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Book Review: Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

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By Jacob P. Torres

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Spoilers abound in this review of Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.

Cover Description: “Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.”

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Review | Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Mary Robinette Kowal’s Forest of Memory is a new Tor.com novella that (according to my .pdf reader) is about 50 pages. It also happens to be great to read while you soak your feet (which may or may not be how I read it). It chronicles the mysterious and unconfirmed week of a young woman who had gone missing.

The story is told from a first person perspective. The narrator, Katya, is a young woman who deals in antiquities, artifacts from previous years that show their wear. She goes up to look at a fairly rare find, a manual typewriter and dictionary, and is waylaid on her way home by a stranger who appears to be shooting—poaching? meddling with?— deer in the forest. She almost runs into the deer, but when the stranger notices her, he kidnaps her.

The story is fun for a number of reasons. The narrator is unreliable; it’s filled with intrigue; and you find yourself just wanting to know what in the world is going on.

It’s set in a future where people are constantly in touch with one another. People live stream everything. The narrator is particularly well known for this, because the authenticity and story that goes along with the items is as valuable, if not more, than the item itself. The very idea that someone could go missing and show up on the other side of the country without anyone knowing is basically unfathomable.

This brings into question a lot of different topics, like whether you can count on an individual’s memory, how interconnected we are, whether you can really have something be valid and authentic without “proof.” Kowal takes an, at times, round about way of talking about these issues, but the overall impact is no less effective.

The story is suspenseful and entertaining. There are moments where it can be slow, but this is often a good change of pace from the more tense moments of the book. The narrator is likeable, if unbelievable.

This was a pretty perfect evening-in book. Kowal managed to make an interesting world with a captivating plot that leaves you just wanting more. Better yet, she did it all in a story you can read in a sitting.

A big thanks to Tor.com for providing me with a copy of Forest of Memories in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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It’s been a few days since I finished Every Heart a Doorway. I can’t help but still think about it. It’s one of those stories that just sticks with you, makes  you think.

It’s about a girl named Nancy who disappeared into another world, an underworld most likely. Her parents, who don’t really know what happened other than that Nancy disappeared, send her away to school. Nancy’s new school isn’t what she’d expected. After being dropped off (rather unceremoniously), Nancy realizes her schoolmates are all like her: children sent off to fairylands and underworlds and magical places only to be sent back to their homes where no one can understand them.

The story is just so sad, in a good way.

It’s all about being left behind, not fitting in, and wanting, wanting something that you know you’ll never get so badly your heart breaks.

Each student had at one point found a world where they belonged. The worlds range the gambit from “high logic” to “high nonsense” and “wicked” to “virtuous.” All of the students describe their trips into these worlds as having gone home for the first time. Being there comes with a sense of utter belonging. This would be fine by itself, but McGuire echoes the loss in the setting she creates. The school is whimsical and filled with mystery, but that all falls a bit flat. Despite free reign of the grounds and rooms chock full of color, the students can’t seem to recover, and neither do we.

From the very beginning, the students make it clear: they will almost certainly never go back, and hope, while all they may have, is more painful than the despair that follows.

In a way, reading the story is eerie.  But, what surprised me most was how much it fit. How could Wendy really go back after Neverland? Could Lucy and Edmond really approach the “real” world the same way after Narnia?

It was the fairytale ending I was wanting.

The children are all a mess. They’re too old for their bodies, fixated on what they’ve lost, and lonely, even among the only people who can really understand them. Each one of them gets their own backstory and personality. Even the crueler among them is humanized, shown to be a bit broken. That’s part of what makes the story painful.

The setting is humorous in its own way. The teachers are all former student, the kids have to go to group therapy, rumors and gossip abound. There’s no escape from cliques even in fairyland exile.

The plot also has some action. While it can seem a slow build, tragedy strikes. Murder and mystery descend. Nancy, of course, is suspect, being from an underworld and the newest student. The action itself leads to heartbreak. It has a bittersweetness that it adds to the story.

At the end, I felt that I knew the characters, like I’d bonded with them and felt their hopes and dreams. Hats off to you, Ms. McGuire.

Every Heart a Doorway will be out April 5th 2016.

I received a copy of Every Heart a Doorway for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

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It’s the perfect season to pick up Of Sorrow and Such. Slatter’s newest novella, released by Tor.com Publishing taps into the classic witch story.

Of Sorrow and Such airs more on the side of The Crucible than The Craft. The story follows Ms. Patience Gideon, an herbalist and healer in a small village. For the past decade her life has been quiet. The town tolerates her and her adoptive daughter, Gilly, is well-loved. While the townspeople suspect her of more dangerous goings-on than a healer might otherwise have, there’s no doctor in the town and Patience is needed.

But, Patience has dark secrets, and her small family is about to be thrust into danger.

The story’s best feature is its tone. It draws on classic witch stories for its atmosphere, and blends it with an updated sense of humor and subject. The story is clear: there’s a sinister aspect to the villagers Patience lives with, but that is due almost as much to their own hypocrisy and affect as it is to anything inherently evil or suspicious about Patience. Patience may be helping women with unwanted pregnancies and abusive husbands, but she’s far from the only person meddling in the affairs of the village and certainly not the most vindictive.

The story sits at 104 pages, including cover, title, copyright, and author bio pages. It’s very short. The story itself only takes place over a few days, and the plot is paced fine. The problem I had is the background. Patience’s interactions with the villagers and the increased danger to her and Gilly lead to the reveal of some of Patience’s darkest secrets. The background of her secrets is a bit lacking and the reveals don’t really shed much light onto who Patience is or how she came to do some of the things she’s done. The bulk of the story creates a solid picture of who Patience is. She’s likeable, but tough and a bit jaded. The reveals could have added more, but the way they were executed left me wondering why so many were needed.

The side characters, however, are perfectly timed and developed for the story. Their lives and personalities are well developed, understandable, and to the point. The twists in their behavior were lightly hinted at, but still impactful.

The story examines complicated relationships between family members and neighbors. It asks who you can trust and then pushes its characters to their breaking points. The relationships Slatter examines are one of the true high-points of the novella. In particular, I enjoyed the relationship between Patience and Gilly, who, though they love each other, have very different ideas of what makes for a good life and what they want for their futures.

Slatter’s story has witches, were-people, and necromancy. It pits neighbor against neighbor in desperate attempts to protect oneself. Overall, if you’re looking to get into a witchy mood for Halloween, Of Sorrows and Such is primed to help you out.

From Angela Slatter’s Website:

Angela Slatter is the author of The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, and Black-Winged Angels, as well as Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory (both with Lisa L. Hannett). She has won five Aurealis Awards, one British Fantasy Award, been a finalist for the Norma K. Hemming Award, and a finalist the World Fantasy Award twice (for Sourdough and Bitterwood).
Her novellas, Of Sorrow and Such (from Tor.com), and Ripper (in the Stephen Jones anthology Horrorology, from Jo Fletcher Books) will be released in October 2015.
Angela’s urban fantasy novel, Vigil (based on the short story “Brisneyland by Night”), will be released by Jo Fletcher Books in 2016, and the sequel, Corpselight, in 2017. She is represented by Ian Drury of the literary agency Sheil Land.

I received a copy of Of Sorrows and Such for free in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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So, it’s not a secret that I’m a Nnedi Okorafor fan. I like her blend of fantasy, social commentary and emotional honesty. Binti boasts all of these traits. In her newest novella, a 97 pager unless my kindle lies to me, Okorafor tells the story of a young girl who leaves her village and people to go study mathematics among the stars. This is Okorafor’s first “Outer Space” story and I was ridiculously excited to read it. As in, staying up until midnight when it was downloaded on kindle and proceeding to read until  two a.m. excited.

Binti, is from a small cloistered village. Though her people are extremely talented mathematically they are isolated from the general population. Binti has never left her village. When she’s offered a spot off-world at one of the most prestigious universities,  Binti decides to go against her family’s wishes and leave to pursue her education. But, going away from home is more dangerous than Binti had imagined and she’ll have to use her skills as a harmonizer to survive.

Binti’s abilities in mathematics are really cool. She does what’s called treeing, finding the patterns in mathematics in a trance-like state. She also is able to tap into some really cool technology.

Okorafor often talks about the way that we see other groups, especially those whose habits and appearance are clearly different than our own. One of the things I really liked about this is that Okorafor (1) doesn’t pretend that being among aliens will somehow magically turn the world post-racial, and (2) the treatment Binti receives from the dominant human group is problematic, but extremely subtle. Things like people touching Binti’s hair without asking or even knowing her create a subtle, but impactful sense of the culture.

The story has a great sense of excitement, without being overly action-packed. Binti’s ship is boarded and while it is, at first, quite dramatic and violent, a lot of time is spent talking about the consequences of a violent boarding. In that way, I think it satisfies a lot of both the action and emotional factors I like in a story.

There are some plot holes– communication between the aliens and the humans is supposed to be a fairly rare thing (only two people can communicate between the species), but there’s a treaty in place. Some of the story points could use some more development, particularly after Binti’s ship lands at University. Similarly, I could have handled more character development.  Mostly those weaknesses come down to me wanting to see more of the world.

The story is well done overall. I think this length was a bonus for Okorafor. She writes a lot of her short fiction and then expands on those stories to create her novels. I think this was a happy medium for her writing style. It was enjoyable, despite me thinking that some of the story points needed more development.

*Note: After posting this review, I did receive a copy of Binti for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*