Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy by Lucas K. Law (editor), Derwin Mak (editor),

Where the stars rise cover

ALL EMOTIONS ARE UNIVERSAL. 

WE LIVE, WE DREAM, WE STRIVE, WE DIE . . .

Follow twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors on their journeys through Asia and beyond. Stories that explore magic and science. Stories about love, revenge, and choices. Stories that challenge ideas about race, belonging, and politics. Stories about where we come from and where we are going.

Each wrestling between ghostly pasts and uncertain future. Each trying to find a voice in history.

Orphans and drug-smuggling in deep space. Mechanical arms in steampunk Vancouver. Djinns and espionage in futuristic Istanbul. Humanoid robot in steamy Kerala. Monsters in the jungles of Cebu. Historic time travel in Gyeongbok Palace. A rocket launch in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. A drunken ghost in Song Dynasty China. A displaced refugee skating on an ice planet. And much more.

Embrace them as you take on their journeys. And don’t look back . . .

AUTHORS: Anne Carly Abad, Deepak Bharathan, Joyce Chng, Miki Dare, S.B. Divya, Pamela Q. Fernandes, Calvin D. Jim, Minsoo Kang, Fonda Lee, Gabriela Lee, Karin Lowachee, Rati Mehrotra, E.C. Myers, Tony Pi, Angela Yuriko Smith, Priya Sridhar, Amanda Sun, Naru Dames Sundar, Jeremy Szal, Regina Kanyu Wang (translated by Shaoyan Hu), Diana Xin, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Ruhan Zhao.

My Review of Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and FantasyWhere the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy by Lucas K. Law
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I very much enjoyed this short story collection. The stories are a mix of sci-fi and fantasy and there are some absolute gems in it. I have loads of authors now I want to read more of!

My favourite stories include Back to Myan by Regina Kanyu Wang, Weaving Silk by Amanda Sun, A Star is Born by Miki Dare, The Bridge of Dangerous Longings by Rati Mehrotra and Old Souls by Fonda Lee.

Back to Myan is pure sci-fi. A mermaid on an alien planet whose home world overheats. She is evacuated and her tail replaced with legs so that she can live on other planets.

Weaving Silk is a beautifully written story about two sisters trying to survive in a city after an earthquake killed their parents and cut the city off from the outside world.

In A Star is Born an old lady in a home has found a way to time travel back to earlier points of her life.

The Bridge of Dangerous Longings is an unusual story about a bridge that will kill you if you try to cross it.

Old Souls is a tale about reincarnation, and a young woman who can not only remember her own previous lifes, but also see the past lifes of everyone she comes into contact with.

There are a couple of stories that I didn’t get on with, one that I just couldn’t follow and one that I didn’t get the point of, but overall the quality is very high.

I highly recommend this, it’s an interesting and high quality collection and it’s probably going to be one of my favourite books of this year. I hope they make volume two soon!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy
Lucas K. Law (editor), Derwin Mak (editor)
Sci-Fi
October 8th 2017
Kindle
352

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis Cover

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

My Review of Artemis

ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jazz Bashira is not a hero and doesn’t ever pretend to be one. Arrogant and sarcastic, she’s a character I can’t decide if I like or not.

She is very intelligent but her intelligence has made her lazy. She wants to be rich without having to work for her money and that, combined with some bad decisions as a teenager, has led her to smuggling contraband into the moon city as an easy way to support herself.

When a rich moon resident that she smuggles cigars for offers her a large amount of money to sabotage Artemis’ oxygen production she jumps at the chance. Even though she knows it’s a bad idea.

The plot is gripping and very readable, I powered through this in a single day while waiting for the gas service person to turn up. It’s well paced and exciting and I like the way it’s written. I wasn’t massively keen on the ending but I think it was in keeping with the characters personalities.

I loved the moon city setting and the author did a good job of world building. The author has put a lot of thought into what a city on the moon would be like and the little details are never forgotten about, like how the difference in gravity affects things. I could quite happily have followed Jazz about her normal life in Artemis for the whole book.

And the science! I’ve no idea if it’s accurate or not (I hope it is) but my absolute favourite thing about this book is all the science. I love the way it’s such a big part of the story.

There are things I loved about this book (the science and the moon city) and things I wasn’t so keen on (the stupid life decisions Jazz makes). But even though I often wanted to throw something at Jazz I still enjoyed reading about her.

So I’m probably a 3 star for the story, but the moon city setting and the fact that it’s crammed full of science take it up to 4 stars for me.

I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Artemis
Andy Weir
Sci-Fi
November 14th 2017
Hardback
384

Binti (Binti #1) by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti Cover

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

My Review of Binti

Binti (Binti, #1)Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful world building, beautiful writing and a well developed main character.

The story surprised me (in a good way), it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I’m not going to talk about it though because I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone else. There are so many wonderful ideas in here and they all work well but I felt that the ending was a bit rushed and all the problems solved a bit too easily.

Binti is a brilliant character, intelligent and very brave, defying her family and travelling out into the universe alone so that she can attend university. She is viewed as ‘tribal’ and looked down on by most of the people that she meets, but she deals with it with grace and kindness.

The world around Binti is created with such details I can almost smell and taste it. A remarkable achievement for such a short story. The writing is beautifully done.

Thoughtful and intelligent, it could have done with more space for the ending but this is still a must read for any sci-fi fan.

Binti
Binti
Nnedi Okorafor
Sci-Fi
September 22nd 2015
Kindle
96

Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Wake Cover

On a sunny spring morning, the settlement of Kahukura in Tasman is suddenly overwhelmed by a mysterious mass insanity. A handful of survivors find themselves cut off from the world, and surrounded by the dead.

As the group try to take care of one another and survive in ever more difficult circumstances, it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and that they aren’t all survivors and victims – two of them are something quite other. And, it seems, they are trapped with something. Something unseen is picking at the loose threads of their characters, corrupting, provoking, and haunting them.

Wake is a book that asks: ‘What are the last things left when the worst has happened?’ It is a book about extreme events, ordinary people, heroic compassion—and invisible monsters.

My Review of Wake

WakeWake by Elizabeth Knox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inventive, original, dark and disturbing. Wake takes what has become a common story – a small group of people survive while everyone around them dies, and makes something unique out of it.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, and really you just need to read it yourself, but Wake is a mix of horror, thriller and drama, with a touch of sci-fi added in.

Wake has a cast of 14 characters and a large part of the book is about how they interact, how they work together, and how they cope with what happens. With so many of them, a few of them inevitably get a bit lost and don’t feature very much. The action mostly focuses on a core group, these characters are done very well and are believable in the way they act based on their different personalities. I ended up losing track of some of them though and I couldn’t keep who was who straight if they weren’t in the core few.

Sam was by far my favourite character. I didn’t find many of the others likeable, except I did like William, the American, – maybe because he was just honest and open from the start? But Sam was lovely and I think the author did a really good job with her story. Learning about her was my favourite part of the book.

I like the way Elizabeth Knox writes, but I found it more practical and brutal than beautiful or poetic. I know a lot of other reviewers disagree with that though so maybe I just didn’t really understand her style? Sometimes I had to re-read a sentence a few times before I understood what was happening.

The world building was brilliant, and the whole thing was very readable, a few times I only meant to read a chapter then realised an hour had passed without me noticing.

My favourite thing about the book is the sci-fi bit. I wish that was developed a bit more but it wouldn’t be realistic or fit in with the story so I can forgive it.

The way it ended made me happy. I don’t really like when I have to make my own mind up about what is happening in a book, I always feel like what was the point of actually reading the book if I don’t find out what’s going on. There are enough answers in Wake to satisfy me and I like the way it’s revealed slowly with enough pointers that I could try to work it out for myself if I wanted to.

Wake is original and disturbing, and it is a must-read for anyone that likes survivor horror stories.

Wake
Elizabeth Knox
Horror
November 1st 2013
Paperback
443

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

The Growing Season Cover

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

The Growing SeasonThe Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warm, thoughtful and kind. It presents some big issues but brings a human side to give them meaning.

The Growing Season is set in an alternate version of our world, differing from ours only in the invention of the biotech baby pouch two generations ago. The pouch is an artificial womb that allows babies to be incubated outside of the human body. FullLife own the patent for the pouch and have marketed it so successfully as an end to inequality and the dangers of childbirth that natural births are rare.

Eva is carrying on her mother’s work of campaigning against the pouch. She believes that the technology has moved too fast, that as a society we did not stop to think about the issues, and now we are blind to any problems that the pouch brings along with it.

Holly had the very first pouch baby and is now a poster girl for FullLife. She is about to have her first grandchild, and she loves the pouch and the freedom and choices it brings for parents.

The book takes a very balanced view of the issues and presents both sides of the argument. It looks at the benefits of allowing both men and women to be involved in carrying the unborn child, how it allows people to be parents that otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and how it protects women from the dangers of childbirth.

We are also shown the other side – how it could enable domestic abuse, how it affects society in negative ways, how we adopt technology so quickly that we don’t think about the side effects, or what happens when it goes wrong. It also touches on the dangers of allowing one big company to have such a monopoly on our lives, and how it excludes those who live in poverty even further.

So it’s tackling big issues and could very easily have been dry and preachy. But Sedgwick makes them accessible by giving them a human face and showing how they affect people personally. Through Eva and Holly, she tells a warm and moving story about people. Their lives and families take up a big part of the book. I never felt like she was pushing the discussion about the issues or forcing an opinion on me, the story always comes first.

I thought it would be hard to read, so much so that I almost picked up something else when I was too tired to concentrate, but I gave this a go and got drawn in straight away. The writing is beautiful, almost lyrical at times and I flew through it because I cared so much about the characters.

Highly recommend this one if you like sci-fi, women’s issues, ethics in technology, or if you just like stories about people.

The Growing Season
Helen Sedgwick
Sci-Fi
September 7th 2017
Kindle
302

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

babel17 cover

Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

My review of Babel-17

Babel-17Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant! I really enjoyed this.

I love the cast of characters. The spaceship crew are wonderful and unique, and I wish they had more page time. Rydra Wong is very intelligent, a genius with languages and can read people almost like she is reading their minds. Everyone loves her, and she is maybe a little too perfect snowflake but I still found her likeable anyway.

The story moves fast and is full of action and intrigue, spaceships and fights. It’s very original and still feels modern even though it was written at the end of the 70s.

It’s all good up until the ending which is rushed through. I found it difficult to follow. It’s very clever, but I felt like the story was working up to something exciting and all I got was a long conversation where someone explains what has been going on.

I enjoyed the discussions about language and how it shapes the way we think about the world, how we can’t comprehend concepts that our language can’t describe and how it affects our intelligence and how fast we think.

Babel-17 works on one level as an action-packed sci-fi story, and if that’s all you want from a book then it can easily be read that way. But there is more to it if you want to look. It’s also a good choice if you like books with a bit more to them, stories that make you think about the way the world works. I highly recommend this one.

Babel-17
Samuel R. Delany
Sci-Fi
June 1st 1978
Paperback
192

Books to Read in the Summer

Books to read in the summer

Time for another book list 🙂

The nights are starting to get shorter and it’s getting towards the last days of summer. One way to make that summer feeling last as long as possible for me is to read books set in hot countries or sunny weather.

I always try to read books that match the season where I am. I don’t like to read wintry books in summer, or autumn books in the spring. I find that I can’t lose myself in the atmosphere of the book as easily.  Does anyone else find that too?

And please share your recommendations! On here or Twitter or Facebook, I’m always looking for new books to read, and I found that my list of summery books isn’t actually that long.

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the Wolf is set on a desert planet, where a young woman is part of a mercenary biker gang. There is magic (space witches!), a rebellion of mistreated workers against the company that controls the planet, and a woman learning to be a leader. What more could you want!

Hunger Makes the Wolf on GoodReads

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

A post-apocalyptic story that starts on a beach that could be in the Caribbean it sounds so perfectly tropical. It’s actually set on America’s Gulf Coast, where teenager Nailer ekes out a living salvaging copper from the wrecks of the shipping industry.

Ship Breaker on GoodReads

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half a Yellow Sun tells the story of Biafra, a State that existed for three years in the sixties during a civil war in Nigeria. Three different narrators show us the human side of war and the effects it has on ordinary people.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a gifted storyteller, the subject matter means it’s not an easy read, but it is very readable, very interesting, and always stays sensitive.

Half of a Yellow Sun on GoodReads

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Another post-apocalyptic story, and one of my favourites, this is set in a world that has heated up due to global warming. Snowman is the last human surviving with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake in a world where it is too hot to go out in the midday sun.

Oryx and Crake on GoodReads

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

A story about a family that has fallen apart. The disappearance of the father of the family slowly starts to bring the family back together. Set during the heat wave of 1976 this is a book full of interesting characters who all have secrets of their own.

Instructions for a Heatwave on GoodReads

Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing

Mara and Dann is set in Africa thousands of years in the future. Mara lives in the last country on Earth that has not been swallowed by ice. But the food is running out and society is breaking down. In search of a better place to live Mara has to travel north, a hard and long journey that will take her to her limits.

Mara and Dann on GoodReads

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

parable of the sower cover

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighbourhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

My Review of Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure if this should go under sci-fi or horror. It’s a near-future post-apocalyptic story of an America where people are tearing each other apart in a struggle for survival. One of my least favourite things in books or films is when nasty people do nasty things to each other, and this book has that in spades.

And yet, despite all the nastiness and the gory moments (and there are plenty of those), this is a very intelligent book with a lot to say.

Lauren Olamina’s family lives in one of the very few remaining walled communities. Outside the walls, America is breaking apart and people fight for jobs, food and water. Inside the walls a small group of families have created a stable life for themselves, they grow their own food, some of them have jobs, and working together they manage to get by. But protecting themselves from the chaos outside is getting harder every day.

Lauren knows that their relatively safe lifestyle won’t last. She is very intelligent and very sensible and can see the signs that the others are ignoring. Sooner or later what they have will be too attractive to those that have nothing and it will be taken from them. She starts to plan for the time when she will have to leave and survive outside.

Realising that society will fall apart if people won’t work together and support each other, Lauren starts to develop her own religion. Basically, God is change, and we must work hard and support each other. Lauren is a big thinker, she believes we must first rebuild society starting with small communities following the way of Earthseed, but that ultimately the only way for humankind to survive is to colonise other planets.

The community is eventually overrun and Lauren must leave. She travels north to find a place she can settle, and as she travels she gathers a group of followers around her.

Parable of the Sower doesn’t hold back on how awful people can be, but the violence and gore aren’t there for shock tactics, but to make a point, to show us something. And Octavia Butler has a lot to say in this book. She covers religion, society, race, slavery, corporate greed, politics, environmental devastation and the vulnerability of women, but manages to do it in a way that still comes together with a decent story.

It’s heavy going, but through it she keeps a sense of hope alive, a belief that if people work together than they can create a better future.

For me, it’s a bit too heavy on religion, and a bit too heavy on nastiness. At times I found it so scary that I had to stop reading, though by halfway I found I had become almost immune to all the violence. I like how sensible and intelligent Lauren is, but I found her a little too perfect to be likeable. It certainly made me think though it’s interesting, and Octavia Butler is a good writer. I will be reading more of her books.

Parable of the Sower
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
Sci-Fi
January 1st 2000
Paperback
345

Plan for Chaos by John Wyndham

Plan for Chaos Cover

In a city that could well be New York, a series of identical women are found dead in suspicious circumstances. Magazine photographer Johnny Farthing, who is reporting on the suspected murders, is chilled to discover that his fiancée looks identical to the victims too – and then she disappears.

As his investigations spiral beyond his control, he finds himself at the heart of a sinister plot that uses cloning to revive the Nazi vision of a world-powerful master race.

Part detective noir, part dystopic thriller, Plan for Chaos reveals the legendary science fiction novelist grappling with some of his most urgent and personal themes.

My Review of Plan for Chaos

Plan for ChaosPlan for Chaos by John Wyndham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Plan for Chaos starts off like an American hardboiled detective story, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Speaking as an English person that has never been to America, the Americanisms don’t feel right and the language is confusing. I had to read some paragraphs a few times before I could make sense of them.

When it moves from America it settles down into a decent story, with some interesting sci-fi inventions, a lot of them that are actually around today. Though the idea of clones is so common these days that it was hard for me not to want to shout at Johnny Farthing for not realising straight away.

From there it slows down into a lot of philosophising about war and the base instincts of the human race. While this is interesting, and a lot of it is scarily relevant today, it is quite slow. I also felt a bit like I was missing something because I don’t know much about 1950’s politics, and the book doesn’t talk much about the world political atmosphere.

The ending is anticlimactic. There is more action towards the end, but Johnny always seems to be a bit out of it. He hears about things afterwards or watches other people doing things. It’s frustrating to read and makes what could be an interesting story into a dull one.

John Wyndham’s attitude towards women in this book is dated, yet progressive for its time. He shows over and again that women can be intelligent. Johnny Farthing spends most of the book not knowing what is going on, and with no idea of what he should do next. When he does attempt action, his efforts are misguided and cause more problems than they solve.

In contrast, Johnny’s fiancee Freda seems very intelligent, she understands their situation and spends a lot of her time explaining things to Johnny that he just can’t see. A lot of the other women in the book are also shown to be intelligent, and to be capable leaders.

This is nice to read, but at the same time, he also portrays women as all having the shared goal of settling down with a stable family and as many children as possible. This is one of the main themes in the book and is repeated all the way through. The men in the book have no interest in children or family at all. It’s irritating, but it was written in the 1950’s and it does better than most books from that time.

If you’re new to John Wyndham I wouldn’t recommend you start with this. It has a dodgy start and sketchy pacing and it’s not one of his best.

If you are already a fan it is worth reading as there are some interesting ideas in there that are still relevant today.

Plan for Chaos
John Wyndham
Sci-Fi
January 7th 2010
Paperback
234

A Man of Shadows (John Nyquist #1) by Jeff Noon

A Man of Shadows Cover

The brilliant, mind-bending return to science fiction by one of its most acclaimed visionaries

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.

A Man of Shadows (John Nyquist, #1)A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read once that taking away watches and clocks from people and not allowing them to know the time will slowly drive them mad. After reading this book I can believe it.

It starts out as a hard-boiled detective story set in a world that feels like a futuristic version of the 1950’s. The city is split into three different zones, Nocturna that is eternal night, Dusk, a place of fog and monsters where it is always twilight and no-one dare go, and Dayzone, a world of bright neon lights where it never goes dark and the citizens are constantly switching between the hundreds of different timelines.

John Nyquist is hired to find the teenage daughter of one of the richest men in the city. But like any good detective story, nothing is what it seems.

I loved the first half, the atmosphere created and the characters and the sense of place are almost perfectly done. Towards the middle it starts to feel surreal, it’s like a bad dream where Nyquist is losing his sense of time and reality. I struggled with reading this, I’ve never enjoyed dream sequences and this was more confusing than most. It messed with my mind, and it made me feel a bit ill reading it!

It settles down towards the end though and it got a bit easier on my brain.

The writing is brilliant, and it’s full of plot twists that I didn’t predict. The atmosphere and the world building is just right, I could see Dayzone in my mind, and I loved the contrast between the frantic pace of life there and the calm and quiet in Nocturna.

I do struggle sometimes with books that leave you to decide what’s real and what’s not, but if you don’t mind that then I highly recommend this book as it’s very well done, with an interesting story, good characters, and original ideas.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

A Man of Shadows
John Nyquist
Jeff Noon
Sci-Fi
August 1st 2017
Kindle
384