This was a lovely evenings reading and shows a great deal of promise. After a period of adjustment I liked the unfinished watercolour artwork quite loThis was a lovely evenings reading and shows a great deal of promise. After a period of adjustment I liked the unfinished watercolour artwork quite lovely. I was honestly moved by the grief of Tim-21, the child companion robot who wakes up after 10 years of sleep to find his family dead and the universe he knows vastly changed. ...more
It looks like I've been reading this for ages but In fact I gulped it down in two days separated by weeks of reading War and Peace and other things. IIt looks like I've been reading this for ages but In fact I gulped it down in two days separated by weeks of reading War and Peace and other things. It's one of those books that splits me in two. On the one hand I bloody loved it. It's raunchy, witty, swift and sweet, with some lovely peripheral characters to circle the central romantic pairing. On the other hand it's derivative and daft as a box of frogs and doesn't work very hard at world building. I have loads of boring questions about the unlikely plot. And that scene with the nudity and frolicking in the face of imminent danger? (If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about.) Oh please. Delicious and eye rollingly silly at the same time. But obviously I'll be devouring the whole series post-haste. It's the perfect guilty pleasure. ...more
Where do I even begin with this book? Here: You will never read anything better about space-whales and 1920s film culture. More coherent thoughts to fWhere do I even begin with this book? Here: You will never read anything better about space-whales and 1920s film culture. More coherent thoughts to follow. ...more
Witness: it took me almost a month to read this, on my Kindle. That's a long long time for a format I usually read at double speed. Palmer's debut absWitness: it took me almost a month to read this, on my Kindle. That's a long long time for a format I usually read at double speed. Palmer's debut absolutely resists rushing; it's the antithesis of a page turner. It's chewy, intellectually dense and, at times, emotionally hostile. I can't say that I enjoyed reading it, and that's why I'm plumping for three stars in the immediate aftermath of finishing it. There are lots of things about this book that are a personal turn off for me - the emotional remove, the affected structure. But it was enormously stimulating and I think I can see how the second book will make the first stronger. Now I just have to get my hands on it. ...more
This was my first encounter with Kameron Hurley, despite having had God's War on my bookshelf since it came out many years ago. I always feel at sometThis was my first encounter with Kameron Hurley, despite having had God's War on my bookshelf since it came out many years ago. I always feel at something of a disadvantage parachuting in on an author at this stage of their evolution, because I'm missing so many pieces of the puzzle that led them to the work in hand. But at the same time I was drawn to this as my first Hurley because a) it's a standalone, and b) I was promised Lesbians in Space. I definitely got the latter, in spades; as for the former, it's sort of true, although there is definitely room for a sequel.
The Legion is a cluster of dying world-ships orbiting a fading star. Each world is a bio-mechanical organism - metal sheathed in pulsing, living tissue - and is made up of multiple interior layers. The origin of the 'worlds' or how they came to be locked in orbit around their star is never revealed but one thing is indisputable: they are dying, slowly eaten away by a cancerous rot. Their inhabitants are locked in a desperate battle for finite resources, fighting each other in generational feuds so that they can 'feed' the flesh of their enemies to their own world. Two families - the Katazyrnas and the Bhavajas - have risen to dominance, ruled by the monomanical and ruthless Lords, Anat and Rashida. As the book opens their battleground is an abandoned rogue world, the Mokshi, which managed to break free of its orbit before being destroyed on the Outer Rim. Both Anat and Rashida believe that the Mokshi holds the secret to the regeneration and salvation of their civilisation and are willing to do anything to secure it.
The story is told through two point of view characters, both apparently daughters of Anat. Jayd is a former General, a seasoned battle commander, while Zan is a soldier, chosen to infiltrate the Mokshi's defences and take it for the Katazyrnas. When we first meet Zan she is in recovery after yet another assault on the planet, a mission that she has absolutely no memory of. Jayd assures her that this is only her latest attempt at conquest; that she has failed many many times before, that she is suffering from amnesia and that she must try again. She must keep trying until they succeed. Everyone's life depends upon it. It's immediately clear that not everything is as it seems. Why can't Zan remember who she is or what has happened to her? Why is Jayd so determined that Zan and only Zan can take the Mokshi? What is the real nature of their relationship and their history together? Can the Legion really be saved?
The Stars Are Legion answers all of these questions. Eventually. Be patient. It's a book of three parts: a confusing as heck first section in which the reader, like Zan, becomes increasingly frustrated with the obfuscation and secrets of the plot; a long, languid middle that Hurley uses to introduce a host of new characters and for some gorgeous but superfluous world building; and a third whiplash finale when everything comes rather too neatly together. This structure is an uneven landscape, that works only by virtue of the characters' constant motion and because of the giddy boldness of the invented world. There is a lot to catch the eye here, from the mechanics of the world-ships to the anthropologies of the cultures that live in them. The layered nature of each ship allows for the existence of different communities, many of whom are unaware of one another or of the intergalactic war that is waging about them. As the plot twists and Zan's quest takes her down in the bowels of the Katazyrna home world she is exposed to places and ways of life that she could never have imagined. There are strange creatures and mystical forests and crystal mountains galore.
There is also the fascinating biology of the population. As has been widely advertised, the Legion is inhabited by an all-female society who have evolved to reproduce through parthonogenesis, giving birth on a cycle dictated by the needs of their world-ship. However, each womb is different and doesn't necessarily birth human children. In fact, the ability to bear children is quite rare and becoming rarer as the Legion deteriorates. Instead women give birth to whatever their ship needs - organic parts, cogs and wheels, other creatures. Rumour has it that some can even carry new world-ships. Wombs are heavily commodified in this culture and can be traded or stolen like any other resources. This proves a powerful vehicle for Hurley to consider questions of reproductive freedom, agency, motherhood and power.
All of this makes the book moreish and ticklish; you want to go back and keep scratching the imaginative itch. But it isn't without it's flaws. I've already mentioned the pacing and the challenges of the amnesia storyline at the beginning. There is nothing more wearisome than a point of view character who doesn't remember anything and is constantly being refused further information because: SECRETS. I also found the body horror of the novel hard to take at times. Hurley has imagined a fleshy, sticky, bloody world and takes every opportunity to gut, skin, disembowel and chew on it. There are scenes of appalling, sickening violence (see Chapter 14), some of which seemed unnecessarily gory, and others of unlikely physical nastiness. At one point Zan uses the intestines of one of her recently dead soldiers to fix a leak in a fuel line. Ugh. This cumulative yuckiness was oddly in contrast to the trajectory of the plot. The middle section which covers Zan's quest is full of peril but it seems unusually mild; danger is never far off but is quite readily defeated. And this was my final difficulty with the book, and the reason I didn't give it a higher rating. The ending was oddly mellow. Don't get me wrong, it was high octane with plenty of explosions, but the denouement is a far softer landing than the book prepares you for. It left me feeling deflated after the terrible things that the characters had done to one another and to others in order to get there.
Still, I very much recommend the book (if you can stomach the body horror) and am looking forward to going back and discovering Hurley from the beginning. If she wrote a sequel I would definitely be in line to read it....more
So, on the one hand Europe at Midnight was a delight, a giddy pleasure. I was utterly entranced by the first and tI find myself painfully conflicted.
So, on the one hand Europe at Midnight was a delight, a giddy pleasure. I was utterly entranced by the first and third acts of the book, set on the Campus and in the Community respectively. These pocket universes are fascinating, deserving of complete stories in their own rights. I found our new protagonist Rupert instantly beguiling, replete with the character traits I most enjoy. An idealistic cynic, drily witty, generous and loyal to his friends; but ruthless and competent and robust when needed. He carried me through the more unlikely twists of the plot and, because I like smart arse endings, I grinned my way through the final chapter.
But then on the other hand, there continued to be a distinct paucity of active female characters and when they did appear their days were numbered. Elsewhere in the story they provide some passive colour to the action, in a way that reinforces the impression that they are pretty disposable. I noticed this in the first book, where the only appearance of a woman in the opening chapter involved a dress that allowed you to look right down her front. Call me hyper sensitive but that kind of thing puts me on high alert and nothing since then has appeased my discomfort at what looks like sexism from any angle. Add to that the universal heterosexuality of the future the books describe, and the cultural stasis Europe seems to be labouring under, and the whole thing starts to feel a bit weird. The parts of the novel set in our world are a let down.
No doubt whatsoever that I will continue reading the series. It's too good to ignore, and I have loved reading it, but it has some significant blind spots. ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this powerful and enriching story of an older woman's quest through the dreaming world to find her erstwhile student. However, liI thoroughly enjoyed this powerful and enriching story of an older woman's quest through the dreaming world to find her erstwhile student. However, like other reviewers here, I would recommend reading The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft before you embark. Johnson's story is set in the world that Lovecraft created and, down to the sweet sub-stories about cats, is interwoven with his imagery and ideas.
She explains in the acknowledgement at the end that her version of the Dream Quest is an attempt to return to a fictional place that her younger self loved, and to remake it in light of what her adult self knows about the racism and sexism of Lovecraft's narrative. The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe reorients the familiar places (and characters) so that we approach them through the eyes of a woman in her mid-50s. This vantage gives Johnson a starting point to offer bold critique of the status quo of the culture Lovecraft imagined at the same time as admiring and celebrating the dazzling originality of it. The writing is lovely, fluid and evocative, only occasionally marred by homage to Lovecraft's slurry of adjectives. I will definitely seek out more Kij Johnson because of it. ...more
There is a novel in here, trying to get out, and I want to read it very much.
In this short novella we meet Katya, a dealer in Authenticities - the noThere is a novel in here, trying to get out, and I want to read it very much.
In this short novella we meet Katya, a dealer in Authenticities - the non-digital objects of an earlier time. She is writing a story to a client using a 1918 typewriter, typos included, apparently at their request. The story recounts her experience of buying said typewriter and then being abducted from the road by a masked man. Before she is taken she inexplicably looses contact with her I-Sys; all her personal connectivity implants stop working. For the first time in her life she is left alone, relying entirely on her own decision making and memory. What she recounts is vague, unspecific and poorly located in space and time. There are lots of questions she can't answer: who was her capture? Why did he keep her alive? Did he do something to her while she was sleeping? What was he up to with the deer? Is he now dead or alive?
The story weaves a complex web of inference, about conservation, connectivity, Eco-terrorism, memory and forgetting. It's situated in a larger world that begs to be expanded. I hope it will be. I tried the first of the Glamourist History series a while ago and didn't get along with it. This has convinced me I should try again. ...more
I read and very much admired some of Theodora Goss' short stories years and years ago in a little chapbook, so when I spotted this in Tor.com's shortI read and very much admired some of Theodora Goss' short stories years and years ago in a little chapbook, so when I spotted this in Tor.com's short fiction selection I squirreled it away into my favourites. I might never have gone back and read it if not for a very delayed train to London. I'm very glad that I did. It's a nested fairytale, with an outer frame and then a story within a story. The immediate setting is central Europe just before the Second World War, against the backdrop of the rise of facism. Our heroine Klara is barely sixteen, working as a lowly kitchen maid to a Baron in the kingdom of Sylvania and wrapped up in a dream world of stories. During the preparations for a ball to celebrate the betrothal of the Crown Prince she finds a wet naked woman at the door of the castle kitchens and, believing her to be a princess in disguise, lets her in. What follows is a tour de force of fairy tale logic, stunning imagery and quotidian detail; exactly the strengths I had remembered from Goss' other stories. In the reading the latter half of the story feels less polished than the beginning, but in hindsight it grounds the themes of the whole. Definitely looking forward to reading more Goss. ...more
I abandoned this a third of the way through. Despite reading it on my kindle, it didn't have any forward momentum - I was 'turning the pages' but nothI abandoned this a third of the way through. Despite reading it on my kindle, it didn't have any forward momentum - I was 'turning the pages' but nothing seemed to be happening. I felt as though the narrative could have been condensed into two chapters and I was simply uninterested in where the narrative went next. Do tell me if it suddenly becomes extraordinary and I might come back to it. ...more
I didn't love this volume as much as the previous three, though it was still gorgeous and brilliant. There wasn't enough of Lying Cat, Gwen and SophieI didn't love this volume as much as the previous three, though it was still gorgeous and brilliant. There wasn't enough of Lying Cat, Gwen and Sophie for me, and the intro of the new robot revolutionary Dengo came pretty much from left field. The central plot continues to be very strong though, especially the difficulties Alana and Marko face in the everyday reality of balancing work and parenthood. Also Hazel is the goddamn cutest. Except maybe for Ghus. He is pretty cute too. ...more