Title: Payment Due
Author: Francis Hardinge
Source: Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron ed by Jonathan Strahan
One Word Review: Sharp
One Line Review: When a girl’s gran can’t afford her bills her granddaughter takes revenge, which Hardinge does in an imaginative way.
One Paragraph Review: This 15 page short introduces us to a girl who lives with her gran and while at school her gran lets in a bailiff. What happens from there shows Hardinge has a bit of a twisted streak. The granddaughter takes matters into her own hands and well…sorts it out. A nice little twist happens as it veers off into a more magical direction than I expected. The ending line is perhaps a little too mirroring but Haringe doesn’t seem the sentimental sort. My first Hardinge but not my last as I’ve been hearing lots of very good things for a while.
Title: A Handful of Ashes
Author: Garth Nix
Source: Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron ed by Jonathan Strahan
One Word Review: Enchanting
One Line Review: A privileged teenage witch picks on less privileged one, which sets the victim on a race against time to save Ermine College
One Paragraph Review: Over 41 pages this YA tale manages to invoke a witches school, a lead character you want to root for and has a challenging, but not oversized, ordeal for the heroine to go through. Magical schools are overshadowed by JK Rowling’s creation but there is always scope for other writers to tell their own unique tales. And this one does, you immediately see how unfair things are for Mari as she is summoned as a servant and then humiliated seemingly because she’s a poor student and not a rich one but Nix uses that disparage to unsteady and to give a moral lesson to the reader – not a heavy handed one as it’s nicely done. He also shows imaginative flare with flying witches, bone wands, and the meaning of ash.
Gridlnked was the first Polity universe novel to be published but it is the 8th book in the series I’ve read, so I am coming to it from the ‘wrong’ angle, but to be honest, I love the way that Neal Asher interlinks his ideas and explores his creation from various angles so I wasn’t surprised to see Dragon’s appearance though it was curious to compare this appearance that in The Technician, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ian Cormac is an Earth Central Security agent who have been connected to the grid longer than most humans should be, and because of that he agrees to be removed from the grid at the same time he’s given a mission to find out who blew-up a Runcible (a stargate I’d guess you’d could call them), so he has to use old fashioned detective work ,like asking people for information, at the same time as someone who is out to kill him for something he did on his pervious mission.
As with other novels in this series Asher’s passion for biology, physics and science in general shines. It doesn’t get in the way of Cormac’s investigation but it does create a concrete and fascinating world for him to live and breath in.
There are some great set-pieces, clever blending of AI and human interaction and, of course, Mr Crane. He gives each ‘person’ a proper personalities, which rightly extends to the AIs. It does make it easier to read as each character is in some way memorable.
I can’t think of a negative to be honest. All the ideas that come later are well-formed here and we end up with a thoughtful, fun and action-packed science fiction novel, which set up Asher to become one of the most enjoyable SF writers I’ve read. Oh, I have a negative – why did it take me so long to actually read it?
Title: “Notes from the House Spirits”
Author: Lucy Wood
Source: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood
One Word Review: Perceptive
One Line Review: Lucy Wood asks what if you could hear about a house’s life via its occupants and answers that with snatches and impressions.
One Paragraph Review: It’s voyeuristic this one but at the same time invokes feelings of sympathy for an inanimate object. And to install such feelings is a skill. I ended up feeling sorry for the house as a series of occupants came and went. Wood injects enough of their lives to leave you curious though not enough that you want to know more about them. You still want to go back to the house and its feelings. It’s not a haunted house story but it is a haunting one.
Title: ‘Amethyst, Shadow, and Light’
Author: Saladin Ahmed
Source: Fearsome Journeys edited by Jonathan Strahan
One Word Review: Subversive.
One Line Review: Zok Ironeyes and his partner Hai Hai plan on looting a mansion, instead this Conan-pastiche turns into a quest that could save the world, and Ahmed then plays and pokes fun at the idea.
One Paragraph Review: I’ve not read a lot of Conan but I was wondering if it was supposed to subvert this brand of heroic fantasy and I found another story (set in the same world) and an article confirming that feeling. Over 20-pages, we get a crash-course in world-building and go this mission but it’s a all a little too compressed to enjoy properly. I’m sure it echoes the source material as it does feel pulpy (eg loosing subtleness for instant explanation) but the moments of info-dumping distract from a fun partnership with a big human and a soulless human-rabbit (what I can tell that’s what Hai Hai is). I hope I get to read more of their ‘adventures’ as it’s an interesting idea but hopefully it’ll be a little less packed next time.
Author: Carita Forsgren (trans. by Anna Volmari and J. Robert Tupasela)
Source: It Came From the North: An Anthology of Finnish Speculative Fiction edited by Desirina Boskovich
One Word Review: Surreal.
One Line Review: A woman has to unblock the drain and discovers the world isn’t what it seems.
One Paragraph Review: This is a story that slowly introduces you to a weird place and then makes that the reality. When the unnamed narrator pulls a hairball from the shower she discovers it’s alive and as the story progresses it slowly morphs into something more recognisable. The domestic start gives way to a surreal relationship and then a questioning of reality and part of me wanted to stay in the image world that Frosgren ends ‘Hairball’ with.
It was a pleasant surprise.
Title: Ripple in the Dirac Sea (1988)
Author: Geoffrey Landis
Source: The Time Traveller’s Almanac edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
One Word Review: Clever
One Line Review: Asks, what are the consequences of time travel?, and illustrates those in a twisty three-thread narrative.
One Paragraph Review: As a second story of the almanac it throws you in the deep-end of the theories in time travel but it also gives you lots of buoyancy aids. It teases you with ‘Notes for Lecture on Time Travel’, with the author’s most revisited moment in history and time spent in the ‘present’. It’s one of those stories that becomes clearer and clearer the more pieces that are set down before you see the inevitable. Even if some of the ‘science’ gets confusing the consequences are plain.
Title: The Education of a Witch
Author: Ellen Klages
Source: The Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy Vol. Seven edited by Jonathan Strahan.
One Word Review: Sympathetic
One Line Review: Reminds me of Matilda though the special child in this case loves witches not books.
One Paragraph Review: Reading The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter had already changed how I see fairytales after years of seeing the Disney-filtered ones. Earlier this year I read Poison by Sarah Pinborough, who in her own way challenges those same Disney-filters (don’t get me wrong I love Disney but they cleanse things), so I’ve already seen an ‘evil’ character differently. But if you haven’t I challenge you to read The Education of a Witch and not see Lizzy’s love of Maleficent as a positive thing. Of course, those around her don’t and that’s where societies beliefs damage us and how easily if turns us. Oh, and the magic here is slight but so significant.
Title: Mono no Aware (2012)
Author: Ken Lui
Source: The Future is Japanese
One Word Review: Sweet
One Line Review: A threat to Earth sends of 1000 people from Earth and Lui deftly navigates the present and the past to give us someone to care about.
One Paragraph Review: Until I got to the end I was hoping that this would be an episodic piece as we’re transported to a ship that is traveling near the speed of light to a destination outside our solar system (61 Virgins) and it makes a good setting to dip into to see how they are getting on. But Lui is focusing on the child of Hiroto as he ends up on this ship and the part he plays when he gets there. I’m a little sad it was so short as I’d liked to have seen what Lui would do with the other people on the ship though the relationship element sadly does boarder on saccharine.
Title: The Proving of Smollett Standforth
Author: Margo Lanagan
Source: Ghosts by Gaslight ed. Jack Dann and Gevers
One Word Review: Quiet.
One Line Review: A boy is haunted in his attack room and because he keeps it to himself it makes it a little quiet.
One Paragraph Review: This one might have been a little too slight for me. I didn’t really get the childhood fear as the boy accepts his fate until he has to confront it and confront it alone. I can see that he takes a ghosts burden but it didn’t really move me I’m afraid.