grayson is a system settled by American fundamentalist Christians who lived in isolation for centuries on a planet that was literally poisonous to them due to the amount of heavy metals in its soil. They have a bit of a problem therefore with women serving in the military, which complicates things for Honor. Meanwhile, on the planet of even more fundamentalist Christians, Manticore’s ancient rival the Haven Republic is busy meddling…

The Honor Harrington books are purely escapist mind candy for me, books I grab when I really don’t want to make an effort but still want to read something. Weber is a good enough author that he keeps your attention throughout, that he keeps you wanting to read on to find out the rest of the story no matter how often you’ve read it, which is why I’ve read his Harrington novels more often than many much better novels. They just give me something other books can’t. Even if objectively speaking they’re not very good.

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Zwarte Sterren — Roelof Goudriaan (editor)

Cover of Zwarte Sterren

Zwarte Sterren
Roelof Goudriaan (editor)
209 pages
published in 2005

Growing up in the Netherlands I of course read a lot of science fiction in Dutch, but never read much Dutch science fiction, if only because there wasn’t that much in the first place. Plenty of young adult science fiction, with Thea Beckman and the Euro 5 series being particular favourites of mine, but not many writers of grownup science fiction. Most sf publishers rather translated cheaper British or American science fiction than gamble on a Dutch or Belgian author. Better get some more Van Vogt instead.

And to a certain extend, especially once I started reading English good, there was the cultural cringe. It all seemed a bit less interesting, a bit more naff when written in Dutch. It just doesn’t have the grandiosity or bombast of English and attempts to achieve the same effects usually end up sounding corny or fake. So while there were a couple of authors I liked, Wim Gijssen and especially Belgian author Eddy C. Bertin, I haven’t attempted to keep up with Dutch science fiction at all.

Until the recent Worldcon that is.

Books read August

August has been a milestone month for me; not only did I turn forty, I also went to my first Worldcon. I had wanted to go to the Glasgow Worldcon nine years ago, but what with having been unemployed the year before and buying a house with Sandra, there just wasn’t either the money or the time to go there. Never mind eh, the 2014 Worldcon was a brilliant one to have as your first, though it did put a bit of strain on my reading. Only seven books finished as compared to nine last month, two fantasy, five science fiction, all women. Didn’t set out to read only female writers this month, but it just turned out that way.

Moving Target — Elizabeth Moon
The second installment in the Vatta’s War series, this was braincandy. I got it and read it in a day.

Sister Mine — Nalo Hopkinson
Urban fantasy about two not quite human sisters in Toronto as they struggle to come to terms with their relationship in the shadow of the voodoo-esque gods they serve.

Spin — Nina Allan
This short novel is inspired by the legend of Arachne and Athena and mixes fantasy and science fiction and is incredibly well written.

On a Red Station, Drifting — Aliette de Bodard
A disgraced magistrate in the Dai Viet Empire flees to the not quite pristene space station her distant family rules; things get complicated.

The Adventures of Alyx — Joanna Russ
I’d already read Picnic on Paradise a decade or so ago, but it was interesting to read it again in the context of the other Alyx stories, which you could call feminist fantasy parables.

The Steerswoman — Rosemary Kirstein
Bought this as an ebook on the strength of James Nicoll’s review; bought the whole series in fact. One of those books you have to lay down now and again to savour the writing and not have it end too soon.

Witch World — Andre Norton
The first novel in Norton’s best known and most successful series, about a man from our world who just after WWII is transported to another world where magic and high technology seem to exist hand in hand, to fight against an evil looming over the people who adopted him.

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots/Multiverse — Seanan McGuire

Cover of Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots/Multiverse
Seanan McGuire
312 pages
published in 2012, 2013

I had been following Seanan McGuire on her Livejournal for donkey ages, but I only got around to reading her Velveteen stories when they were linked from MetaFilter. Bad Martin. No biccie. Of course I then inhaled all the linked posts in less than an afternoon (not at work of course, nooo) and found I had to buy the actual ebooks, if only to be able to burble about them here.

I haven’t read anything else of Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant yet, so it may seem strange that this got such a hold on me, but it just perfectly fit the story crack receptors in my brain. Well told, short superhero stories done with flair and invention, lots of drama and emotional rollercoasters, no fear of consequences or of looking silly. Velveteen is a young superheroine just let go of the most famous superhero team in the world, the Junior Super Patriots, looking to start a new life without superheroing as long as the sinister marketing company behind 90 percent of superheroes lets her. Greatly lacking in self confidence and trust in her powers — which consists of being able to bring to life and manipulate toys — she thinks herself barely qualified to cope with real life, let alone the challenges walking away from the Junior Super Patriots have brought her.

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Dhalgren — Samuel R. Delany

Cover of Dhalgren

Samuel R. Delany
879 pages
published in 1975

Question: what are the two places man will never reach? Answer: the heart of the sun and page 100 of Dhalgren.

A corny old joke, with a kernel of truth because Dhalgren is not an easy book to read. Almost 900 pages long it’s a monster of a book, even more so when you remember it was published at a time when any science fiction novels over 200 pages was a bit on the long side. And unlike certain modern novels of that length, Dhalgren demands your attention on every page; you can’t get through it on the autopilot. It’s therefore no wonder that it took me most of February to read it, with no time for other books. But it was worth it as even almost forty years later this still is one of the most ambitious and challenging science fiction novels ever written.

Some people think it’s the symbol of everything that went wrong with science fiction. That “joke” I opened is less a joke than a sneer, repeated by people still mad at what the New Wave did to science fiction though they were born long after it. According to them Dhalgren is dense, impenetrable and unreadable, elitist fodder for literary snobs. What really sticks in their craw though is that Dhalgren was one of the biggest science fiction bestsellers of the seventies, going through fifteen printings between 1975 and 1980. Somebody must’ve liked it; in fact, like Dune or Stranger in A Strange Land, much more palatable bestsellers to these embittered fans, it must’ve appealed to people outside science fiction’s core readership.

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Books read July

Because I decided to go to Loncon as you may have noticed, this month my reading was dominated by Hugo related works, but I still managed to fit three more novels than last month in:

Hurricane Fever — Tobias Buckell
A fast moving near future thriller set in a Caribbean menaced by almost constant hurricanes. Read because Tobias Buckell was kind enough to provide a review copy.

The Lives of Tao — Wesley Chu
Wesley Chu is one of the candidates for the Campbell Best New Writer award this year and this provided as part of the voting package. A decent adventure read, but nothing special.

A Stranger in Olondria — Sofia Samatar
Another candidate for the Campbell, Sofia Samatar got my vote on the strength of this novel, a fantasy travelogue set in a world that’s not your average medievaloid setting.

Three Parts Dead — Max Gladstone
Another candidate, this was a great secondary world/urban fantasy story about a chartered accountant (more or less) investigating the death of a god.

Moon over Soho — Ben Aaronovitch
An urban fantasy murder mystery set in contemporary London; part of a series.

Six Gun Snow White — Catherynne M. Valente
My vote for the Best Novella Hugo, this retelling of the Snow White fairytale set in the Wild West, was published as a short novel. (And would’ve been a normal length novel forty years or so.)

Deep Wizardry — Diane Duane
Second in the Young Wizards series. This almost made me cry. Almost.

The Warrior’s Apprentice — Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover of The Warrior's Apprentice

The Warrior’s Apprentice
Lois McMaster Bujold
315 pages
published in 1986

As you probably know, Bob, The Warrior’s Apprentice is the second novel in the Vorkosigan Saga series of mil-sf adventures and came out in the same year as the first, Shards of Honor. Whereas that book starred Miles parents, this is the introduction of Miles Vorkosigan, the just under five foot crippled before birth by a neurotoxin attack on his mother, insanely charismatic, insanely hyperactive military genius who, at the start of the novel is trying to make it through the eliminations for officer candidacy in the Barrayaran Imperial Military Service. The written exam is no problem; it’s the physical tests that are a challenge for somebody who could break his bones just by sitting down hard.

His strategy is to take it slow and careful, but being seventeen he lets himself get goaded by one of his fellow candidates, takes an unnecessary risk and breaks his legs, with it shattering his chances to get into the military. Worse than his own disappointment is his grandfather’s, the liberator of Barrayar of the Cetegendans, who dies the next night — Miles convinced he killed him by breaking his heart. In his despair and sorry he’s glad to get away from Barrayar and, because of the political situation his father too would like to see him visit his mother’s family on Beta Colony, a nicely civilised part of the galaxy where aristocratic notions of honour are held for the anachronisms they are. He doesn’t travel alone; his bodyguard, sergeant Bothari, of course has to travel with him and he manages to persuade his mother to ask Bothari’s daughter, Elena, to come with him as well. He’s of course half in love with her and thinks a trip to another planet and perhaps the chance to learn more of Elena’s long dead mother, would get him into her good graces. Yes, Miles is somewhat of a nice guy but trust me, he grows out of it.

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