The Witcher #2: Sword of Destiny by Andrej Sapkowski

Read: 7 November, 2018

As with The Last Wish, this is a collection of loosely connected short stories. There’s a strong theme of parenthood, with both Yennefer and Geralt grappling with their infertility, and with Geralt circling his destiny with Ciri. There’s also a scene where he comes across his birth mother, and faces the pain he feels that he was given over to the witchers rather than aborted. It’s an interesting situation, and it shows just how much he resents having been made a witcher – even while fitting the role so well. In terms of the destiny discussion, it’s also interesting to note that his mother – a sorceress – should have been infertile.

There is a scene where Geralt comes to the monument of the second battle of Sodden Hill and comes to believe that Yennefer (along with Triss Marigold and Coral) has been killed. It was rather moving to see the depth of his (misplaced) grief.

Yennefer shows up a lot, but she doesn’t get much actual interaction with Geralt. Any time they talk, they are either having sex or lamenting that they can’t be together and doomed to break up every time they try. We are shown Geralt’s own feelings for her, both at Sodden Hill and in his almost battle with his rival, Istredd. But while we’re told again and again that he loves her, we aren’t given much of a reason for it. If I remember correctly, this comes out a bit more in Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt, when the two of them form a sort of nuclear family with Ciri.

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Redshirts by John Scalzi

Read: 31 October, 2018

The concept for the story is absolutely hilarious: What if the “redshirts” (the throwaway characters on the original Star Trek who seemed to exist just so that their deaths could drum up a little drama) figured out that they were redshirts, and decided to try to do something about it?

Given how poorly such a high concept story could go, I was thoroughly impressed by Scalzi’s ability to keep me laughing through almost the entire book. I mean, when a science fiction writer is asked if he’s ever even taken a science class, he responds: “It’s called science fiction. That second part is important, too!”

I was listening to this on audibook in the car, and I must have looked ridiculous, laughing my arse off as I’m barrelling down the road..

Wil Wheaton’s narration took a little getting used to. His voice is so familiar and recognisable that it took some work to hear the characters, rather than Wil Wheaton #3, female Wil Wheaton, older Wil Wheaton, etc. This wasn’t helped by the dialogue’s over-reliance on the “said” tag. So even though only two or three people are talking, and even though they are fast-quipping at each other, every single line ends with “said X”. You could hear the strain in Wheaton’s voice as he tried not to make that sound as ridiculous as it invariably did.

That aside, I did thoroughly enjoy most of this book, and Wheaton’s narration was great once I got used to it. Besides, just having him do the narration was amazing.

I will say, however, that the three codas at the end should never have made it out of editing. There’s a little satisfaction in finding out what happened to various characters, but they don’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book, and try a little too hard to make this a “serious” book. The story was already over by this point, so they really only serve as padding. Up until that point, I loved Redshirts, but I barely got through the codas.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Read: 28 October, 2018

I didn’t realize that this was the beginning of a series until after I’d finished it. Though, to be honest, this works as a standalone story as well. Yes, the ending is ambiguous, but it’s a complete origin story arc. The mystery of the Carls is still open ended, but it’s almost better that way.

I loved how strong the characters felt. Even the “baddies” had a nuance and an understanding that can be quite rare. I loved that Green did not make compromises for his story – the fictional world is every bit as complicated as our real world, while still reflecting Green’s own stated faith in humanity (as per his other media, such as his YouTube videos).

Having this come from Green, who was himself shot into fame after one of his YouTube videos went viral (and then another, then another, etc), was especially interesting, because April’s musings on that aspect of her life had a lot of authenticity. There were times when this book felt downright autobiographical (plus giant alien robots).

The mystery of the Carls and the Dream was captivating. It was, essentially, everything that I had liked about Ready Player One, but without all the white boy nerd baggage. I loved that April herself didn’t solve most of the mysteries, but had to outsource and to cooperate with many other people to accomplish her goals. However much she wanted to be the hero, the mystery kept bringing her back down into humanity.

Overall, I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable and very uplifting book. It’s full of hope for humanity, but without seeming saccharine or naive. I do think it fits in with a YA audience, but isn’t a YA book, per se; this is straight up science fiction. And more than enough to be found here for the more “mature” SF/F fans among us.

Pushout by Monique W. Morris

Read: 23 October, 2018

With the proliferation of mobile phones and social media, the mainstream is finally becoming aware that encounters with law enforcement are far too often fatal for black boys and men. Along with that, is the mainstream awareness of black incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But left out of this awareness is how the particular intersection of gender and race affects black girls. Not as likely to go to prison (though those rates are rising), Morris talks about the school-to-confinement pipeline for black girls – expanding the discussion to recognise other forms of restriction and surveillance, such as house arrest.

This is by no means a comprehensive book – in fact, each chapter could easily be a whole book on its own – but it is an excellent conversation starter about an issue that is too often ignored. Black girls are often left out of programs designed to help girls, as well as programs designed to help people of colour, and this book does a great job of looking at where this leaves kids who fall into both (and sometimes more) categories of oppression.

At the back of the book is some practical advice for kids, parents, and teachers who want to make a change – inclusion a description of two alternatives to punitive methods of school discipline.

Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Read: 19 October, 2018

The story isn’t particularly linear, with each chapter covering a new expression of the spiral obsession that kills the residents of Kurozu-cho. The main character, Kirie, is a witness to the goings on, and there are other recurring characters, but each chapter can otherwise function as independent short stories.

The artwork is incredibly creepy. Some of the imagery is downright haunting. I was particularly impressed by the subtle gauntness that the spiral’s victims take on, little by little, as they are overtaken.

The horror is very Lovecraftian. There’s no single monster that’s taking victims. Rather, there’s an obsession for spirals so extreme that a character will literally twist his body into a spiral, killing himself. There’s a scar on a girl’s forehead that grows into a spiral pattern and ends up consuming her entirely.

Moonstruck, Vol. 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis (illustrated by Shae Beagle)

Read: 16 October, 2018

I really love the artwork! The colours really pop, and every character has a very unique style that made it easy to keep track of who was who. I also liked the two different art styles to show what was part of the main story, and what was part of the in-world book.

My only complaint is with the pacing. It starts off nice and slow as we get to meet our characters and see their rapport. Then the mystery starts, and we see a little of how Chet, the character who is mainly affected by the mystery, copes (or not) with what has happened.

All’s good for that first 2/3rds. After that, however, the story seems like it’s rushing to a finish line. There were times when I thought I might have accidentally skipped a page because things were happening so fast. Who are the baddies? Why are they doing what they are doing? There’s a bit in there about trying to rid the world of magic, which would fit with the central theme (the main character, Julie, is embarrassed of being a werewolf and wishes she were a plain human), but that’s just one line. It’s a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it moment that doesn’t do much more than simply nod to the central theme to remind us that it still exists.

The whole final conflict (starting with tracking down the ghost to find out where the final conflict would take place) could have been at least twice as long, and given Julie’s choice to stop the baddie some actual weight.

Aside from that, I did really like this. The characters are interesting, I love all the inclusion, and the art style is perfect for the story being told.

Vorkosigan Saga #17: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 17 October, 2018

Would it really shock anyone if I said that I loved this?

Wit, political intrigue, plots, subterfuge, and romance. And just because that wasn’t quite enough, Bujold throws in a trans man, and handles him reasonably well.

I liked Ekaterin right off the bat. She isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, mostly because Quinn was such an immediate force of nature. But, I find, Ekaterin is, too. She’s just been stifled for too long that she doesn’t know her own power. Right from Komarr, however, it was clear that that power was there, hiding somewhere just beneath the surface. A Civil Campaign has her go through the process of finding it, and I suspect that she will get to properly own it in a coming book.

The marriage proposal itself was perfect. It was absolutely everything this series demanded from it. It was so dramatic and funny and wonderful, and I absolutely loved it.

Ivan is acting more the Bertie Wooster than ever, and his scenes were an absolute joy, as well.

I’m still a bit ambivalent on Mark, and I find his emotional dependency on Kareen rather frightening. I don’t want her to end up subsuming her own life to manage his. That said, at least Mark is working on it, which is more than most men in his position tend to do. And as for Kareen herself, she is certainly learning how to identify her own wants/needs and to speak out for them.

We’re eleven books and a novella into the series and, somehow, the characters – even Miles himself – still manage to show so much growth. I was blown away at the very end when Miles is every bit the imposing count that his father is, and I realised that this is who he is now. I can remember skin-of-his-teeth Miles from Warrior’s Apprentice, and his growth into this self-possessed master of his own domain has been so gradual that I’ve hardly noticed it, but it’s been natural. Having him find a widow who is in also in her 30s and who has a son who will be a teenager in not too long seems perfectly fitting.

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Stolen Words by Melanie Florence (illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard)

For Orange Shirt Day this year, I told my kid about residential schools. To help him understand the impact of cultural genocide, we read Stolen Words together.

This book is a fantastic help. I also really liked that it wasn’t just a story about a wise grandfather teaching something to the granddaughter. Rather, it’s the granddaughter who finds a Cree dictionary so that she and her grandfather could relearn their language together.

This is a powerful book that serves to both teach our history, and to offer hope for the future. The lost language can be recovered, and it’s recovered through community and family. Given the darkness of the subject matter, it was good to be able to present the story of residential schools with a positive ending, without sugar-coating it.

Old Man’s War #3: The Last Colony by John Scalzi

Read: 10 October, 2018

This book promised to be a smaller story than Old Man’s War and Ghost Brigades, focusing on Perry’s retirement as the leader of a new colony. But, even retired, Perry can’t seem to keep himself out of interstellar politics.

There’s so much that I enjoyed about this. Scalzi has a knack with future-tech, making it cool, but not so cool as to create plot holes. The politics themselves were all hidden agendas and complex plans that hinge on the most random sequence of events, and I don’t even care because it was all just so much fun!

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Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Read: 9 October, 2018

Karen Memory has all the fixings for an amazing story – Wild West steampunk featuring lesbians and Bass Reeves and a mecha-sewing machine? Bring it on!

Unfortunately, while I liked just about every individual component of this book, the whole didn’t work for me. Whatever it was, something about it didn’t click, and it took me forever to read.

Part of it is that I struggled to imagine a lot of what was being described. I understand that the built up roadways are based on the way Seattle was built up, but I just couldn’t picture it. Similarly, I have no idea what the sewing machine is supposed to look like. I know what sewing machines look like, and I know what mechabots look like, but the two combined? Whatever tinkering the characters were doing, I just don’t understand how the proper use of a sewing machine could involve getting into it, nor why it would have been equipped with arms and legs.

The book still gets four stars because, as I said, there was so much awesome there, even if it didn’t work for me.