Tag Archives: Emma Newman

Recent Reads: Tor.com’s October 2017 Novellas

The Murders of Molly Southbourne
by Tade Thompson

Pub Date: 10/3

I don’t usually care for horror, and Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne seemed like a fairly straightforward horror concept when I read the cover copy. However, I read pretty much all of Tor.com’s novellas, and I appreciate that doing so tends to get me to read outside my comfort zone and try new things. Still, I didn’t expect that I was going to start this book sometime after my midnight bedtime and find myself unable to put it down until I finished it an hour and a half or so later. It’s a compulsively readable, at times deeply disturbing fable with a compelling heroine at war, literally, with herself.

Molly Southbourne is brilliant, brave, and cruel in turns, an often unlikable woman who is nevertheless deeply sympathetic as she tries to find some way to live a normal life while dealing with a condition where anytime she bleeds, it grows a new molly who quickly becomes intent on killing her. Even Molly’s earliest memory is of murder, and she’s lived her entire life by a set of strict rules intended to keep her safe from her other selves, but it’s exhausting, physically and mentally. The mix of body horror and psychological is well-conceived and cleverly executed, and every word and image in the book feels methodically intentional. It’s a parable with several possible interpretations, all of them interesting, and Thompson makes smart use of classic fantasy and science fictional elements to touch on ideas about identity, cloning, family, and the effects living a life full of violence has on a person.

A Long Day in Lychford
by Paul Cornell

Pub Date: 10/10

I’ve loved Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas since the beginning, but A Long Day in Lychford is very different from its predecessors and I’m still not sure if I think it’s a step forward or back for the series. Whereas the two previous books had something of a timeless feel to them—though they also dealt with the modern-day issues changing the landscapes of small towns—this one digs into the UK’s Brexit debate with mixed success. It’s a timely story, but it’s also a painful story to read.

After focusing more on Judith and Lizzie in the first couple of Lychford books, this one shows us a bit more about Autumn, who we learn is pretty much the only person of color in Lychford. After the Brexit vote, things get uncomfortable for her, and it causes a rift between Autumn and Judith that leads, albeit somewhat indirectly, to a magical mishap that needs to be fixed. It’s a definite change of pace from the first books in the series, and it feels more deeply personal and immediately relevant than the previous two novellas that dealt a little more broadly and abstractly with small town issues, but it’s also perhaps a little overambitious for its short page count. Things wrap up a little too neatly in the end, and Cornell’s main thesis is somewhat garbled by using a sort of metaphor about the border between Fairy and Lychford and tossing in some upsetting news about Judith that has some unfortunate implications re: her vote on Brexit. It’s possible to have too much nuance for a short novella.

Weaver’s Lament
by Emma Newman

Pub Date: 10/17

Emma Newman’s gaslamp fantasy series continues with a new mystery for secret mage-in-training Charlotte to puzzle through. Her brother Ben has settled into his role as an apprentice Mage, and he seems to be thriving at his new position at a mill in Manchester. The problem is that the mill seems to be haunted—either by ghosts or by rebellious workers—and Ben calls in Charlotte to go undercover and investigate. It’s a decent premise, and it’s never a bad time for a new book about workers’ rights, but everything about Weaver’s Lament feels a little rushed and its treatment of serious issues is perfunctory. Charlotte is a likable heroine, and she’s sensitive to the injustice and abuse she uncovers in Manchester, but secondary characters are given short shrift while Charlotte easily returns to her status quo at the end of the book.

Also, while I’m a fan of slow-burning will-they-or-won’t-they romances, it’s difficult to be invested in Charlotte and Magus Hopkins when they spend so little time together in stories that are so small in scope. Brother’s Ruin and Weaver’s Lament have both dealt heavily with uncovering largescale injustices that deeply affect the characters’ lives, and these things also form the primary barrier to the central romantic relationship of the series. However, there’s been very little forward movement on any front. The romance is limited to lingering glances and subtle chemistry, and the systemic injustice and probable evil of the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts isn’t confronted head-on and doesn’t seem likely to be any time soon.

Though it’s not without problems, Weaver’s Lament is still an entertaining read. It just feels like it could have used about a hundred pages more of breathing room, mostly so that it could do a bit better justice to the new friends Charlotte makes at Manchester. It’s not always a good thing when a story leaves you hungry for more.

by Melissa F. Olson

Pub Date: 10/24

Switchback is a decided improvement over its merely workmanlike predecessor, Nightshades, which introduced Melissa F. Olson’s near future noir world in which humans are reacting—sometimes poorly—to learning that vampires exist. Whereas Nightshades was full of clunky exposition and worldbuilding, everything about Switchback is more relaxed and self-assured. It’s a better-plotted mystery with a more satisfying overall arc, and Olson makes the wise choice to focus more on Lindy, the vampire consultant who is more interesting that the rest of the main cast put together. While there are still some mysteries surrounding Lindy’s past, by the end of Switchback she feels like a fully realized character. “What if the world suddenly knew vampires are real?” is a question that has been answered many times in fiction, and I’m not sure there’s much new ground to cover on the issue, but Switchback retreads well-worn paths confidently while shifting focus to a fresher perspective than Nightshades had. I wasn’t sure about continuing with this series after my lukewarm feeling towards that book, but after this one I’m rather looking forward to seeing what Olson does with it next.

The SF Bluestocking 2017 Fall Reading List

It’s that time again, where I grossly/awesomely overestimate the number of books and other things I’ll be able to read in the next three months, plus include a few things I almost certainly won’t get around to reading but that I still think other folks should read and tell me about.

One thing you may notice right off is that I’m not really reading YA any longer. I’m sure it’s a temporary thing, but I just haven’t gotten into any of the YA releases that were on my radar this year, so in the interest of not stressing myself out when I fail to get around to them, I’m just not even including them. It’s just been so long since I’ve really wanted to read anything YA, and there’s so much other great stuff coming out over the next three months (well, the next couple months, since December is an especially sparse time for SFF releases this year) that I just haven’t even been paying much attention to what’s coming out for teens.

The rest of 2017 is pretty heavily front-loaded with new releases. with eight titles I’m excited about coming out just on October 3 and several more Tuesdays in October and November with two to five releases. However, there’s nothing on my calendar past December 5, so I expect to be doing a lot of catching up on things that month, since on average I’m reading just a couple books a week and there’s a lot of stuff I’m excited about this fall.

Tor.com Publishing

I’ve, kind of necessarily, relaxed my stance on reading every single Tor.com release over the last few months, skipping a couple of titles that didn’t appeal to me or that were part of series that I haven’t begun yet, but the next couple months are full of books that I’m looking forward to.

  • The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson – 10/3
  • A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell – 10/10
    I’ve loved both of Paul Cornell’s previous Lychford novellas. The first, in particular, was a great seasonally appropriate read around this time a couple years ago, and I’m making sure to save this one for a crisp evening with a blanket a nice hot cup of tea or several.
  • Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders – 10/17
    I’ve read All the Birds in the Sky and enjoyed some of Anders’ other short fiction (her story in the John Joseph Adams anthology, Cosmic Powers, was fantastic), so I’m pretty hyped for this collection, each story of which is totally new to me.
  • Weaver’s Lament by Emma Newman – 10/17
    The sequel to Brother’s Ruin, which was a charming gaslamp fantasy.
  • Switchback by Melissa F. Olson – 10/24
  • The Sisters of the Crescent Empress by Leena Likitalo – 11/7
    I already read an advance copy this book right after I read The Five Daughters of the Moon, and it’s a beautiful conclusion the the duology.
  • Gluttony Bay by Matt Wallace – 11/7
    I’m certain that this penultimate Sin du Jour novella is going to be delicious.
  • Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska – 11/14
    I haven’t been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of this title, but it’s probably the Tor.com release I’m most looking forward to this fall aside from Gluttony Bay. Certainly, it’s the most ambitious and unique sounding thing on their schedule in the next three months.
  • Starfire: Shadow Sun Seven by Spencer Ellsworth – 11/28
    Spencer Ellsworth’s Starfire trilogy is exactly the sort of high energy retro space opera adventures I want to be reading these days. Highly recommend.
Anthologies and Collections
  • Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak – 10/8
    I will have a review of this anthology and possibly an interview with the editors coming out prior to its release date, but I’ll say here that you definitely want to read this book. Plus, a portion of the proceeds from its sales benefits Kids Help Phone, a Canadian counselling hotline for children.
  • The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen
    A collection of retold classics and fairy tales from a great author.
  • Mad Hatters & March Hares edited by Ellen Datlow
    An anthology of stories inspired by Wonderland.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty – 10/3
I’ve been watching Caitlin Doughty’s YouTube channel (Ask a Mortician) for years, and I loved her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory. I’ve also been following her work with the death acceptance organization The Order of the Good Death for years, so I am super excited to read this new book about death traditions from cultures around the world.

  • The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera – 10/3
  • Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor – 10/3
    The long-awaited sequel to Okorafor’s 2011 YA novel, Akata Witch.
  • The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehenat Khan – 10/3
  • Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng – 10/3
    Early reviews of this gothic fantasy seem promising.
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – 10/3
  • Star Wars From a Certain Point of View – 10/3
    40 popular authors (seriously, all my current faves are in here) telling 40 stories from the points of view of 40 different minor characters in the Star Wars Universe. It’s gonna be awesome.
  • The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear – 10/10
    The start of a new epic fantasy series in the same world as her Eternal Sky trilogy.
  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman – 10/19
    The first in a new prequel/sequel trilogy set in the world of His Dark Materials.
  • The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 10/24
  • The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso – 10/24
  • Magic of Wind and Mist by Cassandra Rose Clarke – 10/24
    An omnibus reprint of a duology.
  • Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns – 10/31
    This book had me at “lesbian space pirates.”
  • Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines – 11/7
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee – 11/7
  • Artemis by Andy Weir – 11/14
  • The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – 11/14
  • Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer – 11/14
  • Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers – 11/14
  • Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier – 11/21
  • Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – 12/5
    Benjanun Sriduangkaew still needs to put out a collection of her short fiction, but I guess a queer take on the Snow Queen in novella form will have to do. (I’m so excited.)
  • The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer – 12/5
    The Terra Ignota series continues.
  • A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall – 12/5
  • Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey – 12/5
    I mean, I still need to finish reading all the previous books, but I’m still looking forward to this one.

Book Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman

Planetfall is a brilliant portrait of a character and a community both in crises and a meditation on the ways in which the community and the individual are intertwined. It’s a gorgeously realized sci-fi mystery about a secret that festers in the heart of a seeming utopia and threatens to destroy it all.

Renata Ghali followed her dearest friend, Lee Suh-Mi, across the stars to a new planet in search of God, but what they found when they arrived on their new planet was, well, inconclusive. When Suh-Mi disappears, Renata and the rest of their colony have to figure out how to go on without her. Over twenty years later, Suh-Mi’s grandson shows up and starts uncovering the truth that Renata has helped to hide all this time.

Much of the praise I’ve seen for Planetfall has been for its narrator, and I can’t help but concur. Ren is a fascinating character with an unconventional point of view that makes hers a unique perspective to read a story from. She’s an older woman (a youthful seventy or so, in fact), a woman of color, queer, and significantly mentally ill, though the revelation of that last fact sort of creeps up on you as you read her story. The first person present tense narrative provides a nice sense of immediacy and immersion, which becomes increasingly important as the story moves along and Renata’s mental state deteriorates. Over the course of the novel, Ren becomes increasingly anxious and paranoid, then frantic as secrets start to be uncovered. It’s not always an easy thing to read, but it is absolutely riveting.

I only wish that there had been more actual science in Planetfall, although I think that’s more a sign that I’ve been in a mood for harder sci-fi recently than it is a sign that Emma Newman fails the reader in any particular way. Indeed, there are all kinds of interesting ideas on display here, from printing technology to sustainable living and social engineering. This book straddles the worlds of harder sci-fi and more human-focused sci-fi and does both justice, but I would have loved more explanation of how things worked, especially the space travel portion of the colony’s journey, which I felt was very glossed over. Realistically, it doesn’t matter and isn’t really pertinent to the story being told, which is likely why there’s not more detail about the ship and the journey, but I kind of love that stuff.

Finally, I would also have liked to see some of the themes surrounding religion and spirituality in an age of scientific and technological wonders be a little more fully developed. There are all kinds of ideas touched upon regarding the existence of God, the possible ultimate fruitlessness of humanity’s search for God, and even the ways in which faith makes people vulnerable—both to their own bad ideas and to exploitation in service of other people’s bad ideas. Ren is a great protagonist for asking questions and making observations about these things, as she’s a skeptic herself and her disconnectedness from her community makes her often a shrewd observer of people. However, her observations are thoroughly colored by her significant mental illness, making them increasingly unreliable over the course of the book even as more of Ren’s and the colony’s history is revealed, and the rather abrupt ending of the story is somewhat unsatisfying.

All in all, though, Planetfall is a great book. It’s got a lovely, almost meditative pace to it, and it’s an incredible character study of its narrator. As someone who also suffers from depression and anxiety, with a tendency towards reclusiveness, I found Ren incredibly relatable, and I can definitely see this being a book that I will return to in the future.

Book Review – Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World

Monstrous Little Voices is a collection of five short novellas that take place within a fantasy world based upon the works of William Shakespeare, and it’s about 80% brilliant, which is pretty good for an anthology. There’s something of an overarching storyline connecting the stories, in addition to common themes and motifs, and this is nicely executed without making the stories feel totally linear or requiring them to be read in order. At the same time, each one also stands alone quite well.

Foz Meadows kicks things off with “Coral Bones,” a deliberate and thoughtful meditation on the ways in which we learn and perform gender roles. Through the examination of the character of Miranda and Miranda’s life after her marriage and “rescue,” Meadows explores questions about where gender comes from, how it’s imposed upon people, and what are some of the consequences—both personal and social—for failing to adequately conform to strict gender roles. She imagines essentially three worlds: the island where Miranda grew up unconstrained by social expectations, though being also groomed by her father, Prospero, to perform femininity; the world of the court of Naples, where Miranda lives after her marriage to Ferdinand, in which her performance of femininity is no longer optional and the qualities that made her different and attractive to Ferdinand on the island are now unnecessary and unwanted; and the fairy world, into which Miranda flees to escape her unhappy marriage after suffering a miscarriage, and in which gender is fluid and sexuality is flexible. It’s a clever story, and Meadows makes superb use of the Shakespearean elements in order to both pay tribute to and interrogate the Bard’s work.

“The Course of True Love” by Katherine Heartfield takes place, in the world of the book, some twenty years after “Coral Bones,” and it’s an altogether different sort of story—a fairly straightforward romance—that also plays with its source material in interesting ways. Heartfield tells the story of the witch Pomona, who is a friend of Sycorax and devotee of Hecate, and her encounter with an imprisoned fairy ambassador. Of all the stories in Monstrous Little Voices, this one may be the most in the spirit of Shakespeare, filled as it is with fairies, witches, mistaken identities, gender swaps, and humorous banter. What I liked best about it, however, is that it’s a romance where an old woman gets to be the main heroine. Like the previous tale, it’s overtly feminist, but with a significantly lighter and less complicated feminist message than “Coral Bones.”

Emma Newman’s “The Unkindest Cut” may be my favorite story in the collection, and it’s definitely the one about which I most wonder what happens next. Lucia de Medici is a girl with a destiny—to enter into a marriage that will end a war before it even begins—and she’ll do anything to ensure that it comes to pass. It’s an enormous amount of character development and growth squeezed into a relatively short number of pages, and it’s fascinating to watch Lucia change over the course of the story’s events. This girl who begins as somewhat shallow and seemingly marriage-obsessed turns out to be clever, resourceful, and downright ruthless in pursuit of her goals. The ending of the story is somewhat heavily telegraphed, and the ultimate solution to Lucia’s central problem is obvious before it’s even revealed, but it’s so great and the punchline of the story is delivered with such panache that I can barely even think of this as a drawback.

Adrian Tchaikovsky contributes “Even in the Cannon’s Mouth,” which is the story in the collection that is most like an actual play, with at rise descriptions and stage directions being used to provide a theatrical tone and break up the story into distinct scenes. It’s a tactic that I think is used to mixed success here, and I honestly found myself just being overwhelmed by the number of characters and disoriented by the swift and often sudden changes in the narrative. It’s a wild ride, for sure, and there are some interesting interpretations of Shakespeare’s characters—especially Helena—but the actual events of the story are sometimes difficult to follow. I was very glad to be taking notes, but not everyone likes to treat their leisure-reading like homework. Fortunately, everything comes more or less into focus by the end of the story so that there is a mostly satisfying ending, but “Even in the Cannon’s Mouth” is noticeably less substantive than all three of the previous stories. It’s not a bad tale, but it has far less to say than any of the others.

The final story in Monstrous Little Voices is “On the Twelfth Night” by Jonathan Barnes, and it comes somewhat out of left field. It starts off promisingly, albeit very differently than any of the rest of the stories in the collection, being told in second person from the point of view of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne. Then, though, things get weird, and the story barrels towards an ending that I found profoundly disappointing, mostly because it was so completely disconnected from the rest of the collection in tone and subject matter. I might have liked “On the Twelfth Night” in a different context, but here it just feels out of place and so completely unpredicated by the rest of the stories that it’s both baffling and irritating. It’s the highest concept of the book’s tales, but in this case that only means that it has the biggest opportunity to fail with its audience.

All in all, though, Monstrous Little Voices is something special, and this is a great year for reading Shakespeare, being the four hundredth anniversary of his death. With the introduction and afterword, I’d say that it’s definitely worth it to buy the full book, but each story is also being sold separately as an ebook if you prefer to read them that way. At the very least, the first three stories are essential reading, but the whole thing together is worth checking out.

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley.)