Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

Last year in 2016, I joined the lovely Ju and Steph in reading all the of Twelve Planets, a project they called A Journey Through Twelve Planets. It was manageable as it was one book a month and it worked nicely, and each book, of course, was well written and enjoyable.

For 2017 I have already committed to reading two books a month to expand my knowledge of women of speculative fiction. One of these books is ‘Shards of Honor’ by Lois McMaster Bujold. I’ve always heard how brilliant The Vorkosigan Saga is. I’ve many friends who re and re-read them, and who go to all lengths to get their hands on the new ARC when another book comes out.

So I’m finally going to read them all. One a month, or a few novellas/short stories a month, as detailed below – all the way through to mid-2018. I’m very happy to be joined by Tsana Reads and Reviews and together we’ll do a summery post after each one. Tsana comes from having read them all before so we’ll offer both sides of view, and as the months go on, be able to discuss more and more of the worldbuilding and characters.

February
Shards of Honor

March
Barrayar

April
The Warrior’s Apprentice

May
“The Mountains of Mourning”
“Labyrinth”
“The Borders of Infinity”

June
The Vor Game

July
Cetaganda

August
Ethan of Athos

September
Brothers in Arms

October
Mirror Dance

November
Memory

December
Komarr

January
A Civil Campaign
“Winterfair Gifts”

February
Falling Free

March
Diplomatic Immunity

April
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

May
CryoBurn

June
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

bellwetherPublished by: Spectra
ASIN: B0036S4AI6
Published: 1996
Pages: 258
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

I demolished this book in a day (despite a rather hefty nap in between reading sessions) and loved every minute of it. Sandra is our main character, who works for a company called HiTek but is hindered every step of the way by her inept co-workers and ‘Management’, who have a new acronym to push or a new 28-page form that’s now required to simply order paperclips. All Sandra wants to do is research fads and pinpoint how consumerism works – such as how a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of a country can cause a hurricane on the other, is much like what possibly caused the fad for women to bob their hair.

As if pesky management aren’t enough, we have Flip who should be the run-about and mail clerk, however can’t get photocopying right and is utterly rude and dismissive in a rolling eyes and hair flip kind of way – and we see this spill out to cafés Sandra visits, where ordering a simple iced-tea quickly becomes a thing of the past.

What works so well about this is how each and every character is so utterly themselves, and people you can easily associate with people you’ve either loved or hated working with in the past. Their nature and way of speaking is captured so instantly in so few words, and the satirical nature of working for a company or any other ridiculous fad we’ve hoped will pass by quickly is easily identifiable. Sandra’s friend who brushes off each and every Management meeting with buzz-words and jargon to pass through the ridiculous ‘write five things that blah blah blah’ that we all know of so well is fantastic.

Then we have a fellow who’s seemingly immune to the trends that swallow up their coworkers in ways from fashion, food and how to raise their children. I loved how intelligent yet harmless he is – needing Sandra’s help on more than one occasion, and seeming utterly human throughout.

The ridiculousness of Management reminds me of the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats film; “Du Jour means seat belts. Du Jour means crash positions!”

All in all, as someone who works in Government, I loved this book to bits. It’s hits damn true to home and I wish I could make our own Management read it.

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

wizardleguinSeries: Earthsea Cycle #1
Published by: Puffin (and many many others)
ISBN: 0141354917
ISBN 13: 9780141354910
Published: 1968
Pages: 224
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

Yes, I know, I haven’t read anything of the Earthsea Cycle until now – something I’m glad to rectify! It made a great start to the year as it was a slow read – in a good way. You want to take your time losing yourself in the world as it doesn’t exactly spiral out as expected.

Ged, our main character, a young boy from Gont who is found to have a way with magic, is first apprenticed to a great mage who can’t teach Ged everything as fast as he would like, so he leaves him to go to a place of training in Roke. There he soon strives to learn the most, faster than any other there, and he meets friends and also rivals.

It’s through this ego posturing that Ged gets himself into a significant amount of trouble which is what sets his character. Wary now of magic, and constantly underestimating himself, Ged recovers and goes on learning until he is eventually given his staff and sent out in the world to be a wizard.

At this point we’re not even halfway through the book, so I assure you there’s more action than that. The pacing is good in that aspect – action, recover, thought over what befell him, as Ged moves through what his future brings him. The characterisation is good, as Ged grows and he sprouts friendships with people he meets along his many journeys.

What works well in this story are the limitations of the magic system. Ged isn’t all powerful – although he is moreso than most. Even this causes him additional setbacks, and we see him constantly learning more about things that aren’t about wizardry – what it means to be human, and an adult.

The creatures in the book are excellent – real and brutal dragons (who are crafty and powerful), awful magic that can hunt you down and the only way to fight it is to turn around and hunt it yourself (and who’d want to do that?), and loyal and snuffly creatures who ride in your pocket and stay close when you’re injured.

It’s easy to see why this series is so instrumental in the genre. I highly recommend reading it.

Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

Last year in 2016, I joined the lovely Ju and Steph in reading all the of Twelve Planets, a project they called A Journey Through Twelve Planets. It was manageable as it was one book a month and it worked nicely, and each book, of course, was well written and enjoyable.

I want to do something similar in 2017, and I want to use it to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction. As such, I’m going to read either the first in an epic series or their most popular/defining work, with one book for each author I really should know way more about. …At least, this started out as a list of twelve books (trying to keep it simple!) but of course and quite rightly, with SO many excellent books to get into, the list quickly turned into 24, which means two books a month. (Partly because I remembered Scott’s list of formative books…) Easy, right?

01. A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin – my review

02. Seed to Harvest (Patternmaster #1-4 ) by Octavia E. Butler

03. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.

04. Shards of Honour (Vorkosigan Saga #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold

05. Bellwether by Connie Willis – my review

06. Everfair by Nisi Shawl

07. The Rowan (The Tower and the Hive #1) by Anne McCaffrey

08. Witch World (The Estcarp Cycle #1) by Andre Norton

09. The Deed of Paksenarrion (The Deed of Paksenarrion, #1-3) by Elizabeth Moon

10. The Female Man by Joanna Russ

11. Downbelow Station (The Company Wars #1) by C.J. Cherryh

12. A Thousand Words for Stranger (Trade Pact Universe #1) by Julie E. Czerneda

13. Red as Blood by Tanith Lee

14. War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

15. The Snow Queen (The Snow Queen Cycle #1) by Joan D. Vinge

16. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

17. Burning Bright by Melissa Scott

18. The Poison Master by Liz Williams

19. The Ruins of Ambrai (Exiles #1) by Melanie Rawn

20. Stormwarden (The Cycle of Fire #1) by Janny Wurts

21. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper

22. Synners by Pat Cadigan

23. Jack the Bodiless (Galactic Milieu Trilogy #1) by Julian May

24. The Planet Savers (Darkover) by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I shall hopefully be able to write a meaningful review (or just a ramble) about what comes to me as I read, or what it leaves with me. My friend Tehani of The Book Nut may join me, and we may do some discussion posts together. We’ll see what the year brings!

Also, as we had such a hard time keeping the list to just 24, we decided to also have a subs list, just in case we failed to get into any book above. If the first 100 pages just can’t grab us, then we’ll call in the below:

Review: Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin

ccckalinSeries: Twelve Planets #12
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13:
9781922101099 (paperback)
ASIN:
B018A3GJFI (kindle)
Published: 
April 2015
Pages: 
234
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site:
Author Site
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Five out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

Cherry Crow Children is the twelfth book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write several short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four short stories that aren’t dramatically connected, but feel of the one place even if the characters or setting isn’t reoccurring. As you can see at the bottom of this post, I think this is the best performing collection as far as our Australian awards go, collecting the most so far.

Wages of Honey

A man is on the search for his cousin, who has been missing for some time. He makes his way to Tulliæn where the locals seem to have an unhealthy fixation on death, and a high level of love for their locally produced honey. The directions the man has to follow to make his way around town are lyrical, but that doesn’t make them wrong, the inn-keeper points out. He consults people of the township one by one on their recommendations – try the gatekeeper, the innkeeper, the prefect… and then even random villagers in the market, which is fortuitously on that day. He gets little closer to finding his cousin, other than a deepening suspicion they all know much more than they’re actually telling him straight.

This is a beautiful novella to start us off with. It’s beautiful and horrific in equal measure, with characters you empathise for even if they’re not particularly good, or even less likely, trustworthy. The description of the quaint little town is effective at springing alive in your mind, making ti somewhere you almost think you’d like to visit someday before you realise how utterly stupid that would be – the place is a (beautiful) nightmare!

The Briskwater Mare

In Briskwater there’s a girl who died, and the residents all know to avoid her – which is tricky, as she inhabits anything that involves water which surrounds the town. Eli has been told all of her life that one day the girl will claim her – it sends her father to drink, and her younger brother to try desperate and brave things to save her… and even those in charge of the town to avoid looking at her directly. Ashamed, and yet also not wanting to change what they expect and even need to happen.

Then a hunter arrives and through a mix of pride and greed, will be the changing force this town needs. Maybe.

Written in first person we feel an instant connection with Eli, and affection for her brother who is the only one who is desperate (or even the slightest bit interested) to save her life. This novella doesn’t leave the reader in mystery as much as the first novella does (being first person makes that much harder), but it still grabs you with the ending. Simply beautiful.

The Miseducation of Mara Lys

Mara wishes to gain acceptance into an elite school, if only to prove her mother’s failings aren’t hers, and to be able to provide for her family. She’s barely given a chance and instead serves rather than studies at the school, and faces cruelty after cruelty – her only comfort in that others experience her own injustices and council her on how to survive. Mara, however, weighed down with her intelligence and determination to seek justice brings out the secrets of the elite to the reader, and you can’t help but want her to succeed with as much determination as she attacks everything.

Part is gruesome in the best of ways. I read parts with my face twisted in horror – one eye closed and one squinted as if to protect them, all the while thinking ‘to hell with that!’ I think my stomach twisted, also. Kalin sure knows how to pack a punch with her words, and this novella, well, it’s no surprise that it cleared the awards with flying colours last year. I think it’s my favourite of the four.

Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood

A child comes to a woman who has ruined herself with it, and returns home to her village despite the gossip. The child, Claudia, she raises is special, and while the village may gossip that she needed a better upbringing, it doesn’t stop the fact that these two women talk truths when the village would rather live in silence. Claudia, one day desperately scavenging to make ends meet through a harsh winter, meets the children of Haverny Wood, who trade parts of themselves in other to be wild. A boy she meets, has traded his heart for one made of wickerwood.

This one is probably the most lyrical and beautiful of them all. The injustice one feels at the small village mentality, or the child that everyone wants to blame or belittle is one often seen, yet not often done with as much justice as we see in this final and powerful novella. Absolutely amazing, and very much a treasure in the novella universe.

This collection has the following mentions:

The Wages of Honey – Shortlisted Best Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

The Wages of Honey – Best Novella – Ditmar 2015

The Briskwater Mare – Best Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

The Briskwater Mare – Best Novella – Ditmar 2015

The Briskwater Mare – Shortlisted Novellette – Shirley Jackson 2015

The Miseducation of Mara Lys – Best Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

The Miseducation of Mara Lys – Best YA Short Story – Aurealis 2015

The Miseducation of Mara Lys – Best Novella – Ditmar 2016

Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood – Shortlisted Horror Novella – Aurealis 2015

Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood – Best Novella – Ditmar 2016