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text 2020-05-18 17:46
Reading progress update: I've read 8%. - a strong. confident start
The Gaslight Dogs - Karin Lowachee

The story is going to be told from the point of view of different individuals. So far, I've met two of them and each has its own distinct voice.


The writing is lean and powerful, with the imagery changing with the point of view. I think this is going to be a good read.

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review 2020-05-16 17:57
'One Word Kill - Impossible Times #1' by Mark Lawrence
One Word Kill (Impossible Times #1) - Mark Lawrence

I had fun reading this book. I don't think I can get that across with plot summaries so I'm giving an overview and then sharing the notes I made as I went along.


I recommend the audiobook version of 'One Word Kill'. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.





Set in England in 1986 Mark Lawrence's new YA book, the start of a new series, tells the story of a D&D playing, teenage boy, dying of cancer, who gets the chance to save the first girl he's ever gotten to talk to like she's a real person. 


It's not a cosy book - too much clear thinking and physical pain and too many encounters with nasty people for that - but it's a hopeful book, as long as you believe in the power of imagination and advanced mathematics.


The ending of the book seemed pretty final (in a quietly satisfying way) so I'm curious to see how Mark Lawrence will carry this forward into a series but, when he does, I'll be buying it.


12% Mark Lawrence Does It Again.


My first encounter with Mark Lawrence was with 'Red Sister' - the first book in a fantasy trilogy. In my review I said:

'Reading “Red Sister” was like watching a Tarantino movie, (not the ones with the clever scripts, more like “Dawn til Dusk”) only without the humour, You find yourself spellbound by the action and repulsed by the people.'

Mark Lawrence handles difficult topics (Child slavery in 'Red Sister' a teenager dying of cancer in 'One Word Kill') from a different angle than the ones I'm used to. He doesn't trivialise or sensationalise them. He looks at them afresh with a, 'So, this is happening -  now what?' mindset that makes them fresh both in their pain and their hope.

Here's what the publisher's summary says about 'One Word Kill':

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

This is about as accurate as a Tory spin doctor's summary of COVID-19 mortality rates.

It makes it sound like this is a Brit version of 'Ready Player One' - all cheery against-the-odds heroism and happy endings.


But it's written by Mark Lawrence, so I knew that couldn't be right.


Nick is fifteen, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is going through his first bout of Chemo-Therapy.  There's nothing funny about it, especially when Mark Lawrence makes Nick into an extremely bright, self-aware fifteen-year-old with no illusions about what's going on.


I wouldn't normally let myself read a book where the main character has cancer. I've seen to many people die of it. Yet I'm reading this because I know Mark Lawrence won't just pour sorrow down my throat like a CIA waterboarder,- He'll play the same trick on me that real-life does. He'll add something to make me keep going. Something that feeds my curiosity even when I see no hope. 


So, here I am, two chapters in, and he's made me laugh and cry; he's strung sentences together that make me go, 'I'd like to have written that' and he's got me wanting to know what happens next even though I'm watching a teenage boy die.


Here's some of the text that has me hooked:


Nick, in his hospital bed, getting Chemo:

"They had us arranged by length in treatment so the ward looked rather like an assembly line, taking in healthy children at one end and spitting out corpses at the other.'


'If crisp white linen and no-nonsense smiles could cure cancer nobody would ever die of it.'

Nick describing a frightened girl who can't stop talking and who has to stay on the ward after his temporary release:

'She kept talking as I followed Mother out, as if the conversation were a rope and if she only kept it unbroken I would be held by it, unable to leave.'

What does it say about me that I can feel my heart hurt as I read these words and yet still admire how perfectly they say what needs to be said?

Then there are Nicks descriptions of his D&D friends:

'John’s one annoying habit was that he spoke his laughs. He didn’t laugh like a normal person . . . he said ‘hah’. It made me less willing to trust him. Laughter should be unguarded even if nothing else is.'


'John and Simon went to the same school as me, Maylert, a private school nestled up against the banks of the Thames. You didn’t have to be rich to go there, just not poor... ...Simon's parents weren't rich, a teacher and a university lecturer, but they stumped up the fees so that Simon would get beaten less viciously and by a better class of bully. Simon has "victim" written all over him: overweight, obsessive, and blessed with a set of social graces that made me look suave.'

This shows me Nick has always seen things clearly and isn't just waking up because his blood is trying to kill him.


If this book stays like this, with Mark Lawrence wringing my emotions while dragging me along leashed by my curiosity and my attraction to his sharp-edged words, I'm going to be exhausted but happy by the time I finish it.


32% Teenage Nerd Heaven


Despite all the pain around the whole dying of cancer thing, I'm enjoying losing myself in this.


It's a Young Adult book that works just fine for adults and is pitched at the kind of young adult I used to be - the nerdy kind that liked the mind-bending bits of science, even if I didn't have the maths to understand them properly.

The book is set in 1986. when I was in my late twenties and all I knew about Richard Feynman was what he wrote in "Surely, You're Joking Mr Feynman!" which is a set of humorous anecdotes and a lot of that went over my head. 


This wouldn't have been a problem for fifteen-year-old Nick, who is reading Feynman's 'Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals' when Mia, a girl who has recently joined Nick's D&D group pops by unexpectedly for the first time, dressed in full goth regalia.

I loved that, after some initial awkwardness with Nick's rather surprised and not sure what to do next Mother (remember those days?) Mia asks Nick what he's reading and we get this exchange:

     ‘Quantum mechanics.’ I held up the book. 
     ‘Cool.’ Mia sat on the bed. Closer than friends normally sit next to friends. She smelled of patchouli oil. I liked it. ‘What’s that about then?’

     ‘Well . . . it’s about everything, really. It’s the most accurate and complete description of the universe we’ve ever had. It’s also completely bonkers.’ I hesitated. I was pretty sure this wasn’t what you were supposed to talk about when girls came to visit.

     ‘More bonkers than general relativity?’ Mia took the book from the death grip I had it in. ‘The twins paradox is hard to beat.’

     With a sigh, I relaxed. She was one of us! The magical power of D&D to draw together people who knew things. Who cared about questions that didn’t seem to matter.

I also liked the way Nick gets the attention of a UCL Physics Professor - its nerd wish-fulfilment all the way:

Professor James had seemed rather surprised to see me at his door. He asked me if I were lost. I answered by asking him if he had considered the Ryberg Hypothesis in non-Euclidian manifolds above five dimensions, because it suddenly became provable, and that fact had powerful implications for high order knot theory. After that, he was all mine.

And then there are the jokes that only nerds make. When Nick arrives at the next D&D session, Mia greets him with:

‘Of all the worlds, in all the universes, he walks into mine.’ Mia wrapped the Casablanca quote around Everett’s many-world interpretation and gained yet another level in my esteem.

Yep, these are my people, or at least, I'd like them to be.


80% An interesting take on violence, especially in a YA book


I think this is more than a YA book. The ideas work well for readers of any age. This quote, about the impact of the broken violent ones among us, in this case, a guy called Rust, is a great example of that..

‘creatures like Ian Rust were like the cancer cells among the crush of blood cells in my veins. Rare, but requiring only one to begin to pollute everything around them. Because ugliness multiplies, and hurt spills over into hurt, and sometimes good things are just the fuel for evil’s fire.’

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text 2020-05-16 09:56
Reading progress update: I've read 2%.
The Gaslight Dogs - Karin Lowachee

That was a dark start. Only a few pages in. We're in the frozen north. Soldiers with guns have arrived. The tribal people are under threat. We've already had the first killing, up close and bloody.


This is going to be tense.

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review 2020-05-15 10:28
My favourite stories from "New Suns" edited by Nisi Shawl
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color - Nisi Shawl

I'm always hungry for voices in Speculative Fiction who have the gift of seeing the world - past, present and future - differently and who can help me step out of my world and into theirs.



I bought Nisi Shawl's 'New Suns - Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color' because I was already a fan of two of the writers, Karin Lowachee and Rebecca Roanhorse,


I'm happy that, from the seventeen stories in 'New Suns', I've found another seven new-to-me writers whose work I'd like to see more of.


I've given a brief outline of what appealed to me about my favourite stories in this collection and some details on the authors. I've listed the stories in the order that they appear in the collection.


I encourage you to try this collection. Your favourite stories might be different than mine.



'Deer Dancer' by Kathleen Alcalá

'Deer Dancer' is one of those (very) short pieces of speculative fiction that sparkle in the imagination like a shard of blown glass: bright, unique and with sharp edges.

In eight pages or so, a series of short scenes showed me a young woman called Tater and the communal life she leads in a future version of our world, a couple of generations after large scale climate change has forced people to find new ways to live. It's a story filled with magic and strength and hope. You can find my full review HERE


Kathleen Alcalá is a Clarion West graduate and instructor, the award-winning author of six books, a recent Whitely Fellow, and a previous Hugo House Writer in Residence. Her latest book, The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island, explores relationships with geography, history, and ethnicity.


'Coming Home To Atropos' by Steve Barnes


Steven Barnes' 'Coming Home To Atropos' has humour so dry it leaves you desiccated. Then you realise there was no humour, only long-deserved revenge.

The skin of an infomercial, designed to attract rich white folks who want to end their lives in comfort on a Caribbean island, is slowly peeled away to show the grinning skull underneath.


This is a sharp-edged story that cuts deep.


STEVEN BARNES is a New York Times bestselling author, screenwriter and educator who has written more than thirty science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. Octavia E. Butler called Barnes’s Endeavor-Award winning novel Lion’s Blood “imaginative, well researched, well written, and devastating.”






'Unkind of Mercy' by Alex Jennings


Unkind of Mercy by Alex Jennings is a very disquieting tale, with a new kind of supernatural threat in New Orleans.


The threat itself is well-conceived and skilfully revealed but what really sells the story is the accuracy and credibility of the everyday life of the nineteen-year-old woman who stumbles into the threat. Everything about her life feels real and relatable, which makes the threat much more convincing.


Alex Jennings is a writer /teacher / performer living in New Orleans. He was born in Wiesbaden (Germany) and raised in Gaborone (Botswana), Tunis (Tunisia), Paramaribo (Surinam) and the United States. He constantly devours pop culture and writes mostly jokes on Twitter (@magicknegro).





'Burn The Ships' by Alberto Yáñez


'Burn The Ships' by Alberto Yáñez is a chilling riff on the conquest of the of Peru seen from the Inca point of view and with a very different ending, that challenges not just conquest but patriarchal theocracy.


This is a deeply atmospheric story about a clash of cultures, the nature of magic and a struggle between the submission of male magebloods to a hungry god and the anger of female magicians who will not abdicate their responsibility for the lives of their people to a god who sits back and does nothing.



Alberto Yáñez is a writer of fantasies, poetry, and essays on justice, agency and art, pop culture, and the absurdity of life. With the eye of a natural editor, he’s also a photographer with a documentarian’s approach to taking pictures.





'The Freedom of the Shifting Sea' by Jaymee Goh


'The Freedom of the Shifting Sea' by Jaymee Goh gives a 'mermaid' story that seems somehow more grounded and plausible than most and imagines a relationship that need not end up in pain and sacrifice, possibly because men are not involved.

I liked that the 'mermaid' is portrayed as alien and different, capable of great violence, who has a different sense of time passing but is still a person and a person who can be fascinated by women but sees men as a nuisance to be dealt with.


 Jaymee Goh is a writer, reviewer, editor, and essayist of science fiction and fantasy. She graduated from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop in 2016, and received her PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Riverside, where she dissertated on steampunk and whiteness. She is a Malaysian citizen currently living in Berkeley, California

'Blood And Bells' by Karin Lowachee


I liked the energy of the speech pattern, almost a dialect, that Karin Lowachee told  'Blood and Bells' in. It helped to immerse me in a future where rival gangs are struggling to survive. It was never so dense that it got in the way and it gave a very distinctive flavour.


The world-building is deft and rapid, quickly creating a culture of violent confrontations, tribal loyalties and endless strife. The plot doesn't give in to the environment. Instead, it focus on the personal, on family and on finding a route to freedom.


Karin Lowachee is a Guyanese-born Canadian author of speculative fiction. She s the author of four novels, Warchild (2002), Burndive (2003), Cagebird (2005) and The Gaslight Dogs (2010).








'Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister' by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


'Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister' by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an almost-fragment of a story, a sliver of a different reality but it's a sliver that slips between the lower ribs into your liver.


I liked how normality was made to feel fragile and difficult to sustain, as if it were an illusion you cling to to distract yourself from the darkness you know is inside you but are trying not to deny.


Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novels Gods of Jade and ShadowCertain Dark ThingsUntamed Shore, and a bunch of other books. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu's Daughters). She describes herself as 'Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination.'


'Harvest' by Rebecca Roanhorse


'Harvest' by Rebecca has a tone that I found irresistible. Its a siren call or seduction, possession, submission and sacrifice. It's filled with blood and beauty and deeply felt grief and the total satisfaction that comes of surrendering yourself to someone you are intoxicated with.


This is the story of Tansi, who falls in love with a Deer Woman, for whom she harvests hearts. The story starts with a warning:

NEVER FALL IN love with a deer woman. Deer women are wild and without reason. Their lips are soft as evensong, their skin dark as the mysteries of a moonless forest. A deer woman will make you do terrible things for a chance to dip your fingers inside her, to have her taste linger on your tongue. You will weep before it is over, the cries of one who has no relatives. But you will do whatever she asks.

But who listens to warnings like that? Especially when they're young and in love and well-trained in butchering meat?


Rebecca Roanhorse is a Nebula and Hugo Award-winning speculative fiction writer and the recipient of the 2018 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her work has also been a finalist for the Sturgeon, Locus and World Fantasy awards. Her novel Trail of Lightning was selected as an Amazon, B&N, and NPR Best Book of 2018. She lives in Northern New Mexico with her husband, daughter, and pug.



'Kelsey and the Burdened Breath' by Darcie Little Badger


This is a cleverly wrought 'What if?' story. It takes an original idea, 'What if everyone knew that the last breath of dying people and animals carried their essence somewhere?' Then it thinks through what that would mean. Where would last breaths go? Would they need any help? Then it adds two more 'What ifs': 'What if they didn't want to go?' and 'What if some of them were predators?'


What makes this more than a neat story about the consequences of a good idea is that the story focuses not on the ideas but on a woman living alone in her dead parents' farmhouse with the Last Breath of her dog, Pal for company. Kelsey is the person who gives Last Breaths the help they need. She' also the one who gets called on the rare occasions when Last Breaths are a threat. The story is richer both because Kelsey is likeable and relatable and because Kelsey's journey isn't really about what Last Breaths do but about the choices the living get to make.


Darcie Little Badger s an Earth scientist, writer, and fan of the weird, beautiful, and haunted. Her first novel, ELATSOE, is coming Summer 2020!

She has a BA in Geosciences from Princeton University and a PhD in Oceanography from Texas A&M University.



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text 2020-05-14 15:51
Reading progress update: I've read 64%. two strong stories out of four
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color - Nisi Shawl

Two of the four stories I've just finished worked for me.


I liked the energy of the speech pattern, almost a dialect, that Karin Lowachee told  'Blood and Bells' in. It helped to immerse me in a future where rival gangs are struggling to survive. It was never so dense that it got in the way and it gave a very distinctive flavour.


'Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister' by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an almost-fragment of a story, a sliver of a different reality but it's a sliver that slips between the lower ribs into your liver. I liked how normality was made to feel fragile and difficult to sustain and the imagery she used to describe that feeling of something you know about yourself that you're trying not to acknowledge.


The other two didn't work well for me.


'Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire' by E. Lily Yu was a series of clever reworking of the old 'the emperor has no clothes' story, moving from the familiar tale through to a 'Can you see what Trump's wearing?' version. I admired the thinking but couldn't connect with the story as anything more than a TED Talk.


'The Shadow We Cast Through Time' by Indrapramit Das was too abstract and told in too many voices to keep my interest. I abandoned it partway through.





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