Here is my book bingo card for 2019, with all the challenges I completed marked.
I got four bingos: two verticals, one along the diagonal, and one along the top using the Magic Swords tile I nominated as a free square. Not bad, but still so many near misses. On this page I have reviewed all the books I read for this card.
The Dunwich Horror
By H.P. Lovecraft
Bingo Tiles: Has Monsters
One of Lovecraft’s classic stories, which even today is a good horror story. The Dunwich Horror is part of the Cthulhu Mythos and is included on most lists of best Lovecraft stories and classic horror. The story follows Wilbur Whateley, a strange child born to a degenerate hillbilly mother in an isolated place called Dunwich and educated by his wizard grandfather. No-one knows who little Wilbur’s father is, but there are hints that he isn’t exactly human. Wilbur ages much faster than than a normal child, and eventually stands nine feet tall. There are also hints of strange rituals from the house, and despite the family constantly buying cattle, their herd never grows.
After many years, the monster that the Whateley’s had been hiding breaks loose and starts terrorising the countryside. And no, I don’t consider that a spoiler; there are always monsters or Elder Gods being summoned and unleashed in these stories, that’s like, Lovecraft 101. The scenes of the invisible giant monster going around causing havoc were amazing.
This could have been one of my favourite Lovecraft stories, if it hadn’t been for the dialog. Lovecraft didn’t include a lot of dialog in his stories, but in this one the characters talk a lot. The Dunwich locals speak in a dialect, and the way Lovecraft has written their speech was hard to follow. Maybe it’s just me, but I just came to dread whenever anyone spoke. Also, it’s Lovecraft, so, expect some cringy comments. Not as flat out racist as other works, but there’s still some stuff. Also, you can tell that Wilbur’s mother is ‘degenerate’ because she’s an albino.
This is a must read for Lovecraft fans.
The Art of War
By Sun Tzu
Bingo Tiles: Non-Fiction
According to Goodreads, this was the most popular book I read last year, with over 340,000 other Goodreads uses having read this book. I’m not going to give it a score in this review, since comparing a 2500 year old chinese military tactics book to the usual contemporary science fiction I read is a bit strange, so I’ll just say Art of War is an enjoyable, educational read that I’d highly recommend.
I’ve had this book on my kindle for years, and military tactics have always interested me, so I’m surprised it took me this long to read The Art of War. I’m going to assume that everyone has at least heard of this book. For those who haven’t, it’s a 5th century compilation of Chinese military advice. Sun Tzu’s tenets are broken up into small points in short chapters, so it’s a quick look into military tactics that doesn’t get bogged down or boring.
This should be required reading for anyone planning to write a battle scene. I’m I see so many battles in books and movies with stupid tactics, and I wish more writers would read Sun Tzu.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015
By P. Djѐlí Clark
Published February 2019 (Tor.com)
Book Bingo Tiles: Starts with H
Not quite exactly what it says on the cover, but there is something weird going on in Tram Car 015. In short, this story is a magical police procedural set in an alternate world where Djinn are a thing as a vote for women’s suffrage is taking place.
I greatly enjoyed P. Djѐlí Clark’s previous novella, The Black God’s Drums, and since Haunting of Tram Car 015 promised a similar mix of fantasy and alternate history, I was sure I’d enjoy this one too. And I was right. I loved The Haunting of Tram Car 015 so much.
The world of Tram Car 015 is an alternate 1902 Cairo where Djinn and magic have been unleashed. With the aid of Djinn magic, Cairo has become one of the most industrialised and prosperous cities in the world. It’s also a rather progressive place, with the world’s first vote on women’s suffrage taking place as the story of Tram Car 015 unfolds.
In this Cario, magic is so commonplace that there is a Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities that investigate any paranormal problems. Our story follows two agents as they investigate the titular haunted tram. Despite trams being an unusual spot to become haunted, they don’t at first think that this case will be too difficult. Soon however it becomes apparent that there is something dangerous in Tram Car 015 that could threaten the whole city.
In the two novellas by P. Djѐlí Clark I’ve read so far, I’ve been swept away by a type of magic I haven’t encountered often. I’ve read historical fantasy before, but P. Djѐlí Clark’s stories make the magic and mythology truly world-changing. I love how much Tram Car 015 and The Black God’s Drums turn the world upside-down, with the magic not just adding to the story, but changing who gets to shape the world.
I read another short story in this universe called A Dead Djinn in Cairo which was also amazing and showed more of the creatures in this world. I Read Tram Car 015 first, but you really should start with Dead Djinn.
I read this entire novella on my kindle while taking train trips in Japan, so despite the Egyptian setting, it will always remind me very much of Osaka.
Clash by Night
Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (Using the pseudonym Lawrence O’Donell
Published March 1943, (Astounding Science Fiction Magazine)
Book Bingo Tiles: Set on Mercury or Venus
This novella was the first thing I read by Husband and Wife duo Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, and I found it quite entertaining. A tale of mercenary armies with their own rules of law on a tropical Venus. It’s just so fun reading a pre-Mariner 2 Venus story. Back in the days where scientists speculated that Venus could be Ocean, Swamp, or Desert, rather than hellscape.
Clash by Night is an Ocean Venus. Or at the least, a Venus where humans are most comfortable in the Ocean. It’s a story with an action-packed ocean battle, along with a main character who wonders just what the point to all the fighting is.
It’s an interesting commentary, on what it means to risk your life in someone else’s war. The fights are basically petty squabbles between different underwater city domes, the citizens of whom never take part in the fighting themselves. The mercenary companies who wage these battles live in forts on the land, and have no connection to the underwater powers they fight for. There is a feeling of pointlessness about the entire amazing underwater Venus battle that is the showpiece of the novella, which feels rather poignant considering this story was written in 1943.
The politics and warfare rules were great pieces of world building, but Venus itself didn’t feel too unique to me. That’s probably a result of the different time periods myself and the authors are living in. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this same story could have been told on an Earth where climate change and raising sea levels have made ocean cities more comfortable than the surface. I think that setting would make a lot less to someone from 1943 than an Ocean Venus. This has been my first Ocean Venus story; I usually come across Jungle or Swamp Venus when reading older stories (Space Cadet by Heinlein, with it’s planet-wide swamps and sinkholes, plays a massive part in my view of pre-Mariner Venus.) So I think I had trouble linking an underwater setting with Venus. That’s not a fault of the story, but it still made the setting less exciting for me.
All in all, this story has an exciting battle, with interesting characters and themes. It’s also a fascinating look into one of the lesser known depictions of Venus in science fiction. This story also planted the seed for Henry Kuttner’s* 1947 novel Fury, which is on my to read list.
* Probably with C.L Moore as an uncredited co-writer.
A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martin
Published March 2019 (Tor)
Book Bingo Tiles: Space Opera
I’ve heard some people call this one more of a planetary romance than a space opera, since it takes place all on one planet. But I think that any story that has an interstellar empire with a massive sun throne on the cover can make the case for space opera, so I’ll count it.
A Memory Called Empire features really unique memory/consciousness transfer technology, an intricately imagined political system and culture, and a story that shows how someone can fall in love with an imperial culture that threatens their own. It’s a story that relies entirely on it’s worldbuilding, and fortunately the worldbuilding is amazing enough to make this a great novel. Teixcalaan is like no society on Earth, yet it feels so real, and we can’t help but be as excited about experiencing it as our protagonist Mahit.
The story follows Mahit in her new role as ambassador from Lsel Station to the Teixcalaan Empire. She is given the copied memories of her predecessor, but his last back-up was twenty years ago, and upon arrival at Teixcalaan Mahit learns that he has been murdered, that no-one wants to admit it was murder, and that he was really stirring up the political system before he died. The story that follows is part murder mystery, part political/court intrigue, and part exploration of the history, culture, and language of Teixcalaan. Really fun story, but the fact that it all takes place over such a short time with nearly every moment accounted for was a bit odd.
The Tea Master and the Detective
By Aliette de Bodard
Published March 2018 (Subterranean Press)
Bingo Tile: A.I/Artificial Human/Robot Protagonist
The Tea Master and the Detective is part of de Bodard’s Xuya Universe;a series told mostly through short stories. I’ve read a few of the short stories in this universe, but this is my first Xuya novella. I am very impressed. The universe itself has always interested me; it features a world where the Chinese colonised the west coast of the Americas, leading to Asian and Central American cultures having a larger influence in the world. Tea Master and Detective takes this premise into a far future with galactic Confucian empires of Chinese and Vietnamese inspirations. We don’t get to see that much of these Empires in this story, as we focus on a ship that makes tea and a mysterious private investigator solving a murder mystery at the edges of an empire.
The Shadow’s Child is a shipmind; an A.I spaceship born of a human mother who can interact with humans by holograms. She was traumatised by an accident in deep space that saw her crew die, and now makes a living blending brews of tea that contain herbs and drugs to keep a person alive in deep space. The story being told from The Shadow’s Child’s point of view was my favourite part of the book, because I just loved how de Bodard showed the everyday life of an A.I in this universe. The Shadow’s Child is a spaceship with spaceship issues, but she lives in a society where shipminds can sit down for a meal with humans. Not that they eat, but holographic foods trigger fond memories. Aside from the wonderful worldbuilding we get to experience through her, I also liked her as a character.
Even though this story is about investigating a murder, I hesitate to call it a murder mystery. I believe to earn that distinction the mystery has to be fairly solvable by the reader, but not too obvious. The mystery in Tea Master and the Detective was more just a story, with no chance for the reader to really examine clues. Despite this, I liked the detective Long Chau, and would like to see her in a proper Xuya murder mystery story at some point. Preferably with The Shadow’s Child as a partner.
Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey
By Sarah Gailey
Published June 2019 (Tor)
Bingo Tile: Title Starts With M
At first I wasn’t going to pick this one up, because I wasn’t too keen on Gailey’s American Hippo series. At the end of the day though, the description of this book sounded too much like a good Harry Potter fanfic to pass up on. I suppose nowadays nearly everything set in a magical boarding school is going to feel like Harry Potter, or be compared to it.
Magic for Liars is a murder mystery set in a magical high school, in a world where the magical world is hidden from the non-magical world. However, the teens in the story aren’t as cut off from the non-magical world as in Harry Potter, as they use mobile phones and even make Hogwarts jokes. So, it has that Harry Potter feel, but the world is unique enough to make for a compelling stand-alone story. Also, the school feels like a real school, with the young mages having English and Maths classes alongside their magic lessons.
Ivy gamble is a private eye called to investigate a suspected murder at the magical school where her twin sister works. Ivy has no magic, and has always been jealous of her sister’s powers. Coming to the magic school she’d always wanted to go to is hard for Ivy, and while doing her investigation she also works on her relationship with her sister and reinvents herself while romancing one of the other teachers. Ivy’s story, along with the high school drama of the kids she is investigating, was really interesting and kept me hooked.
Runaways Vol.4: True Believers
Created By Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona
Published November 2006 (Marvel)
Bingo Tile: Been Adapted as a TV Series
Not going to say too much in this review or give a score, since I feel like I should read more of the series before making a judgement. Which raises the question, why did I start a series at Vol. 4? Well, I’d heard a lot of good things about the series, I love Brian K. Vaughn’s work on Saga, and when I went to Supanova Sydney they had issues of Runaways for pretty cheap. Unfortunately, Vol. 4 was the earliest issue I could get, but I knew it was the start of a new story arc, and figured it’d be worth grabbing it and seeing what I thought.
This series is about a group of teens who discover their parents are supervillains who belong to an evil group called The Pride. The kids decide to run away from their evil parents and use their powers for good. As I said, Vol. 4 is the start of a new story arc, taking place after the Pride have been defeated and now the kids are going around helping other teens escape supervillain parents. Whilst I’m obviously missing a lot of background, I still enjoyed the setting and the characters. Runaways distinguishes itself from a lot of other Marvel series by being set on the USA West Coast, and therefore featuring different, lesser known heroes. Early in the book, it’s mentioned that a lot of criminals are fleeing New York to get away from all the heroes.
I do like the characters and their powers, But I don’t feel like I know them enough yet. Which is why series should be read from the start. I’ll have to seek out the other issues. Or watch the TV show.
Also, pet velociraptor is an awesome superpower.
Boy Swallows Universe
By Trent Dalton
Published June 2018 (HarperCollins)
Bingo Tile: Australian Author
For the Australian Author tile I was planning on reading something by George Turner, but one of my co-workers kept nagging at me to read this book, so I used Boy Swallows Universe as my Australian Author book. I know that shouldn’t have stopped me from reading more George Turner, but I guess without the motivation I just read a lot of newer books instead.
Boy Swallows Universe is a quirky story about two boys growing up in Brisbane with a drug dealer step-dad and an ex-prisoner babysitter. There is a super-natural element… maybe. Would not classify this as a science fiction or fantasy book though; very literary/contemporary. Very interesting and hard to put down.
The protagonist Eli is likable, and this story fallows many years of his life. Eli gets up to some quite crazy stunts; like breaking into a prison, getting caught in fights between Vietnamese gangs, and talking to someone on a magic red telephone hidden beneath his house. Boy Swallows Universe is a wild ride through 1980s Brisbane, and an enjoyable coming-of-age story.
By Robert Jackson Bennett
Published January 2019 (Tor.com)
Bingo Tile: Title Starts with V
This book made me really angry; a reaction I assume is completely intentional. In the world of Vigilance, mass shootings are staged, broadcast, and monetarised with the justification that the American population needs to remain vigilant.
This slaughter isn’t just tolerated but celebrated. People walk around armed, imagining that if they were in a Vigilance shooting they’d be the hero that takes out the active shooter and saves the day. People fantasise about the heroic stuff they’d do in such a situation, and when they watch other people caught in these situations try to run, they see them as cowards.
I’m Australian, so the American gun culture is not something I have had to personally experience. What got to me more than the gun obsession (which did still get to me) was the depiction of a media that is so concerned with appealing to a certain money-making demographic that they’ll manipulate a mall shooting to appeal to their target’s narrative. People who get shot are blamed for being unprepared, neo-nazis are just having ‘a discussion about the race’, an Asian woman who fights back against a shooter is replaced by a white woman in the editing phase.
There is so much to talk about in this novella. It’s an amazing dystopia with a lot of action and a very heavy-handed message. My big complaint was the ending. Hopefully this isn’t too spoilery, but there was a character who I was hoping would have a better outcome.
By Yoon Ha Lee
Published January 2019 (Rick Riordan Presents)
Book Bingo Tiles: Has Ghosts
I think I’ve already committed myself to reading everything Yoon Ha Lee writes from now on, but I think the premise of Dragon Pearl would have sucked me in even if I didn’t know who wrote it. This is a story about Min, a Gumiho (fox spirit) who lives on a backwater planet and must hide her magic. When she hears her brother Jun has deserted his post in the Space Forces to go looking for a magical dragon pearl, she knows something is wrong and goes to save him.
This is a Korean fantasy crossed with space opera; a specialty of Yoon Ha Lee, but not something I’ve seen from anyone else. Most of the action takes place on a battleship, and whilst the story has all the hallmarks of military science fiction, there are also dragons and tigers and goblins and ghosts aboard this ship, and it feels like they belong in this SF setting. If I had to pick just one scene to show how the science fiction and fantasy elements entwine so seamlessly, I’d go with the part where the ship is under attack and Min and another cadet are assisting in engineering. Whilst the ship has the conventional wires and panels, it’s main source of power is chi, and it has chi lines (like a reiki thing.) Min monitors and adjusts the chi energy from her computer, and because the ship’s chi corresponds to the chi lines of a living person, Min is in danger of ‘synching’ with the ship, and any injury the ship gets will affect her.
Min’s shapeshifting powers could have been a mess in the hands of a lesser writer. She just has to think of what she needs and she’ll automatically transform into the perfect illusion. Her charm also allows her to convince people of nearly anything. There was a risk that Min would be able to charm or shapeshift her way out of any situation, but Lee set just enough limits to make her believable and the danger seem real (conjured objects disappear when not on her person, some characters can detect magic, using magic drains energy etc.) Given the ethical dilemma of constantly deceiving people, Min also ends up in situations where she questions whether she should use her powers in certain ways. Her powers are very convenient, but nothing she does ever feels like an asspull.
Dragon Pearl is aimed at a much younger audience than what I usually read. More a children’s book than YA. Because of this, I felt that some things may have been dumbed down or over explained. Not sure if that is the case or if I’m just not used to reading stories aimed at younger readers. As much as I loved the Machineries of Empire series, the way it plunged readers into strange concepts and societies with little explanation was a bit overwhelming at times, so Dragon Pearl was a welcome change of pace. If Machineries of Empire didn’t do it for you but you still want to check out Lee’s work, this could be a good place to start. …though, also any Yoon Ha Lee short story you find online could work as well. Maybe even better. Point is, Dragon Pearl is awesome.
Avengers; Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
By Joe Casey, Scott Colins, and Will Rosado
Published March 2012 (Marvel)
Bingo Tiles: Has Superheroes
An Avenger’s comic series with a real old school feel. Cool seeing a very different take from the MCU Avengers, and there’s some great artwork. Still, it was mostly just an okay story.
Whilst the series was trying to copy the feel of the original Avengers comics, I feel in some ways that captured that feeling a bit too well. The Wasp is an Avenger but she rarely does anything. I don’t recall seeing her directly attack a single baddie, and there are times where she’s the damsel in distress. Also, as epic as the art is in most cases, the male characters are ripped to such an extreme that they sometimes look silly and unrealistic.
Another problem is that there isn’t much of an overarching story. We just drop in on the Avengers during ‘interesting’ moments. I use quotation marks for interesting because there seems to be more focus on scenes where the line-up changes or they’re facing more government oversight, rather than battling super villains. There is a part pretty early on where they try to recruit the Hulk, he goes off and destroys things, beats them up, and then the storyline gets dropped. There is a storyline with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch leaving Magneto to join the Avengers, which could have been interesting. However once they join, the following issue time skips to after they leave and go back to Magneto, so we never gets to see them be Avengers. The best storylines were Captain America’s and Hank Pym’s.
On the other hand, this is still the Avengers. It’s also my first Avenger’s comic, and it was exciting seeing the Marvel universe in this way. Every Marvel comic I’ve read just feels like it explores the world a lot more than the MCU movies can, and seeing this has made me more interested in exploring comic books.
Uncanny Issue #23: Dinosaur Issue
Published July 2018
Book Bingo Tiles: Has Dinosaurs (random bingo card)
I don’t subscribe to Uncanny, but I do get an issue every now and then. Also, Uncanny’s stories are published online and can be read for free, so I often read individual stories that get recommended to me. This issue was a bonus Kickstarter stretch goal; a shared universe dinosaur issue. Hence the awesome T-Rex on the cover.
I loved this idea, knew I wanted the issue, and enjoyed reading it a lot. As with any magazine or short story collection, there are some stories that I liked a lot more than others, but there weren’t any in this set that I disliked. Well, maybe Nails in my Feet by Mary Robinette Kowal. It wasn’t a bad story, but it seemed weirdly out of place being all about a puppet complaining. But it was well written and super short, so if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s the only thing I’ve read by Kowal and not liked I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it.
The stand out for me was The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander. It’s a dinosaur fairy tale. Yup, dinosaur fairy tale. It is one hell of a ride. I’d say it alone is worth getting the whole issue for, but this is Uncanny, so you could read this story here without getting the magazine.
But getting the whole issue is still a good idea. Even though all the stories are about dinosaurs, there is a lot of variety. The shared universe seems more like a shared multiverse, with dinosaurs entering fairy tale worlds, wuxia-inspired worlds, an innocent town (in verse) and our own world. Of course, raptors seem to be the dinosaur of choice for a lot of the stories, but raptors are cool, so I didn’t mind.
By Josiah Bancroft
Published January 2018 (Orbit)
Book Bingo Tiles: Steampunk or Silkpunk
Maybe it’s a stretch to call this book steampunk, but there are certainly elements of the genre in here. There are airships, mechanical arms, massive steam engines and while the setting is not explicitly Victorian in it’s setting and sensibilities, the setting does have an old-time feel with no modern technology and history that feels more like fantasy. Goodreads has it listed as Steampunk, so I’ll count it.
Senlin Ascends is a fantastic adventure through the Tower of Babel, an ancient wonder that is a whole world onto itself. The titular character, Thomas Senlin, takes his wife Marya to the Tower for their honeymoon. The honeymoon is ruined within hours when the two get separated by the huge crowds. Senlin, realising that he has both train tickets and his wife is stranded at the Tower without him, sets off to find her. This simple sounding task is complicated by the fact that Senlin’s guidebook forgot to mention that the Tower is a hive of treason and villainy and that climbing it is going to be one hell of a quest.
I enjoyed this book a lot. A lot of great worldbuilding went into making the Tower, and Senlin really has to go through a lot of changes to find Marya. We only see the first 4 floors of the Tower, but already we can see this massive world full of wonder. It’s all a lot of fun, though some things can feel a bit contrived.
All in all, I love this book, but I’m not sure yet if I love it enough to commit to a four book series. Which is a problem because the ending of Senlin Ascends really does need to be continued. A month after reading, I feel I probably will continue the series at one point, but it hasn’t yet sucked me in and made me impatient for more like some other series have.
Senlin Ascends was originally a self-published book before getting picked up by Orbit, so if you like unique adventures and want to show some love to self-published writers, definitely give this book a go.
For a bonus, I’m also going to mention that I finished JY Yang’s Silkpunk Tensorate series this year. The previous novella, The Descent of Monsters was a bit meh to me, but I loved Ascent to Godhood
United States of Japan
By Peter Tieryas
Published March 2016 (Angry Robot)
I wanted to love this one so much. United States of Japan was described to me as Man in the High Castle meets Pacific Rim and the sequel is called Mecha Samurai Empire. I wasn’t expecting the most thoughtful story ever, but I was expecting to have a lot of fun whilst seeing some of Philip K. Dick’s themes. What I got didn’t have enough Man in the High Castle or Pacific Rim for me.
By the way, I didn’t like Man in the High Castle. It has some great worldbuilding, and whilst an Axis victory in WWII has been explored before, I liked the way Dick explored it in High Castle. But the plot itself did nothing for me and I was really glad to be done with the book. Listening to USJ was a much more enjoyable experience for me than reading High Castle was, but it also made me realise just how well Dick portrayed his defeated USA, and that one of the reasons High Castle is such a strong story is because it emphasises how much chance and luck shape history. How we really could be living in a totalitarian nightmare (Or, a more totalitarian nightmare if you will) if different decisions were made or things went the wrong way. USJ didn’t pack as much punch for me, and to my surprise, that disappointed me just as much as the lack of cool mech battles.
Not that there aren’t mech battles; there was a really cool one at the end. There was a lot of cool stuff throughout the book, but between each awesome part (mech battles, life and death video game tournaments, etc.) there was a plot that didn’t grab me, following characters I didn’t like, with a twist that was painfully obvious as soon as we got the flashback scene halfway through the book.
Maybe I’m being too harsh with this book. There was a lot of good worldbuilding, and I had fun with some parts, but it just didn’t click for me. I think a big part might have been Tieryas’s writing style. A lot of his similes felt intrusive, and I didn’t like the long metaphors he used during the more graphic scenes of the story. And there was a lot of torture in this story, so this was a problem I came across a lot. To be fair, this could have been a narration problem, since I was listening to this as an audiobook, or I could have just been extra critical due to my other disappointments.
United States of Japan isn’t a bad book. I don’t think it’s a good book, but there are much worse stories out there.
Honor Harrington: The Short Victorious War
By David Weber
Published April 1994 (Baen)
Bingo Tiles: Military Science Fiction
The third book in the Honor Harrington series. The Honor Harrington series is a staple of military science fiction and follows captain Honor Harrington and her telepathic alien cat through a war between Honor’s Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven.
Short Victorious War is book 3 of the series and starts with war still not declared. The previous two books in the series both chronicled incidents between the two superpowers that Honor was involved in, but it’s only now that open hostilities are becoming inevitable. I do enjoy the series, but not enough to binge it. At least not yet. Maybe not ever, I’m not sure. I One Honorverse book a year is probably enough for me.
The series follows Honor Harrington, a captain in the Royal Manticore Navy. Space Navy. She has a telepathic six-legged alien cat called Nimitz by her side, and coming into The Short Victorious War as a decorated and highly respected hero. This I feel made Short Victorious War less interesting than the previous two books, where Honor had something to prove and had to struggle to earn the respect of her peers and superiors. Still, this is a fun enough story if you like action packeed space battles and military procedurals. I tend to describe this series as Star Trek x Game of Thrones. Or, gore and character death on a spaceship.
We Who Are About To…
By Joanna Russ
Published January 1976
Bingo Tile: Written in the 70s
I really wanted to love this book.
For the first 45% or so I was, until the first climactic confrontation happened, Making most of the book a woman talking to herself.
We Who Are About To… is about what really happens when a spaceship with eight passengers is ejected from hyperspace and lands on an unknown planet in an unknown galaxy with no hope of rescue. It’s about a woman exercising her bodily autonomy, who voices dissent, and who is hated and threatened for doing so.
Seven of the castaways start dreaming about the clichéd planetary colonisation and rebuilding of human civilisation they are going to do. You know, like every other older science fiction book where a small group of people land on a new planet. Despite them being eight people with no survival skills. The unnamed narrator realises how dumb that is and wants no part of this whole restarting the human race thing. Her fellow castaways hate her for her pessimism and make it clear that they need every functional womb they have and will not let her opt out. The narrator isn’t going to stop their efforts, but she won’t have children in a re-emerging doomed patriarchy. Her fellow passengers can’t stand her dissent. They can’t stand a woman having that agency. They want to force her into their control, and this part of the story was amazing. It was everything I wanted. I just wish the second half wasn’t such a slog.
Hard to talk about the second half of the book without dropping spoilers, which makes it harder to talk about the things I didn’t like. In short, the Narrator ends up alone for about half the book. Now, the book is the Narrator’s voice recorded diary, which works for most of the story. When it’s just her rambling on though it’s not that interesting. For me, the second half of the story was really hard to get through. Other people loved it though, so if the premise of this story interests you, don’t let me discourage you.
By Michael Flynn
Narrated by Anthony Heard
Published January 2006 (Blackstone Audio)
Book Bingo Tiles: Title Starts with E
This is one of those books that ever since I’ve heard of the concept I’ve wanted to check it out, but I’ve never been that motivated. This story is about aliens landing in a medieval German village and the local priest convincing the town to see these strange beings as people rather than demons. It’s not the type of first contact setting that we see a lot of. Not saying it’s a unique idea; Poul Anderson wrote about aliens meeting knights in The High Crusade back in 1960. But it is an interesting idea and I love how Flynn has presented it.
Eifelheim began as a 1986 novella about an historian and a physicist each pondering mysteries that tied into what happened to the village of Eifelheim back in the 1340s. This novella has been incorporated into the novel as the ‘Now’ sections of the book, which serve as a present day framing story for the 14th Century alien portion of the book. I wasn’t a big fan of the ‘Now’ sections, and found myself wanting to get back to the ‘real’ story whenever they came up, but I must admit the story wouldn’t have been so intriguing or the ending so strong without them.
A strange thing about this book is that it tells you pretty early on how the story will end. Since we are reading about the events in the middle ages, we know that the answer to the mystery of the ‘Now’ section is aliens, and because the big mystery of the ‘Now’ section involves the desertion of Eifelheim, we soon realise what’s in store for the characters we’re following in the middle ages. Also, there was a certain historical event that happened in the 1340s that we know from the start is going to affect our characters big time. In effect, this book spoils itself, and strangely enough that isn’t a bad thing. There’s no big twists, because if we’re paying attention to what’s going on we can figure out a lot of the reveals before the characters do, but seeing the characters respond to these reveals, and even wondering how they’ll even uncover them when communication is such a problem makes for an interesting read.
This book is meticulously researched, showing the reader every detail of life in a medieval feudal village. In a way, that’s good because it makes the scenario and the characters feel very real. On the other hand, I felt the book got bogged down in the little details at times. There was one part where characters were at the lord’s table discussing politics for so long that I just zoned out. Flynn’s research makes the story feel like an accurate, non clichéd depiction of Medieval Europe. The importance of logic and reason during this age is highlighted in a way that we rarely see when talking about the ‘Dark Ages’, and whilst there is a lot of primitive superstition involved, Flynn also shows the positive side of religion in this time.
As well as getting the facts right, Flynn also does an excellent job at getting us inside the heads of the medieval characters. Their worldview is just as alien to us as that of the actual aliens, and it made for a very engaging and thought-provoking read.
Finally, as an atheist, the fact that Flynn wrote a book that made me happy to see aliens converted to Christianity shows how much skill went into this story.
I’d also like to point out that I finished this book in my hotel room the night I went to see the band Ninja Sex Party live in Sydney, so I’m always going to associate this book with Ninja Sex Party.