Tag Archives: science fiction

Retro Review: When We Have Wings (2011)

Claire Corbett

Allen & Unwin (2011)

ISBN: 978-1-74237-556-4

 

This book is a very interesting case from a marketing point of view – from what I’ve seen, it’s been marketed as neither science fiction nor young adult, and yet in could easily fit into both categories. Instead, the publisher seems to have been promoting it as a literary novel, which I can also see sense in, but given the content of some of the books I’ve seen shoved into the YA pigeonhole in recent years, I have to say I am a bit surprised they haven’t targeted that market. Still, I believe the book is selling well under their current marketing, so who is to complain!

When We Have Wings is an accomplished debut novel for Canadian-born Australian writer Claire Corbett. Sweeping in vision and scope, the story bounces between two very different points of view, that of cynical but solid private investigator Zeke Fowler, and a young nanny, Peri, who had risen to heights she could not have dreamed of from her humble beginnings, and then thrown it all away. Zeke is hired by Peri’s employers, high flyers (in all senses of the phrase!) the Chesshyres, when Peri apparently kidnaps their young son, and disappears with him into the wilderness.

The dual narrative shows both Zeke’s search for Peri, and the things he finds out about flier society along the way (which have a personal impact for him), and Peri’s journey to discover more about herself and the world she is now part of.

Part of what makes the story compelling is Peri’s role as carer for the baby Hugo – her love and concern for the child is believable and beautiful, even as she struggles with her desire to learn more about herself and her abilities, and grapples with her need to escape the flier world she has been thrust into. She refuses to abandon Hugo, even though her escape would be easier without him, and this love drives much of the narrative.

I thought Zeke’s story was perhaps the more interesting one though – the adult, living in a world he did not grow up in, trying to cope with the fact that his son could be, and may need to be, basically a different species to himself, if he wants to give him the best possible chance at a good life. While somewhat of a metaphor for any parent raising children in today’s technology-rich world, Zeke’s journey as a father is one of the more emotional aspects of the book, and I found it wholly convincing.

When We Have Wings is not perfect. I’m never a fan of overly young protagonists put in a situation of the kind Peri is – for me, if the story can be told with a slightly older character, I really don’t see the reason for making her that young, particularly as she rarely, if ever, behaves in a way that would make me believe that was actually her age. Additionally, I felt the book was somewhat overlong, and some events were unnecessary to the successful conclusion of the story being told.

Having said that, I think there were elements that Corbett got so right – the advancement of technology, and how that impacts on society as a whole, was spot on, an extrapolation to a not-too-distant future rooting exactly where we are today. And the writing itself is almost entirely wonderful – Corbett has a beautiful style and I would definitely read more from her.

In all, I would recommend When We Have Wings to lovers of science fiction, to literary fiction fans, and to readers looking to stretch their boundaries. It’s not a short book, but it’s worth the effort.

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Retro Review: Warrior Wisewoman (2008)

Edited by Roby James

Norilana Books (2008)

ISBN: 9781934169896

This collection, edited by Roby James, is touted to be inspired by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s long-running (even after her death) Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Where S&S were fantasy collections, Warrior Wisewoman purports to be science fiction with strong female characters taking the lead. I think the title, Warrior Wisewoman actually doesn’t do this goal justice, as to me, both title words indicate fantasy, as does the cover artwork, but regardless, that was the charter the contributors submitted to! Twelve stories, one of them by New Zealand author Douglas A. Van Belle, whose name, incidentally, was the only one that I recognised in any way. However, I imagine that many of the authors in the pages of Warrior Wisewoman will be seen in many more forums in the future. Continue reading

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Some of my favourite SF series: A List

Not in response to anything this time, other than a comment on my 30 Favourite Fantasy Series list that suggested separating out the SF is hard. So here’s a list of some of my favourite science fiction series. Again, I’m only listing here books I have read (at least some of the series) and enjoyed and which include at least two books in a defined series. I acknowledge I’m rather under-read in SF compared to Fantasy. I have a fairly broad view of what science fiction looks like – basically if it uses scientific ideas to extrapolate in some way on the world we live in, I’ll include it! And that might be a different way to define in than what you use, which is absolutely fine – wouldn’t the world be dull if we were all the same?

  1. Confederation series by Tanya Huff – I don’t quite know how Huff manages to write in so many different ways, but her military space opera is astonishingly good that combines great action with excellent characters.
  2. Ghatti’s Tale trilogy by Gayle Greeno – similar to the Pern books, the Ghatti books read quite a lot like fantasy, and to be fair, the premise is pretty much the same, except there are cats instead of dragons. I haven’t read these in years, but I loved them when I read them (were you listening? Telepathic cats!) and I wouldn’t mind giving them another look, from a more mature viewpoint.
  3. Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie – challenging reads but well worth the investment of brain power.
  4. In Death series by JD Robb – I adore these books. They probably fit more appropriately in the police procedural genre but they are set some 40-odd years in the future, and are so much fun to read! There’s dozens of them in the series and every time a new one comes out (thank you Nora (Roberts, JD Robb’s alter ego) for two books per year!), I drop everything else and devour it in a single sitting.
  5. Jacob’s Ladder by Elizabeth Bear – generation ship drama with interesting examinations of religion and mythology.
  6. Newsflesh series by Mira Grant – including the original trilogy and the new collection in the extended series (and there is a new book on the way!) because they are brilliant. I like to call Feed (the first of the trilogy) a science fiction political thriller with zombies. Believable, awful near future zombies. An absolute favourite.
  7. On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis – this is a sneaky sideways inclusion as I’m not sure if Duyvis IS working on more in this world, but she HAS published at least one story with the same setting and including some crossover characters (“And the Rest of Us Wait” in Defying Doomsday from Twelfth Planet Press), so I’m going to give it a pass. Mostly because I adored both book and story for the visceral realism of the world and events as well as the underpinning diversity of the characters.
  8. Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward – another that is a bit of a cheat, but I know she’s got the second volume well in hand, so I’ll include it because the first book is so darn powerful.
  9. Pern (also most other McCaffrey) – having recently re-read the entire Pern back catalogue, I feel confident in saying they belong on any science fiction series best of list, let alone just my favourites! Still love these and they can still make me cry. I’m also a bit fan of the Talent and Hive books, and enjoy all the others too.
  10. Saga of the Exiles and Galactic Milieu books by Julian May – I ADORED these (two connected series) when I accidentally discovered them many years ago. I read the series in the wrong order and was delighted to realise they were connected when I discovered the first series. I’m a sucker for psychic powers and a bit of time travel, and the characters of these books absolutely suck you in. I really must look into a re-read to see how they stand up over 30 years after first publication…
  11. Santa Olivia books by Jacqueline Carey – is there such a thing as “urban science fiction”? Because I feel like that’s what this is. Military genetically enhanced humans explaining a “werewolf” storyline. If I can suspend my disbelief, I count it as SF, so this counts. It’s not, for me, as immersive as her Kushiel series, but it’s a completely different reading experience. 
  12. Sentients of Orion quartet by Marianne de Pierres – expansive hard SF from a fantastic Australian author.
  13. The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina – Australian YA dystopian SF with indigenous roots, solidly explored.
  14. Vatta’s War by Elizabeth Moon – military science fiction (and one of the reasons I get a little twitchy when I see discussions of military SF that don’t mention female writers – Bujold and Huff are the other reasons…).
  15. Veiled Worlds trilogy by Jo Anderton – there’s some discussion about whether these books count as SF or fantasy (one was shortlisted for the Best Fantasy Novel and one of Best SF Novel Aurealis Awards in subsequent years…), but I feel there’s enough play in the world-building to give it the nod.
  16. Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold – given I’ll buy an advance review ecopy of any new Vorkosigan book from the publisher at a ridiculous price, I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan. My favourite thing about this series is that while the premise and worldbuilding is firmly space opera (tending to military SF at times), almost every book is not so secretly built on the foundations of a different genre. It’s clever stuff, and means each book is fresh! Love them.
  17. When We Wake series by Karen Healey – near future YA SF, experimental cryogenics, and a cool conceit for exploring current issues.
  18. Xenogenesis by Octavia Butler – alien invasion, eugenics and saving the remainder of the human race at the core.

Well, that’s me done for a quick overview of my bookshelves and Goodreads. As always, the disclaimer that if I sat down to do this on a different day, I’d almost certainly come up with a different list! Let me know some of YOUR favourites in the comments!

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New Review: Double Down (2016)

Gwenda Bond

Switch Press (2016)

ISBN: 9781630790387

Lois Lane #2

Teen Lois Lane is settling into school, her baby-journalist job, and a new, somewhat unexpected friendship group, all of which is a bit new for her. But Lois wouldn’t be Lois if she didn’t have a nose for disorder, and between that and her loyalty to those she cares about, the scene is set for mystery, adventure and imminent danger. When her friend Maddy’s twin sister starts experiencing odd turns, Lois is drawn into investigating the source of the problem. Uncovering some weird science and a link to their other friend James’s father’s past disgrace, the situation quickly escalates. On top of everything else, Lois’s online confidant, who she knows only as SmallvilleGuy, has concerns too – and what concerns him, naturally concerns her. It’s a recipe for trouble, and Lois is in the thick of it, where she likes it best.

My favourite part of this book is the sweet unfolding relationship between Lois and SmallvilleGuy (who, duh, is clearly Clark/Superman) – I like the way Lois approaches the friendship and her maturity in discussing it with him. It’s nice that they look out for and support each other, even if it’s isn’t in the real world, as such. I also enjoyed Lois’s friendship with her sister, which is far more believable than the one she has with her parents…

Believability is my biggest issue with this book, and indeed, the series so far. Possibly it’s because I’m not really the target audience. This is definitely a young adult novel – it’s written that way and it hits the beats for it. YA is usually my thing but these ones don’t have the usual appeal – I’m hoping it isn’t because I’m ageing out of the field, because YA is where most of the interesting stuff is! I think that more likely, it’s to do with the medium. What can work in a graphic form, in comics, doesn’t always translate into fiction. While these are written as original novels, the source material is comics. Teenage heroes (be they super or otherwise) are generally unlikely, in any shape. The way Lois interacts with the adult authority figures in her life is bordering on bizarre. She is sixteen but thinks nothing of the way she wrangles her parents, her boss (Perry White), her principal, and in this book, the mayor and plenty of others. It strains my credulity too far, and just doesn’t work. And I don’t think the worldbuilding of the book quite supports the extent of the suspension of disbelief we need – the “science” of this story, while feeling quite natural in the comics, doesn’t quite gel for me within the context of the otherwise fairly realistic setting of the story.

Having said that, the mechanics of the story are fine, although I think it perhaps takes a little long to get to the point. There’s lovely character development among Lois’s merry band of teen journos, and enough action to keep things going. While I didn’t love it, I’m on board to find out where Bond takes Lois and SmallvilleGuy in this iteration, and I’ll happily pick up the next book.

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New Review: Forest of Memory (2016)

Mary Robinette Kowal

Tor

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8389-1

This is one of those books where you get to the end of the story and start grumbling that it’s not a novel. Or for that matter, a series of novels that let you have more of this character, more of this world, more of the twisty ideas threading throughout the piece which tug at ideas that are bigger than the story being told.

Our narrator (and she is literally the narrator of the story) is Katya Gould, an Authenticities dealer in a future where everyone is online and retro is big bucks. After making an acquisition, Katya is on her way home from a “shopping trip” when she stumbles across a man doing something he shouldn’t be, shooting protected deer from the forest. This is the beginning of the somewhat surreal tale Katya tells her mysterious buyer, and throws her into a situation she could never have imagined: offline, out of touch and out of reach, alone in the forest with a strange man who is tagging the deer, and uncertain of her fate.

I loved the more abstract elements of this piece the most – it seemed to me that Kowal was unpicking aspects of environmentalism in confrontation with technological reliance, and examining these in a context that was just off-kilter enough to disturb. The discussion of memory, and the way we process life through filters (some of them ours, some of them imposed) was elegant and thoughtful, and cleverly reflected through the deliberate use of typographical errors and cross-outs throughout the text (the conceit being the story is being written on the typewriter Katya acquires at the beginning of the story). Yes, reading a story with errors deliberately left in was a challenge, but the effect becomes powerful as the story unfolds.

Forest of Memory is a story that both ends exactly where it needs to but also leaves you yearning for more – it seems there is so much more of Katya’s world to explore and understand, and I would be very happy to hear Kowal intends to do just that.

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