Locus poll and survey

Soooooo, here I must admit that I do not usually pay much attention to awards: I have a tendency to quietly live beneath a rock and emerge only briefly for basic necessities or if my friends poke me. I find new books by a) wandering into bookshops or libraries and browsing b) recommendations from friends, or c) mystical messages from the great beyond communicated to me via carrier pigeon, smoke signals or messages in bottles left outside the aforementioned rock…..

HOWEVER, something rather exciting has happened! Which is that The Life and Times of Angel Evans (my debut novelette) is on the Locus Award ballot *insert expressions of disbelieving excitement here* and and and I don’t really know what to do with that information – it has reduced me into a weird mess of nervous excitement because people read my work and liked it!!!!!!!

Ahem. So, I’m off to actually vote in the Locus Award ballot-ma-thing. And if you have read and enjoyed The Life and Times of Angel Evans, please do consider voting for it (it’s in the category Best Novelette). Click here.

If you haven’t read it and you would like to (it’s got magic, a ghost, dead prophets and the end of the world), click on the image to the right of this post and you’ll be redirected.

Thank you to everyone who’s read, reviewed, critiqued and enjoyed – it’s wonderful that Angel Evans has come this far 🙂

I’m now returning to my rock – reviews again next week 🙂

Book Reviews: announcement and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I have read a lot of books recently, however I’m struggling a bit to find time to write “proper” reviews of them (super busy with work and writing a new story). So I thought I’d do a series of bite-size reviews of around 250 – 300 words each, just until I have more time again. I’m sure there will be some longer ones mixed in there! I hope you enjoy 🙂

Let us begin!Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I powered up the transporter and said a silent prayer.

This is an incredible book. Short, at ninety pages, but full. Bursting, almost, with ideas and skill and craftwork. I believe I described the other Nnedi Okorafor title that I’ve read, The Book of Phoenix, as being a cataclysm. This is a quieter book, but no less powerful. Binti is of the Himba people, and she is leaving her home and her planet to attend Oomza Uni, which flies in the face of tradition. Please note that I am not knowledgeable about the Himba people, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of the representation in this book.

It’s hard, really, to know what to say because there is so much contained in this slim volume. Binti is a fantastic protagonist; completely believable in her characterisation. From the first sentence I am drawn in and intrigued: I want to know who she is, where she’s from, where she is going and why. And I empathised with her, to the point of snarling “what the f*ck?” under my breath when a stranger in a public space touched Binti’s hair without asking (which I know is a real problem, and a whole other subject deserving of lots of space because it’s so not okay, ever, to grab a stranger’s hair!) and yelped out loud, and swore some more at other distressing points (this is me trying to avoid spoilers) and cried when Binti lost her friends. Messily. There was snot, people. The world building was also excellent, and very impressive; creating such a real science-fiction world in a mere ninety pages must, I imagine, have been quite hard (also one spoiler: spaceship fish!). I cried at the end as well, because this is such a beautiful novella and I want more. Luckily there is more, and I’m just waiting on my next payday to buy the sequel.

Mathematics is something of a theme, as Binti primarily got into Oomza Uni with her incredible mathematics score. I really struggle with maths, but the novella is still completely readable and enjoyable and I actually found myself thinking things like “Hmmmm, maybe maths isn’t so bad, maybe I should go learn more maths”. And aliens and friendship and and and and I have to shut up now or I’ll just squeee.

So to conclude, brilliant main character, excellent writing, excellent story about growing up and making choices (and lots of other things) and more to come!

Rating: read this book, learn about equations.

Book Review: Saints and Adventurers by Frances Gapper

saints and adventurers by frances gapper

On the day my brother died, when I was fourteen, a grey, wet, windy day in late August, my grandmother drowned the cat.

This is another one of the Women’s Press books that I’ve managed to get my hands on. It’s a story of grief, madness and menstruation; a work full of transformations. In many ways, it was very much of its time. And then again, the book was just full of characters that I recognised – people from my life who had snuck into the pages and were waving out at me.

It’s told by Jenny, who is growing up after her brother’s death. Her mother will not talk about her feelings, is a tightly controlled and deeply angry woman. And her grandmother is the opposite in so many ways; a Corsican wise-woman plying her trade in Surbiton. It’s a dizzying portrait of adolescence, of all the different ways to go mad. There are angels that turn up and cats that die and a father who simply has no idea and spends all his time writing a book about butterflies and emerging only when the tea runs out.

There are many moments when I laughed out loud. And many when I cried. Jenny’s best friend, Alicia, is starving herself and recites poetry backwards. Her mother retreats into a world she can control. Her grandmother drowns cats and fixes electrics and talks about blood and death and magic. Jenny’ sort-of boyfriend is endearing, in a hopeless way; his parents are Freudian psychoanalysts and tried to raise him to be normal (it backfired). And Jenny is lost and wandering, trying to grow up and not knowing how or what it means.

It’s a rich, rich work that spoke to me very deeply. It didn’t offer solutions or even take clear sides. Here was a family being a family, which is a much more complicated endeavour than most people think. There’s religion and sex and all the strange things that get thrown up during adolescence and a wry sense of humour that will suddenly turn in on itself, laughing at the notion of the book. Spirits and ghosts and humans. Basically, I really really enjoyed this book but it’s very hard to review!

Rating: read this book. Climb a hill and scream.

International Women’s Day – Day Without a Woman

Happy International Women’s Day!

I don’t have enough money to be able to afford to go on strike today (sadly), so here are just a few little things that I am doing:

  • Wearing RED in solidarity with striking women.
  • Also wearing BLACK in solidarity with strike4repeal.
  • Heading to a local women’s day event later.
  • Donating sanitary towels to homeless shelters via The Homeless Period.

It doesn’t feel like nearly enough in all honesty, but I cannot do everything.

Sending out big love to my all my fellow women, enbies and allies.

Book Review: Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap

hurrican heels art by denise yap

A long time ago, in the space between dimensions, two beings were formed from the matter that filled the hearts of every living thing.

So this is one big story, told in five short stories from the points-of-view of five female friends. Who happen to have magical powers and save the world on a semi-regular basis. Yes it’s magical girls! I have to admit to not having watched or read many magical girl stories at all, but this book was brilliant and I still enjoyed it, although I probably missed some of the trope subversions.

One of the great things about this story is that the women have, at this point, been fighting the forces of darkness for ten years. And those forces are actually terrifying: strange grey monsters that appear out of nowhere to wreak havoc. There’s a real, tangible sense of fear. If things go wrong, people will die. As a reader, there’s a definite feeling that even if there is a fairytale ending, it might not be one of the good ones.

The five characters are all really strong, very different from each other with their own internal struggles. I wasn’t very well when I read this book, so a lot of the details were lost in the fog of a SuperMassive Headache (I’ll just have to read it again), but there’s a general impression of “awesome” that remains. I especially liked the fact that all of the women were having normal, growing up and being an adult difficulties as well as saving the world difficulties. One of them, wonderfully, was an anime nerd who loved magical girl stories – it sounds cheesy but it worked really well.

So, here we have a fab book with five main characters – all women – who kick arse and take names and manage to stay friends (and in some cases, girlfriends), with some great illustrations by the author’s sister. It’s touching and honest and heartwarming. I mean, what’s not to like?

Rating: Read this book. Put on your magical earrings and beat up some monsters (we’ll go for drinks after).

Midweek update

Hah! I title that as if it’s something I do regularly!!! Oh dear…

Anyway, here’s a little looksie at what I’m up to. We have:

Reading: Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga, Warrior Women by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles, Mosswitch and Other Stories by Sara Maitland. As you can tell, I am once again attempting to educate myself with history (and I guess science??? Mosswitch is fiction with sciencey inspirations). We’ll see how it goes this time (I think I may just have to admit that the reason history makes me so cross is not to do with finding the right book and absolutely to do with all the inherent biases and general shitness of people. That said, I am discovering some incredibly brilliant people so there’s that too) (I’m also terrible at remembering dates, which does not help. But I have a great memory for useless Potter trivia…)

Writing: So. Nearly. Ready. To. Submit. Story. It. Is. Painful. How. Close. I. Am. And. Then. I Can. Forget. All. About. It. For. At. Least. A. Month. And write something else entirely, which, in all honesty, I love the story I’ve been working on but I’m so so ready to be working on something else so I’m going to be very happy when it’s away and I have so many ideas (and do cross your fingers for me getting accepted – it’s a very different beast from The Life and Times of Angel Evans but, I hope, still enjoyable and good).

Other thoughts: Period pants, yes or no?

Favourite song this week:

And that’s me!

Book Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman

planetfall-emma-newman

Every time I come down here I think of my mother.

This is a striking work. It’s the only thing I’ve read by Emma Newman – a standalone science fiction novel about exploration, grief and god. Unusually for me, I had to take a break from reading it in the middle rather than just reading through. This is because the point-of-view character, Renata “Ren” Ghali, has a deeply seated anxiety issue that, although far more extreme than my own experience, managed to trigger some of my anxiety. Nevertheless, I came back and finished it because it is brilliant and I needed to know what happened.

Planetfall is written in the first person, so we are intimately entangled with Ren’s fears and feelings. And she has a lot of them, relayed to us with utter precision. Ren is the primary 3D printing engineer on a colony on an unknown planet, and the facts about the colony are drip-fed to us in a way that feels very natural; they are people who came here looking for God, following the Pathfinder Lee Suh-Mi. They are the only inhabitants of the planet, or they should be, and their colony is built at the base of a huge organic structure that they refer to as God’s City.

And then a man arrives: Sung-Soo, a stranger and the grandson of Lee Suh-Mi. To most of the community, this is at minimum a cause for celebration and at most a sign from God that soon Lee Suh-Mi will return. For Ren, it is the cause of gutwrenching anxiety and fear because she has been keeping a secret ever since planetfall, and Sung-Soo’s presence may just unravel everything.

This book is a study in narrative tension; we know there is a secret, but not what it is. We know that Mack, the charismatic ringmaster, is the only person other than Ren who knows. But what happened? And how? And, just as importantly, does Ren even remember? And how can Ren cope with her anxiety and her mental health when, at the core of it, is a secret so big that she can barely think about it? The plot is unwound through the present, but also through memories of family and friends, of leaving Earth and arriving on this planet. It’s a fragmented portrait of a fragmented person, written with skill.

As I said, I had to take a break in the middle of reading this, so the beginning and the end are a bit disjointed in my head. Against all the odds, I actually found it uplifting by the end (but perhaps that’s just me). Planetfall is inhabited by well-observed and realised characters, in a detailed and believable world. And I loved it, despite the fact that I kept having to take breaks to go and cry and once nearly had a panic attack because Emma Newman’s description of Ren having a panic attack was too accurate. It’s a tense, tight mystery that encompasses grief and guilt and lies and was, at it’s heart, wonderfully human. I highly recommend it, although perhaps step with caution if anxiety is an issue for you.

Rating: enjoy this book, but remember that trying to find God never ends well in science-fiction.

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