One Way by SJ Morden

I received a copy of One Way from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

One Way is an exciting Mars-based thriller about a group of cons sentenced to life in prison who are offered the chance to commute their sentence to a life building and maintaining a colony on Mars. As building progresses, they start dying in mysterious circumstances but who is killing them off?

I’m still on a bit of a sci-fi kick so I was pretty excited to have my request for One Way approved! The book started off a little slow; there was a fair amount of preamble and training for the mission, but it soon picked up pace. The book has all the trappings of a decent sci-fi and murder mystery, which is a combination I’ve recently discovered I enjoy immensely. The narrative isn’t weakened by bringing together too genres; any weaknesses in the science become relevant to the story and, although I could guess at who the murderer was, their motivations and the actual ending really did catch me by surprise.

It was a clever take on a Mars-based sci-fi and if you like a bit of a thriller where you’re never too sure of the character you love it going to be suspiciously killed off then One Way may be for you!

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2018 Reading and Blogging Goals

Every so often I decide that I’m going to reflect on the kinds of things I’m reading throughout the year. Looking back I didn’t do any ‘reading resolutions’ as such this time last year, at least not publicly, but the do this I did better with reading thoughtfully, critically and with a view to experiencing more diverse books and writers.

That being said I’m always looking to improve so I’ve been thinking about my reading and blogging goals for 2018.

Get my Netgalley feedback ratio above 80%. I’ve submitted about 60 reviews on Netgalley but my ration still isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. My aim is to go through some backlist ARCs and submit feedback, as well as be more conscious about the books I request.

Cross post reviews to Goodreads. This is something I’m really awful at. I mainly use Goodreads to keep track of what I’m reading and post ratings, but I figure those ratings aren’t helpful without explanation and it’s still the easiest way for a potential reader to find out about a book.

Read at least 30 books for Read the World Project. I haven’t been as enthusiastic about blogging in the early part of this year, and by extension my drive to talk about this project kind of went away too. I definitely want to get back on the bandwagon this year and I have plans to start up an online book club with a different country per month, maybe even with a readathon sometime towards the end of the year!

Diversify the speculative fiction I’m reading. I got back in to SFF towards the end of the year and, as a poor result, the ratio of white male writers I was reading went up. I have books by POC SFF writers, and queer writers and female writers and a-combination-of-all-three writers so there’s no excuse.

Link to more Ownvoices reviews and posts in my own reviews. I’ve been trying to do this more regularly, so really I want to continue!

More women and marginalised writers. This is always a goal of mine. More queer authors, more diaspora authors, more black authors, more authors from outside of the UK and US, more mental health rep, just to read more than just the status quo.

Read three short stories a week. I have so many anthologies and this seems like a good way of getting through them rather than sitting there staring at them on my bookcase thinking ‘I’ll get to those’.

… and a bonus goal.

I’ve been thinking for a while about how I’d love to get back in to writing. I’m not cut out for a novel, I don’t have the attention span, but iv always loved short stories and I’d love to write some in the coming year.

So, that’s it! A mismatch of reading, blogging and writing goals for the coming year!

The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

Continuing along my current sci-fi kick and SapphicAThon, The Real-Town Murders was yet another book I picked up thanks to a review in a lit mag. The story introduces us to a near future Britain where technology as developed to give people an in-built Feed, most people live out their days in an evolved virtual reality internet known as The Shine, and hackers are working on a gene-based level. Alma’s partner has found this out the hard way; having been infected with a gene-hacked lipid cancer that needs treatment every four hours or else she will die. Alma is the only person who can give treatment, which puts some limitations on her job as a Private Detective. When she tries to solve a seemingly impossible murder, she’s drawn in to a political coup and must fight to get back to Marguerite.

The Real-Town Murders feels a bit like a cross between 70s sci-fi and a cheesy cop show, but in a good way. Some of the plot becomes downright ridiculous towards the end, but with the way this version of Britain is set up it isn’t jarring. You feel for Alma, who just wants to be left alone to care for her beloved, while also wanting to know how the bloody body got in the boot.

My one resounding criticism is I was uncomfortable with the way Marguerite’s size was described. It wasn’t negative, as such, and her character is never treated with any less respect… it was just very male. It’s implied that her increasing size is as a result in of her condition and the lipids invading her brain but when he laugh was described as ‘Huttlaugh’ that, to me, indicates a writer who has prioritised immersing themselves in the genre over writing sensitively.

Overall The Real-Town Murders is a fun, quirky take on a crime noir, with a sci-fi twist. It’s worth a read of either of those genres are you thing!

The Feed by Nick Clark Windo

I received a copy of The Feed from Netgalley in return for an honest review. I requested based on a slightly vague description; it sounded like a sort of horror… and turned out to be a sci-fi dystopia and therefore right up my street!

The Feed introduces us to a world where everyone is linked by a Feed- a far conclusion to the internet- and has every conceivable piece of information readily available. Messages from friends are instantaneous, thoughts run freely unless a person specifically blocks them. The main characters, a married couple called Kate and Tom, find the idea of switching off their Feeds quaint, until people begin to be hacked and world leaders assassinated. Six years later the Feed is still switched off, people are still learning the skills and knowledge that the Feed previously provided and regaining memories that they never had to think about before- their every experience being previously replayable. People are still being hacked- or Taken- when they sleep and the world has descended in to chaos. When Kate and Tom’s young daughter goes missing they have to face life outside of their camp.

The story reminds me of Black Mirror, a show I absolutely adore, except following the themes to their worst conclusion. Not only does The Feed broach the subject of how humanity would cope without modern communication and amenities, it ties it in to the characters very humanity and shows us just how far we could go towards destroying the world in the name of convenience.

Some parts of the story don’t match pace-wise; the beginning is a lot slower than the last third or so, but it’s still an exciting read and for a debut it’s pretty impressive. I’m possibly biased because it does combine two of my favourite genres, but it’s a twisty, sometimes violent take on the end of the world.

Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam

Beauty, Glory, Thrift was a last minute addition to my SapphicAThon TBR after I read a review of it in Strange Horizons. I was immediately drawn to this short, sci-fi space adventure about a thief that discovers a digital goddess- Thrift- in a temple and downloads her to her brain, believing her to be mere software.

It’s a very quick read- I read my copy from The Book Smugglers in under an hour- but it packs an emotional punch. We see the world through Thrift’s new experiences; she sees everything through Pak the thief’s eyes, but with her own astonished take. The two start off at odds with one another, there isn’t much room in one person’s head, but there is a reason I read it for the SapphicAThon!

I have some thoughts about sci-fi in general that I think I’ll reserve for a separate post, but Beauty, Glory, Thrift has definitely been a nice segue back in to science fiction proper!

My Favourite Online SFF Literary Magazines

What a specific title! Some time in the last few months I became obsessed with digital SFF literary magazines. I’ve made absolutely no secret of my love of science fiction as a genre or my preference for short stories (and my firm belief that they are a greatly under appreciated form of literary genius) and it suddenly clicked for me that there is a wealth of short form fiction that I could subscribe to. Some time ago I backed a kickstarter for a special edition of Uncanny showcasing the work of disabled writers and as part of my reward I received the most recent issue as well. I already regularly buy FIYAH and I started investigating the other options on twitter, gumroad and patreon! Here are six of my favourites!

A note about patreon fee changes: I support many of these magazines on patreon but I understand that the fee changes might put people off [Update! They’ve retracted and aren’t introducing the fees!] Most of the patreon based magazines have, or will be, working on alternatives for supporters who wish to contribute on alternative websites. Please don’t be put off if I have mentioned patreon!

FIYAH

Quarterly. Edited by Justina Ireland and Troy L. Wiggins.

FIYAH is one I’ve been with since the beginning. Every quarter they publish a packed edition with submissions based around a theme exclusively from black writers. I personally love the themed issues (I love a curated themed anthology) and it’s great to see individual interpretations of a themed prompt. The cover artwork is also beautiful (enough that they sell prints of each cover online!)

Buy it or subscribe from their website.

Strange Horizons

Weekly, monthly ebook. Edited by Jane Crowley and Kate Dollarhyde.

Strange Horizons is a lit mag that I’ve subscribed to recently via patreon, every Monday they publish a short story, poem and a review of a speculative book recently published. Monthly, they produce an ebook collating the weekly editions for subscribers in a variety of formats.

Subscribe via their Patreon.

Fireside

Monthly. Edited by Julia Rios.

Fireside publishes stories on their website that lean towards the speculative side but are occasionally ‘off genre’. They’re keen on fair pay for their workers and so pledges on their Patreon go towards paying above standard per word. They also provide content notes for all of their stories- where applicable- on their website.

You can read on their website and support/subscribe via patreon.

Apex

Monthly. Edited by Jason Sizemore.

Apex offers short fiction from a diverse range of SFF writers as well as essays and interviews. Essays revolve around the world of publishing and being a reader, and interviews often link to people featured within the issue. I think Apex has my favourite layout of all of the ‘mixed medium’ magazines I’ve read so far. Rather than having all the fiction, poetry and non fiction together and separate from one another it feels like a more natural flow: an interview with a writer after their story, for example, rather than it being later on in the issue. It’s cleverly done. And the writing is top-notch!

Subscribe via their Patreon.

Luna Station

Quarterly. Edited by Jennifer Lyn Parsons.

Luna Station exists to showcase the talents of speculative writers who identify as female. They’ve recently doubled down on this definition to explicitly include anyone who identifies as a woman in any way. The stories are beautiful, often painful, and their covers are stunning.

You can purchase their quarterly edition on gumroad.

Uncanny

Bimonthly. Edited by Lynne M Thomas, Michael Damien Thomas and Michi Trota.

Uncanny were the first SFF magazine I subscribed to this year, after having had ten brought to my attention by their recent Kickstarter. I subscribe via Amazon, but back issues can be read or purchased on their website through a variety of channels. Each bimonthly issue is jam packed with original stories, reprints, poetry and essays and has accompanying podcasts online.

Read, listen, buy or subscribe on their website.

If anyone has any recommendations then let me know!

November Wrap Up!

I’m fairly behind with reviews this year so I thought I could start a monthly wrap up to write snippet reviews of the books I’ve read that month! In November I read; nine novels, two short story collections, one literary magazine, one graphic novel, one novel in verse and a novelette. Seven books were eARCs in an attempt to breathe some life in to my Netgalley ratio!

One of the most powerful books I read this month (or, ever) was this gorgeous novel in verse by Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down tells the story of Will as he travels for 67 seconds in a lift down to kill the man he thinks murdered his brother. At each floor someone who knew Shawn gets on and gives him another piece of the puzzle. It’s a beautiful, poetic ghost story and brotherly-love story about gun crime and making the right decisions. My full review is here!

I received Me Mam. Me Dad. Me. from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Malcolm Duffy uses his experience working with survivors of domestic violence to tell the story of Danny and his Mam- whose new boyfriend is beating her. Danny is fourteen and does the only thing he can think of; lies about a school trip to travel off to find his absent dad and get him to kill the man who’s hurting his mam. Told from Danny’s POV, Malcolm Duffy does a great job of capturing the confusion and pain of a young boy who just can’t understand why his mam doesn’t leave, but also that sensitive age where boys feel the need to protect the people they love no matter what. I also loved the fact that it was written entirely in a Geordie accent!

Toletis by Rafa Ruiz was another Netgalley offering! The only way to describe this one- about a young boy and his friends trying to save the trees- is ‘quaint’. It’s sweet, magical and wonderfully illustrated. Originally written in Spanish, the translation is done well and it’s an easy, poetic read.

This one was a slightly odd read from Netgalley but it was right up my street! Census is Jesse Ball’s attempt to immortalise the relationship he had with his late brother, who had Down’s syndrome. In an unnamed dystopian land a man finds out that he will soon die and takes one last trip with his son as a mysterious Census Taker. His job, to find out about the citizens in the outer rings of society, their quirks and memories, and tattoo them with the symbol of the Census. It’s a strange little book, but it tells a beautiful story of the relationship the man has with his son and his son has with the world.

I wrote a full review of Ramona Blue here but it deserves a wrap-up mention too! Julie Murphy tells the story of Ramona, who has always identified as a lesbian until her old friend comes home and she begins to question whether her sexuality is more fluid than she thought. It’s a easy to read YA story with a diverse cast of characters which also deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how family ties us to home.

I also read Malinda Lo’s A Line In The Dark; a YA thriller about jealousy in friendships, f/f relationships and murder. The cover was slightly deceptive as the bulk of the story revolves around Jess’s secret infatuation with her best friend Angie and her jealousy over her relationship with Margot. A first to third POV switch partway through was a little clunky but I still really enjoyed this twisty YA thriller.

I had some concerns over this one when I received it from Netgalley. Partway through there was a transphobic joke made by one of the side characters but the publishers have assured me that this has been removed from the final version after I emailed them. I Am Thunder is Muhammad Khan’s attempt to explore how Muslim teens in the UK could become radicalised. The author is a teacher himself. It’s a very important story and a lot of it rang familiar to me as someone who has done, uncomfortably, the PREVENT training required by UK schools. Muzna’s steps towards danger are subtle, but her conviction of character ultimately saves her and others from tragedy.

I was so drawn to the cover of this book by Stephanie Oakes. The Arsonist is about three teenagers; Molly, who knows her mother is out there somewhere despite what everyone tells her; Pepper, a young immigrant from Kuwait with the world’s most useless service dog and Ava, an East German teen murdered in 1989. Molly knows somethings links the three of them and is determined to solve the mystery of Ava’s murder to figure it out. As stories go this one is a little ridiculous and a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required but I still really, really liked it. The characters are fun and sparky, I genuinely did not guess the mystery and it’s always nice to have some historical background to a novel!

Another one that will definitely be getting its own review at some point, What We Lose almost immediately became one of my all time favourites as soon as I read it. Zinzi Clemmons is such a talented writer and the way that this novel is laid out is more like a series of interconnecting snapshots. It reminded me of The House on Mango Street– lyrical, coming of age and dealing with not quite fitting in anywhere.

My fifth Netgalley ARC of the month was Brother by David Chariandy. It powerfully deals with the themes of brotherhood, loss, regret and being the child of immigrants in Canada. Brother is a very moving portrayal of a man trying to cope with the loss of his most important person.

Ghost Stories by Whit Taylor was the first ARC I read this month and the only graphic novel. It read more like a chap book than a graphic novel; it was made up of a few cartoons each dealing with loss in some way, whether it be meeting dead heroes, losing a childhood home or watching as a friend’s life moves on without us. Whit Taylor is a great artist and she packs a lot of story and emotion in to her cartoons.

The Sea Beast Takes A Lover was my favourite ARC of November and the final one in this wrap up! These short stories by Michael Andreasen are great, quirky and unique. A lot have themes of the Sea, including the titular story about a kraken-like creature embracing a ship until it sinks. I just loved them!

This month I got really in to the idea of literary magazines and now have a bunch on my kindle to read! They seem to be the best way of getting a constant stream of good, diverse speculative fiction in to my life! I’ll do a post about them in their own right at some point but this month I read Uncanny issue 19 which I received as part of my Kickstarter pledge for their upcoming special edition celebrating disabled writers in SFF.

An Alphabet of Embers was the very last book I read this month. It’s a celebration of all things unusual in short fiction as well as an incredibly diverse collection of writers. Edited by Rose Lemberg and complete with illustrations for a lot of the stories, I finished this in almost one sitting with only the briefest of pauses to actually do my job.

Finally, special mention to the coverless novelette I read by Bogi Takács, All Talk of Common Sense. This was a great piece of flash fiction in which Bogi explores writing an autistic character in a fantasy-quasi-historical setting!

So, that’s my reading for November!