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Martha Wells has a talent for crafting a perfect first paragraph.

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It has been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure. (9)

That passage encapsulates the main character of All Systems Red (2017) far better than any summary I could give. (more…)

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Some points of interest from the past month: up this time are a novel, a webcomic, a cartoon.

All you need is…to take a break from video games

51djxql872l-_sx326_bo1204203200_I got Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill with the intention of writing a full review, but after breezing through this it just didn’t stir much in my brain. There little more to it than the core premise: a soldier in a future war gets the ability to loop back in time and is reborn to the same morning whenever he dies, eventually using what he learns to become an unstoppable seasoned combat savant. There is a level of personal horror inherent in this what if but Sakurazaka only touches on it lightly. The main inspiration for the novel, its main obsession, and its central metaphor is video games. That’s not a bad thing; the experience of playing video games has become an immense part of some peoples’ lives and shouldn’t be dismissed. But Sakurazaka mainly skims off the surface, and it becomes uncomfortable when he imports the culture of online multiplayer deathmatches as manifesting in both the behaviour of the Japanese soldiers and the main character’s relationship with the only other character of note, the “Full Metal Bitch.”

There are a few moments of meditation in the face of destruction and some melancholy pieces near the end, but in this (thankfully) short novel those end up drowned in the noise of combat as filtered through a flickering screen. (more…)

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Martha Wells wrote something called The Fall of Ile-Rien and it’s my big obsession now. The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, The Gate of Gods – remember those titles. I check in on r/fantasy on Reddit pretty regularly and it’s choked with discussions about the same fantasy series that are all by guys with beards and are all unfinished and now I’m wondering why they’re not talking about this, which is a complete trilogy with a satisfying ending and is pretty much perfect.

I mean this has wizards who dress in tuxedos or flower print dresses in a 1920s-ish kind of central Europe and there are sentient magical spheres and culture clashes with matriarchal tropical island people and there are airships, so many airships, and war and adventure and romance and portals between different dimensions and giant ruins from long-dead ancient civilizations, and it’s all just beautifully rendered and evocative and imaginative. But it’s not just the world(s), which are intricate and detailed and feel alive, but after reading so many books lately where the characters are all kind of nondescript reflections of each other, Martha Wells breathes life and personality into everyone; her characters are so well-formed and complex and distinct whether good or bad and watching them interact is a huge pleasure. But mainly there are sorcerers flying around in zeppelins and that’s exactly what I needed in my life right now.

So, The Fall of Ile-Rien: you should read it. I’m leaving everything vague because I really do want people to go in blind and enjoy it fresh. It’s all the good parts you remembered about 90s fantasy including the zeppelins. It is distilled excellence and me blabbering too much about it would ruin it. So just go and read it.

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What to say about The Traitor Baru Cormorant? Just before publication in 2015, it seemed like a concentrated effort to torpedo the book occurred over several prominent SFF review sites and blogs; then shortly after publication came all the counter-arguments and effusive praise, and then it abruptly dropped off my RSS feed. Now it’s three years on with its sequel set for publication in October, and I’ve finally read it.

Seth Dickinson creates a secondary world custom-built for postcolonial theory, or at least that’s how things appear in the first few chapters. The Masquerade, a Granbretanean-style maritime “imperial republic” modelled after the British Empire but where everyone wears masks because masks are cool, conquers Baru Cormorant’s homeland of Taranoke by using paper money. She’s picked up by their schools, educated, and goes out into the world as an imperial accountant in the far-off northern nation of Aurdwynn. (more…)

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I read Spring Log II almost immediately after finishing Wolf and Parchment. Volume 19 of Spice and Wolf continues the gentler peak into the day-to-day life of a married couple that we saw in Spring Log I: another collection of short stories and novellas that run in more-or-less chronological order after a short flashback to an earlier time. Isuna Hasekura has come into his own with short fiction with these last two volumes, choosing character-focused pieces that explore close relationships and emotional states, quite the change from some of the clumsier offerings in the Side Colours volumes of the main Spice and Wolf series. Notably, a good chunk of this book comes comfortably from the wolf goddess Holo’s point of view rather than that of her husband Lawrence, a perspective largely absent from the novels in the series proper. (more…)

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Another smattering of thoughts for the month, as I just couldn’t come up with topics that quite warranted an article of their own. Up today: Pornokitsch, the Hugos, and Wolf and Parchment.

End of an era

1qdtdbod_400x400Pornokitsch shut down at the end of March and will not be posting new content. It’s a bit unusual to talk about a favourite website these days, but Pornokitsch was mine. They posted articles regularly on science fiction, fantasy, pop culture ephemera, cheesy music, historical oddities, old pulp paperbacks, and the occasional short story. It was a diverse mix fueled by the passions of the editors Jared Shurin and Anne Perry and their countless contributors from across the sff world. (more…)

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Steven Brust wrote a Firefly novel?

I heard about My Own Kind of Freedom at the tail end of an announcement of an official line of Firefly tie-in novels. I admit that the tie-in news didn’t interest me at all, but what did get my attention was learning that over a decade ago, Steven Brust wrote a Firefly novel on spec and submitted it for publication, was ultimately turned down, and released the finished work under Creative Commons Licence as a free ebook. Like Scott Lynch’s Queen of the Iron Sands, the combination of author and subject matter was too perfect to resist. (more…)

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