Sunday 19 August 2018

Review: The Long List Anthology Volume 3: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List

The Long List Anthology Volume 3: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List The Long List Anthology Volume 3: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List by David Steffen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read the previous two volumes of this series, and there are always some excellent stories in them, as well as some that are not to my personal taste (but are still well done). The publication is done on a shoestring, and the copy editing reflects that, unfortunately. But there are some remarkable stories, and that's what keeps me coming back.

There was only one story in this volume that I didn't read it its entirety: Seanan McGuire's "Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands," which vigorously signalled early on that it was going to be a gruelling, nasty postapocalyptic. I'm not up for that. She's an excellent writer, but far too dark most of the time for my personal taste.

Not that there weren't plenty of other dark stories. Joseph Allen Hill's "The Venus Effect" explores racist police brutality through multiple attempts to tell a spec-fic story. It's postmodern and meta, but well enough done that I forgave that. It's not the only story in which race plays a powerful role; Sam J. Miller's "Things with Beards," just before it in the volume, features a gay black man and what may be a metaphor for AIDS.

Jason Sanford's "Blood Grains Speak Through Memories" shows us a kind of postapocalyptic future in which nanotech created to preserve what's left of the environment has put humanity into a dystopian situation. Sarah Pinsker's "Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea" is also postapocalyptic.

Not everything is, though. "A Dead Djinn in Cairo" by P. Djeli Clark is an interesting take on mythos, with an Egyptian supernatural detective who dresses like an Englishman because she finds it "exotic". There's another mystery, of sorts, in Mary Robinette Kowal's "Forest of Memory". I very much enjoy MRK's contributions to the Writing Excuses podcast, but I have to confess I've never liked her actual writing much. I liked this more than the other things of hers I've read, though I did feel it was wordier than it needed to be.

There does seem to be a predominance of near-horror, dark fantasy, dark SF, dystopian and postapocalyptic in this volume, though; mood of the times, perhaps. It's a tribute to the skill of the authors that, although those subgenres are not usually what I like to read, I didn't hate the stories. Even Cassandra Khaw's "Hammers on Bone" - noir body-horror in a depressed England - didn't put me off. I've mentioned the theme of race; there are oppressed underclasses, lack of access to medical treatment ("Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0" by Caroline M. Yoachim), and other echoes of the contemporary US political situation. I know that stories will always reflect the zeitgeist, but it would have been good to have a few more that ran more counter to it.

Rebecca Ann Jordan's "We Have a Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You?" has a wonderfully alien alien, with a moving backstory; Lavie Tidhar's "Terminal" gives us the picture of terminally ill people piloting (for no readily apparent or explicable reason) a swarm of pods to Mars. These were among the strangest stories, but there was a powerful strangeness to most of them, usually in a good way.

Probably my favourite story was the last one, by S.B. Divya, "Runtime," a story of a determined member of an underclass working hard to better herself by means of a competition, in this case a an endurance race (in which personal modification and assistive equipment is permitted).

Overall, while the tone was not my favourite, the skill on display here is remarkable, and I will certainly look for the next volume when it comes out.

View all my reviews

Review: Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was out of my usual lane; darker than I generally like it, with the devil causing incidental mayhem in the lives of innocents wherever he went. However, because that wasn't the focus, but more or less character background; and because it was very well done, and (especially for a HarperCollins book) very well edited, with just a few missing words in sentences; and because it was original in its concept, I stuck with it.

Even though the title character is middle grade, the book isn't. It's definitely a book for adults, with musings (not too lengthy) on the human condition, and a sense of a dark world navigated fearfully but, on the whole, successfully. It resists a neat happy ending, but ends satisfactorily for all that. Along the way, multiple clearly distinguished characters with complicated relationships protagonize well and bravely in the cause of preventing a cosmic disaster.

I particularly enjoyed the accident imp, a comic-relief idiot character with a British dialect.

View all my reviews

Review: Lost Solace

Lost Solace Lost Solace by Karl Drinkwater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I often say that if you give me a motivated protagonist in a dynamic situation, as long as you don't make any serious craft blunders you'll hook my attention for the duration. Extra points if the protagonist is a competent, capable woman.

Well, this book ticks all those boxes with a big thick pen.

It's a thrill ride of a space opera, with a mysterious lost ship full of alien danger, a giant gravity well around a neutron star, and well-equipped ships from a fascist-sounding military, all threatening Opal, the protagonist, and the AI-equipped ship she has stolen. I don't normally read military space opera, but the main reason I don't is that so much of it is the same, and this was a very different take on the possibilities of the genre.

I appreciated the fact that she tried repeatedly to convince the military that she wouldn't harm them if they let her go peacefully, even though that never worked and she always had to fight. The fights were suspenseful and varied, and, while the backstory became evident from clues long before it was explicitly revealed, it gave her a good reason to do what she was doing. The degree to which she, a former low-level grunt, was able to defeat better-equipped and more experienced military officers through cleverness and the assistance of her unparalleled AI did strain my disbelief a little, but I was willing to play along because it was so well done.

I do hope her refusal to follow the rules becomes a liability at some point, rather than just a motivation and a character trait, but I will certainly look out for more in this series.

I received a copy via Netgalley for purposes of review.

View all my reviews