How do you follow on from something as successful as Ancillary Justice, which has won about everything worth winning in the SF field? (a slight overstatement, I know, but it feels like it). Ann Leckie's answer, as delivered with her 2nd book, Ancillary Sword, is: by continuing straight onwards, without stopping and having to build up again, and with very little scene setting for the 2nd part in the series. It's as if we've never been away...
And yes, people not having read the first book need not apply (and this review will also not make much sense. Sorry!)
Either way, we pick off where the previous book left off, and set off with Breq in command of the Mercy of Kalr, on route to Athoek Station, which is the only place where Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, can order her to go and know she will do so. Why? Because there lives the little sister of Lieutenant Awn, Breq's favourite officer when she was still the ship Justice of Toren. And whom she killed, on direct of order of Anaander Mianaai. It's a long story – actually the size of the first book... With her as part of her new crew (humans, not Ancillaries, even if they pretend to be) she has a brand-new, green, 'baby' Lieutenant Tisarwat, who is unmasked quite early on as no-one but Anaander herself, under cover. The machinations Breq goes through to unearth this hugely reminded me of a book I read ages ago, and which, to my annoyance, I still cannot pin down or name (contact me if you're really well-read in older military SF!).
There are books you pick up because of their author. There are books you pick up because of their title (rare, these days), or because of their cover. And then there are books you pick up because they promise something new, and you look at them, go ‘nah, it cannot be’, put them down - and go back, just to check. The Sea is Ours, edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng, is one of those. I’ve read some steampunk - frequently formulaic, but also frequently fun. And I’ve read some Southeast Asian SF and Horror - frequently different, and frequencly pointing out that there are some gaps in need of filling in concerning my general education/knowledge (even if I frequently only go to Wikipedia for this). I’ve not been exposed to Southeast Asian Steampunk before, though… but that’s my loss, telling from this collection assembled by Joyce Chng and Jaymee Goh!
The subtitle is programme - all stories here are steampunk (even if the definition is used fairly loosely, and some steampunk elements feel patched on), and all come from Southeast Asia, with, as the editors note, some gaps in coverage in terms of countries of origin. But this is also a book of politics, and born of frustration - however real or perceived (and definitely not only imagined, I hasten to add!) at women, feminists, ethnic minorities, and especially Southeast Asia’s writers being overlooked by the big, bad UK/US white male dominance (I paraphrase). So far so Puppygate, of course, albeit rather towards the opposite end of the spectrum. And entirely valid as both a programme and a theme to assemble a collection of stories and writers. And yes, the contents and especially the contributors appear to definitely have been picked and filtered, so I appreciate that a) they were very open about their thrust, and b) that the result turned out as magnificent as this!
Daniel Lieske has made the latest instalment of his on-going Wormworld Saga graphic novel availabe on his website, and a number of translations are already on the website, too.
The Wormworld Saga follows the fortunes (and occasional misfortunes) of a boy stranded in a parallel world. The story is a classic adventure yarn, set in a fascinating world with lots of history and background, and best of all presented in absolutely gorgeous graphics.
Also - there is now a book version of Chapters 1-3 available in English - perfectly in time for Christmas! (link below)
If you're new to the story then I'd strongly suggest you start at the beginning, of course, the chapters are definitely not independent.
Martin Vopěnka is a Czech author living in Prague, with 12 novels (in Czech, two of them translated into English) and 2 travelogues under his belt. He also writes polemic articles (his description!) for MF Dnes, a daily Czech newspaper. This book was originally published in 2009 by Kniha Zlín under the title of Pátý rozměr, and was translated into English for this edition by Hana Slenkova, a budding writer born the Czech Republic and now living in Plymouth.
The Fifth Dimension is a story of an experiment, even if we're never told what exactly is being researched. The protagonist of the story, Jakub (or Jacob, as the Americans call him), is a Czech who started a construction company when the end of Communism allowed for private enterprise, and who got bankrupted in a downturn of the economy. He now keeps himself afloat with jobs which don't fulfil him, and dreams of a chance to make a big score to secure the future for himself and his beloved wife and family.
That chance comes with a vague advert by a mysterious, American agency, who is looking for candidates for an experiment. He (and us, who witness the story through his eyes and via his internal monologues) are never told what exactly is being researched, or what the experiment entails. All he learns, before he signs on the line, is that it requires him to be away from and out of contact with his family for a year (this later goes down to 10 months), and that this will earn him 200k Dollars – a substantial sum, even in today's Czech Republic. Jakub then finds himself, after some training, in a exceedingly remote part of South America (most likely Argentina), at high altitude, in a one-person facility/bunker that provides for his basic needs and allows him to take the physiological measurements of himself which are part of the deal. He has no means of communication (save for an 'abort experiment' button, pressing which means he loses his fee), and is allowed to take only one book (he takes a large tome on Astrophysics, as this is what he studied). And then the lonely 10 months, with only himself and his barren surroundings for company commence...
Ah, joy of joys - here's a Peter Watts story, set in his Sunflowers universe (he is apparently working on a novel set in it. For Christmas, pretty please? )
This is the same universe in which the Hugo-Award-winning Novelette The Island was set in, and actually follows the same wormhole-building ship/asteroid and its dysfunctional crew and AI. Giants is both highly entertaining, and thought-provoking, and managed to surprise me repeatedly, so good going in my books! The story was originally published in Clarkesworld magazine.
But whilst I'm still waiting to get my mitts on Hotshot, his other story set in that universe (as the novel, I suspect, will take a few Christmases to arrive) - Hotshot has been published in a collection called Reach For Infinity - this here at least allow us to whet our appetite...
Aliette de Bodard is a US-born, Franco-Vietnamese writer and former computer engineer living and writing (in English) in France. She has 3 novels and a substantial amount of short fiction to her name; and has won the Nebula, Locus, and BSFA Awards for her writing.
I've been meaning to read her Novella (or is it a short novel?) On a Red Station, Drifting since it originally came out in 2012, and kept missing to buy a copy. So I was doubly glad to run into the new Createspace reprint of the book at this year's Eastercon (and promptly talked an Antepodean visitor into buying the rest of the stack and take it back with her!).
This is another story set in her alternate-history Xuya universe (Chinese in Central America, in a very tiny nutshell – see her website for a much longer run-down on the setting), projected forward into the 22nd Century. There are loads of stories available fleshing out bits and corners of that setting, both roughly contemporary, and into the future.
On a Red Station, Drifting plays entirely on Prosper, a family-ownde space station with a human-born, immortal 'Mind' known as the Honoured Ancestress overseeing the functioning of the station, and, directly associated, the lives on the occupants. The station is part of the Dai Viet empire, which is, if not crumbling, then at least shaking and shrinking under the onslaught of rebels.
This is a heavily family based, family centred society and story, displaying only a small bit of the classic tension (which other stories in the universe play on) between the traditional Ancestor/Family based society with the Individualism present in other societies. Its ships, and as we learn now also its stations are governed by human-born 'Minds' – see some of the other short stories re. how other cultures view this (with horror, to sum it up). This is a world of strict behavioural codes, of high art including Calligraphy, Poetry, of exchanges full of allusions to and quotes from Classics. Prominent members of the family carry mem-implants holding ancestors, which provide advice and guidance to the wearer (and thus cement the continuation of the status quo, at the same time).