The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Steeplejack, Return of Souls, Spells of Blood and Kin, and Pride’s Spell

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Review of Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley (Tor Teen, June 14, 2016)

Steeplejack is set in the ethnically diverse industrial capital of a land resembling Victorian South Africa. The viewpoint character is Anglet Sutonga, a young woman who repairs steeples. The death of a fellow steeplejack soon sends her on an investigation to discover what happened to him. His death is just a small part of a much larger scheme threading through the city across class and racial barriers.

Bar-Selehm is a city of towers and spires which is shared by three distinct groups. The city’s finances, government, military, and gem trade are controlled by white people from far away who came to settle there when mineral wealth was found with the support of the indigenous blacks who have given up tribal life. Ang is from a tribe of people from another part of the continent who are brown and they fill the lower level jobs in the city. Most of Ang’s people live in a ghetto outside the city proper. Farther from the city are the local tribes of black people who generally have a lower tech level. All these groups and the city itself are greatly detailed as Ang runs through, by, and into them.

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The wealth of the city was generated by trading luxorite, a glowing mineral found in the region. One of the towers in the center of the city has an enormous piece of luxorite which lights up the sky at night but shortly after the death of the young steeplejack, it is stolen. A politician from the party not currently in power hires Ang to find out who killed the steeplejack and how that death is related to the luxorite theft. Continue reading

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Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, May 2016: Baxter and Reynolds, Asher, MacLeod, McAuley, Rajaniemi, Cornell, Gaiman, and more

[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]

From the Other Side, May 2016
By Paul Kincaid

May seems to be the month when the big boys come out to play (and yes, sadly it does seem to be mostly boys). And they don’t come much bigger than Arthur C. Clarke. Well, no, there isn’t a new book from Sir Arthur, but the last work of fiction by him that actually won an sf award was the novella “A Meeting With Medusa” which received the Nebula Award for 1971. And now, not far short of half a century later, there’s a sequel, and it’s a first collaboration by two of today’s writers who best stand as heirs of Arthur C. Clarke: Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds. In Clarke’s story, Howard Falcon has been turned into a cyborg following an accident, making him stronger and faster than other men (Martin Caidin’s Cyborg and the TV series The Six-Million Dollar Man both came a year or two later, there must have been something in the air), and it is this that makes him ideal to lead an expedition into the atmosphere of Jupiter. Baxter and Reynolds pick up on a suggestion at the end of the novella that the cyborgisation has also alienated Falcon from other humans, and send him off on a new expedition. The Medusa Chronicles (Gollancz), written with the permission of the Clarke estate, follows Falcon over centuries of space exploration, meeting AIs and aliens and more. Personally, I’m not convinced that we really need another Arthur C. Clarke story, when we could have had another Stephen Baxter or Alastair Reynolds or a totally original Baxter/Reynolds collaboration; but as an example of good old-fashioned sf it works well.

The Medusa Chronicles Cover War Factory Cover Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Spear of Light, Infomocracy, and Like a Boss

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Review of Spear of Light by Brenda Cooper (Pyr, June 7, 2016)

We return to the adventures of Nona and Charlie on the planet Lym after the treaty with the Next has at least temporarily put a war with them on hold. Tempers are very volatile on all sides, and Nona works as an ambassador trying to forge links between the groups. Others have different ideas and use violence and terrorist attacks to try and get their way, or at least prevent others from having theirs. How the different factions of humans sort everything out certainly could give some present day humans ideas about what to do instead of blowing up their neighbors.

There is interesting planetary exploration of old hidden caverns in this volume, as well as some fights and ship battles. Most of the book takes place on Lym with only small amounts completely being on the Diamond Deep (although it is close enough that there are real-time calls between Nona and the space station). Nona and Charlie’s romance picks up some steam, although being on the same planet and not being together all the time makes the two of them very frustrated!

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When we have the robots’ viewpoints we are starting to get an idea what the Next might want, but the robots aren’t mature enough yet to truly understand the Next. As with many conflicts, the ultimate problem is one of communication. The Next communicate at a whole different level of speed and complexity than humans or the recently-made Next robots. The history of the Next and how that is entangled with the history of Lym is something many of the humans don’t know, so as they unravel the puzzle this will hopefully allow them to understand the Next better. Continue reading

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Friday Quick Updates: Animazement this weekend, Grady Hendrix next week, ConCarolinas next weekend, and tons of new events including “Harry Potter” midnight launch party info

Friday, May 27, 2016: We are definitely in the early summertime here in the Carolinas, and all of a sudden the event calendar is starting to fill up a bit, starting with Animazement 2016 at the Raleigh Convention Center this weekend, with plenty of costumes and a huge dealer room packed with all kinds of everything, and what is setting up to be another fantastic ConCarolinas in Concord next weekend (June 3-5), there’s also quite a few “new-new” events since the May newsletter went out; I won’t try to mention them all, but as there’s a few that will happen before the next newsletter comes out:

 

Before I get back to more “new-new” upcoming events, a few words on ConCarolinas next weekend as it’s the last day to pre-order 2016 memberships online: June 3-5 (Friday to Sunday) — ConCarolinas 2016 at the Embassy Suites in Concord, NC with author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, artist Ursula Vernon, and special author guest Christie Golden, media guest Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and more. And! Once again ConCarolinas is printing a special flyer page to unveil this year’s Manly Wade Wellman Award nominees, so look for that news starting to spread next Friday as well.

All right, back to some of those “new-new” events, including the title-teased information on July 30 midnight book launch parties for the forthcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Get your calendars ready: Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Runtime by S.B. Divya

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Review of Runtime by S.B. Divya

Marmeg is a bouncer at a club and wants more than anything to race and place in the Minerva Sierra Challenge. The prize from placing would allow her to pay college tuition and buy her younger brother his postnatal license. No public education, health care or retirement without it. She wants better for him than she had. She earned her license herself by working for three years.

She has worked for a friend doing some coding for the black market in order to get chips implanted, and has scrounged some exoskeleton parts from the dumpster of a repair shop. Everything works but she packs some spare things to do repairs on the fly during the race.  No data connection other than GPS is allowed during the race so you have to research routes, terrain and weather ahead of time.

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Marmeg also aspires to be a moot, a gender neutral person. She wears a torso shell to mitigate the appearance of her breasts and buttocks and has a neutral haircut. Many persons who have embedded chips and enhancement software are not gendered, but the moot surgery is expensive so Marmeg would need a real job as a coder in order to afford it. Enhanced humans being gender neutral makes complete sense because the individual chooses their appearance as part of the enhancement and many enhancements would make having children neither desirable nor safe. The way the code driving the chips and other hardware influences the speed and smoothness of movements is very realistic. Human body mechanics are very complex and there could never be just one way to code any of it.

Moots use the pronouns zie and zir, so there is extensive use of these in the story. Their use does not really cause any issues and does make it clearer who is a non-gendered person. Reader confusion only occurred at one spot and that was due to a question of who the pronoun referred to, which would have been an issue no matter which pronouns were repeated there.

The setting is dystopian, but not really that dark. Marmeg has hope and some luck so the ending is upbeat if not the complete happy ending of a more optimistic tale. There is not really much romance in the tale, and although Marmeg does notice other pleasing-looking persons, it is not clear whether she is interested in them in a sexual way. She is also very young, so it could just be the fear of unlicensed babies which dulls her interest. Further stories where she isn’t in a race for most of the story would need to address it.

Having a race which depends on athletic skills, survival skills, and map skills as well as on your physical enhancements and the software you run on them makes for an awesome setting. The physical challenges posed by the natural environment, the moral questions Marmeg must deal with regarding other racers and her battle to keep her enhancements running make the story an exciting one and a quick read.

Of the science fiction novellas which Tor.com has published to date, this is our second favorite with only the Nebula award winning Binti ahead of it. A must-read for every science fiction lover!

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon

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Review of A Whisper of Southern Lights: The Assassin Series Book 2 by Tim Lebbon

This volume revisits Gabriel’s fight against Temple the demon which we saw in a previous novella (Pieces of Hate). Now time has passed so the two are enduring World War II and are in the Pacific theater.

A soldier who had encountered Temple leaves a message behind and tells his best mate where to find it. Gabriel searches for this soldier in the Japanese prison camps and eventually finds him. This leads to a harrowing race against Temple through the jungle.

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The scene descriptions leave nothing to the imagination regarding the horrors of war. And particularly when Temple is involved even hospitals, doctors, and nurses are not safe. There are several battles depicted as well as some marches and the race through the jungle. All these are detailed and make you feel like you are there. You feel sorry for the soldiers who encounter Temple and get in his way as well as feel for Gabriel who is still on his tortured journey following Temple through time. The secret that Temple and Gabriel learn in this story will likely impact their futures, but it is not clear exactly how. We will be interested to see what happens in future volumes.

A dark, war-filled time travel tale with a strange protagonist and a nasty demonic villain. An excellent choice for lovers of grim-dark.

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Paul Kincaid’s From the Hardest Part, April 2016: Clarke Award shortlist, Nick Wood, Jenni Fagan, Ali Shaw, and Jurassic London’s Extinction Event

[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]

From the Other Side, April 2016
By Paul Kincaid

This year will see the presentation of the 30th Arthur C. Clarke Award, so, for reasons that I am sure made sense when they were explained to me, everything is running late. The award ceremony isn’t until August, and the shortlist has only just been announced. The six books this year are:

 Europe at Midnight (Fractured Europe Sequence #2) 
  

I confess, this isn’t the most inspiring shortlist I’ve seen. Of the four books I’ve read, only two seem to me to fully deserve a place on the shortlist. It is a list that seems more populist than challenging, designed to elicit more likes than arguments. Even so, it is head and shoulders above the decidedly insipid Hugo shortlist announced only the day before. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Their Favorite Anthologies and Short Story Collections from 2015

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Review of Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad (Futurefire.net, 2015)

This anthology alternates between short fiction pieces and illustrations. The black and white illustrations all fit with the theme of the volume and show wonderfully imaginative futures with disabled participants. Our favorite image was the astronaut on the cover who appears to be having a great time in zero gravity moving their graceful body about.

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Every one of the stories in this volume offered a unique look into a disabled character’s world. You saw disabled people dealing with issues we have today and also with new issues which will appear when we get off Earth and into space. Our favorite story was the first one, “Pirate Song” by Nicolette Barischoff. A young woman gets rescued off a ship, but the pirates who take her have no idea that she needs a chair to move around, nor do they realize that she is a VIP’s daughter. They end up with more than they bargained for and both she and they end up learning about parts of their world they never knew existed. For Angela, the story was a poignant reminder of the life her cousin could have had. Her cousin was also a young adult with spina bifida but he passed away a few years ago. Continue reading

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May Newsletter: Jay Posey’s Outriders, Free Comic Book Day, Gabriel Dunston’s Purgatory Pub, Animazement, Manly Wade Wellman Award nominations deadline, and more

Vol 6 No 5. Friday, May 6, 2016: Is it May already? It is, with plenty going on as soon as tomorrow morning with Free Comic Book Day in comic book shops everywhere, not the least of which being festivities here in the Triangle at Ultimate Comics (both Durham and Raleigh locations), Atomic Empire, Chapel Hill Comics, Capitol Comics in Raleigh, Enterprise Comics in Pittsboro, and probably a few other places nearby as well, many with their own lineup of local and visiting comic book creators, writers, and artists.

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And while you’re out… tomorrow afternoon also sees the book launch party for Durham author Jay Posey’s latest novel, Outriders, which launches a new military science fiction series from Angry Robot Books, at the Barnes & Noble Streets at Southpoint in Durham at 4 pm. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Tuesday Releases: Fran Wilde, Wesley Chu, and Jay Posey

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Review of The Jewel and her Lapidary by Fran Wilde (Tor.com, May 3, 2016)

This vibrant fantasy novella deals with friendship and family when betrayal occurs. Sima and Lin are trapped in a space far below the floor after being drugged. A fight among the adults goes on above and the actions of Sima’s father cause great destruction and many deaths. The girls try to escape with their lives and some of the jewels to which lapidaries can speak. However, things don’t go well because soldiers arrive and search among the rubble.

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The setting has beautiful descriptions of costumes which are brightly colored, have long veils for young women, and include many bracelets and jewels. Young men wear chainmail, but also chains, and gems. The women are not educated, so Lin and Sima must sneak to learn about the world through overhearing gossip. They are veiled at age 11 until they are engaged to be married. Lin is highly sought after to be a wife because she is a Jewel and this ultimately saves her life at least temporarily, but females in the royal court don’t have very pleasant lives in this world. Even the woman military leader they meet is a harsh, unpleasant woman who lives just to get her son married to a Jewel. The girls are just starting to discover kissing and holding hands. Regardless of her initial actions Sima shows that she loves her Jewel very much by her final actions in the vase. Continue reading

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