More books arrive

Six of these, half a dozen of the other...

Six of these, half a dozen of the other…

Here we have courtesy of Tor: Michael Swanwick, CHASING THE PHOENIX, David Weber, HELL’S FOUNDATIONS QUIVER, Jaime Lee Moyer, AGAINST A BRIGHTENING SKY, and Catherynne M. Valente’s RADIANCE. Courtesy of DAW, we have Jacey Bedford’s WINTERWOOD. And courtesy of Oxford University Press, Nicholas Walton’s GENOA LA SUPERBA: THE RISE AND FALL OF A MERCHANT PIRATE SUPERPOWER.


Reviewed over at

This is generous book, and a hopeful one. It doesn’t handwave away the problems of imperialism and colonisation, but neither does it close down the possibility for the future to be better than the past. The Imperial Radch trilogy, as a whole, strikes me as a work with a central thematic interest in what you do with what’s done to you—among other things. Identity. Volition. Constraint. Right action.

Books arrive!

There is a new postbloke on our route. This morning he rang the door at 0830. I thought I dreamed it, until I woke up properly and discovered the “we missed you, please collect your parcel” inside the letterbox.

Hello, shiny bookses!

Hello, shiny bookses!

That’s Greg van Eekhout’s DRAGON COAST, courtesy of Tor Books. Courtesy of Orbit, Kate Elliott’s BLACK WOLVES (woo!) and Lila Bowen’s WAKE OF VULTURES.

A finished copy!

A finished copy!

And here, courtesy of Tor Books, is a finished copy of Ilana C. Myers’ LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT.

Unfinished books: C.A. Higgins, LIGHTLESS

C.A. Higgins, Lightless. Del Rey, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Science fiction written by a person with a degree in physics. Sounds great, right? I’m sure Lightless has some good points – the prose, though naive, is brisk and energetic – but I couldn’t last out long enough to identify them. The aforesaid naive prose relies much too heavily on to-be verbs, the main character is basically a person-shaped hole, and very shortly we meet a Man who is possibly a Pirate with Very Blue Eyes.

The most brilliant blue Althea had ever seen had been in the sky of the equatorial region on Earth, where she had gone for a brief vacation from her studies. That did not compare to the brilliant color of the man’s eyes.

The blue-eyed man. The blue-eyed man. HEREAFTER WE SHALL REFER TO HIM AS THE BLUE-EYED MAN. The blue-eyed man likes to BANDY WORDS. When confronted with people carrying guns, this happens:

“And what if we don’t go?” the blue-eyed man asked.
“Your friend tried to resist me,” said Domitian. “I snapped his arm. What do you want me to do to you?”
The blue-eyed man smiled, white teeth showing.
“I mean if we think getting shot would be better than going into your brig,” he said, clarifying with a show of false politeness that perfectly matched his Terran accent.


Clearly he is Special, and if he doesn’t wind up being a romantic interest, I’ll eat a handful of raw peppercorns.

It was shortly after this point that I decided I had better things to do with my time. If any one of you has read it, please let me know if it improves?

Gender and Genderqueerness

If you’re here for the talking about books, this post is going to bore you. Fair warning.

I spent part of the weekend at Octocon, the Irish National Science Fiction Convention. (It was supposed to be the whole weekend, but I got home on Saturday night, slept 15 hours straight, and woke up still unsure which way was down. I think no one would have got any sense out of me on Sunday.) I participated in four panels, and had an immense amount of fun with all of them – even the last, “Genderqueerness as a Marker of the Other,” about which I was perhaps excessively anxious.

That panel was very interesting. It also brought me to a realisation about my own attitude to gender, my own relationship to gender identity. It is really weird talking about gender, and gender identities, because I can’t escape the feeling that other people experience gender-as-a-property very differently than I do.

Because for me, gender is not an inherent property of selfhood. It doesn’t inhere in the body, but neither does it attach to any other part of being. It’s a social construct, not an objective entity; a performance whose rules change over time and from context to context. When I think of myself, I only think of gendering myself when it involves interacting with a social context that requires a kind of performance, that genders bodies. Gender is play. Gender is roleplay. (Performing femininity – now that’s a role whose rules I’ve never been able to figure out.)

I speak of myself as a woman because the social context is unlikely to ever open up to me the role of man. (I don’t particularly want to perform manhood, either.) And it’s still easier to chafe at the confines of woman-as-role than to define myself as different to either. I don’t want to have to define myself in gendered terms – even if those gendered terms are “I reject your categories entirely!” – in order to live as myself.

(Let us do away with all the fraught baggage attached to gendered roles! Be rid of it completely! Let us tear down the patriarchy and default to singular-they.)

I don’t know how common this view of gender is, or selfhood. I don’t know how odd this makes me, or if it’s more ordinary than I know. It’s something the panel brought me to articulate to myself about how I see the world and my place in it, though.

KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY, by Kieran Shea: Patreon-supported review

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea
Titan Books, ISBN 978-1783298990, 350pp, MMPB, USD$7.99/CAN$10.49. June 2015. Cover artist not given.

Koko Takes a Holiday is Kieran Shea’s first novel. And for a first novel? It’s actually not bad.

Ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is enjoying an easy early retirement as a brothel owner on the Sixty Islands, a resort known for sex, violence, and its management’s homicidal attitude towards discipline problems among their direct employees. Koko’s enjoying the good life, until her old comrade-in-arms (and current rising Sixty Islands management star) Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to kill her.

Koko, however, is better at violence than the people sent to kill her. She escapes the Sixty Islands to a set of floating habitats known as the Free Zone, where the Sixty Islands aren’t supposed to be allowed to send a bounty hunter after her. If Koko didn’t run into any more trouble, though, this would be a much shorter novel: soon she has not one but three bounty hunters on her tail. Hers and her almost-unwilling accomplice, an ex-cop who had been planning to kill himself until Koko put a gun to his head. And pretty soon after that, she’s got nowhere to run, except right back to the Sixty Islands to confront Delacompte over this peculiar vendetta, and either kill or be killed.

The peculiar part comes from the fact that Delacompte voluntarily had parts of her memory erased, so she can’t remember why she’s trying to have Koko killed. Koko, on the other hand, can remember everything about her association with Delacompte, but she has no idea why Delacompte would wait until now to try to have her done in.

That’s the weakest part of the book, actually, the bit that makes the least sense. The rest is batshit pulp violence in a recovering-from-the-apocalypse landscape, but Delacompte’s tactics for dealing with Koko make no sense if Delacompte’s supposed to be even a little smart — and the narrative says she’s a smart enough sociopath to succeed in her environment.

So what did I think of it?

This is basically Quentin-Tarantino-as-SF-novel. Not that I’ve seen much Tarantino, but the style did seem consistent across my sample set of three. It reads as though it were written by someone who watched Kill Bill, said, “Awesome! But less coma, less weird relationship shit, more SF, and can we make the people who are trying to kill each other all women, no, really all of them?” and went off to make their own orgy of stylised hyperviolence.

This is a novel in which biting people’s eyes out is a thing. A ritual of hand-to-hand combat. Not just random eye-biting! But eye-biting as the trophy-taking mark of a subculture! This is a novel in which depressed folks living in floating habitats high in the atmosphere are encouraged to commit organised mass suicide at regular intervals. This is a novel in which shooting a random civilian barely even moves the morally dubious shit going down here dial, there’s so much else going on in the way of violence and murder.

That should give you some idea of whether or not it’s for you.

My own feeling is that it’s trying too hard. It lays the “life is cheap, death is easy, killing is fun,” on a little too thick: it’s about as deep as a puddle. It’s also trying a little too hard to be… sexy? I guess? I don’t know, there’s one unfortunate “woman examines herself in mirror and remarks on her own breasts” moment. And I have the subliminal impression that the reader is supposed to find these several murderous women fighting and killing each other to be titillating, even if the text doesn’t dwell on their appearance too much. It is, however, entirely possible that I’m reading that in to the text: I might be a jaundiced reader.

But for all its flaws — this is not a novel that wants you to slow down and think too hard about it or its setting — it has a certain gleeful pulp sensibility that’s very appealing. And an energetic approach to pacing.

I didn’t love it. I don’t know that I’d even recommend it, except under very limited circumstances. (Do you like VIOLENCE and LIBERTARIAN POST-APOCALYPSES? Then this is FOR YOU!)

But I’m pretty tempted to read the sequel.

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