I've just been reading a number of (differing...) definitions of Magic Realism and Urban Fantasy, and still cannot decide which of those Charlie Human's books fall into. Heck, it could even be YA... So, sidestepping the genre question, Kill Baxter is the follow-up to Charlie's debut novel, Apocalypse Now Now. And it's rather fabulous, I think.
Charlie Human is a South African writer, published by Century and Random House, with two novels and a few published pieces of short fiction so far. Kill Baxter is set in the same universe as Apocalypse Now Now, and picks up more or less directly where the previous book ended. Baxter Zevenko has just saved the world, and, to get out of the trouble this got him into, had to agree to leave his Cape Town school where he was the Porn kingpin, and join Hexpoort school. Hexpoort is run by a secret government agency, and is teaching talented youngster on how to develop their magic abilities (Baxter is mainly a Dreamwalker, which is an unusual and near-extinct skill) and survive in this world where all kinds of creatures, referred to as The Hidden, er, hide amongst humanity. Not all of them have a very positive attitude to humans, and that's before you get into global and inter-species politics. Baxter is not happy in Hexpoort – he sucks at magic as something is blocking his abilities, making him absolutely bloody useless at it. He gets bullied by another pupil who apparently is prophesised to be The Chosen One (whatever or whoever that is), who is unhappy with Baxters fame for his deeds. His girlfriend, who he saved in the previous book has dumped him, and his best friend is not speaking to him anymore. Sucks to be him... and now his school is under attack by an unknown enemy referred to as the Muti Man (he collects the teeth of MK6 agents he kills for magic purposes), and instead of getting an education Baxter gets appreticed to Jackson 'Jackie' Ronin, an ex-soldier with both an psychological and a related alcohol problem. But that's the least of their problems...
To launch this they have posted a little taster, called St. Dymphna’s School For Poison Girls. It is, to some extent, a school and schoolgirl story, albeit with a twist. St Dymphna's is a finishing school - for girls who plan to kill their future husband, and potentially more of his family, in the name of revenge, of family honour, or any other societal reason.
But, as you might have guessed, there's more to the school than simply preparing girls to kill proficiently!
The story in illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Kathleen Jennings - the picture to the right is an example.
It's an entertaining read, and a good recommendation for the book, methinks!
I generally hold it with the wisdom of Public Enemy: Don't Believe The Hype. So, when something (in this case a book) comes along which is the bestestest thing ever, the greatest invention since the Triangular Wheel (Once bump less per rotation!), and something I absolutely urgently totally Must Read Now – I politely decline. Because it's a turn-off, because it's all too frequently not true, because I've been disappointed a few too many times, and because tomorrow there will be a different latest greatest hottest never to be surpassed thing anyway. So, when Ann Leckie's debut novel Ancillary Justice burst on the scene, winning heaps or praise and about every award going (and, from the noise you'd think also some yet to be invented), I watched all the frothing going on, and read something else. Still, the book was presented to me, with quieter, more insistent recommendations, so I relented and read it. Here is what I found.
Ancillary Justice is the first book in a 'loosely connected' trilogy known as Imperial Radch. The 2nd book in the series, Ancillary Sword, came out in in 2014, is on this year's Hugo shortlist (and likely to win, due to Puppygate); and the final instalment (Ancillary Mercy) is scheduled for release in 2015. Ancillary Justice has won the BSFA, Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke Awards (I think there's more, but that's the main ones anyway). The titles in themselves make interesting and subtle points – within the Radch Imperium (a rather large portion of space, centrally controlled) the names Justice, Sword, and Mercy refer to military space ships – a Justice is a troop carrier, the other two are smaller battle ships. An Ancillary, though, is a member of the crew of a Justice, a soldier, normally taken prisoner during an Annexation (ie the Radch gobbling up another planet or solar system), who in most cases is put in storage for a few hundred years, and who, when resurrected and ambulatory, has none of his previous memories or personality anymore, but is controlled by the ship mind of the Justice, who functions as some kind of hive mind, with many pairs of eyes, hands, voices.
Colin Pillinger, CBE, who died earlier this year, was a planetary scientist best known as the instigator behind the Beagle 2 Mars lander project, and a key figure behind the Philae Lander which was (is?) part of the current Rosetta mission to the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Besides his scientific publications he has, including the one at hand, 3 further books to his name.
Beagle (that’s the book) describes the back-story to Beagle 2 (that’s the spacecraft), which flew with the 2003 ESA Mars Express mission, to land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003. It was named in honour of the ship, captained by Robert FitzRoy, which took Charles Darwin around the world in the 1830s and led to the writing of On the Origin of Species. Talk about big shoes to fill… The book was written whilst the mission was on its way to Mars, and the outcome was not known yet...
It starts with a Preface by Colin, giving some background on the conception of the mission, how the name was chosen, and how the book came to be (essentially: there was an exhibition on the topic in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, at which it was suggested that he collect the material and publish it).
This is followed by a page of Acknowledgments - or rather not, as he essentially refuses to make any to avoid the risk of omitting and thus offending someone from the team… I guess that’s one way of dealing with this problem!
The next part of the book is titled On the Origin of Beagle. It expands a bit on the naming story, and introduces the first parallels to HMS Beagle and its famous voyage. Overall this feels like an abstract for the book (no surprise, given the academical background of the author), or a scene-setter.
You know the theorem that an infinite number of monkeys, randomly hitting keys on typewriters, would eventually over an infinite period produce, for example, the collected works of William Shakespeare, yes? Well, here is the book with the most self-deprecating title, ever - who would, in their right mind and the light of the above, call their book Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes? It’s a rhetorical question, I know.
Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes is the first short story collection by Peter Watts, published on the heel of the critically acclaimed novel Starfish, and prior to the (differently marvelous) Maelstrom. Overall Peter now has 5-7 novels (it depends a bit on how you count) and two collections to his name, most of which he also makes available via his website for free. And if that makes you think he might have strong opinions about publishers, and about IP, then you would very much be right… A number of the stories in this collection have since been re-released as part of the more recent ‘Beyond the Rift’ collection. I have not checked if these are 100% identical, or if some minor editing or re/writing has taken place. It’s not relevant, I feel - all of them bear re-reading, and completists will want both books anyway.
Below I provide a short overview of the stories in this slim volume, and a capsule review of what they are about and what I thought of them; if you’d rather avoid such spoilers then I’d like to leave you with the recommendation that this is a rather splendid and clever collection, and well worth your time.
Justina Robson is a British writer of Science Fiction like the magnificent Natural History, and of the less easily categorisable but hugely entertaining Quantum Gravity series (multi-dimensional urban magic police procedural - ?). Fantastic Fiction lists 10 novels and a collection of short stories under her name – this includes the book at hand, The Glorious Angels, where she attempts to walk the narrow line between SF and Fantasy.
The story plays in the city of Glimshard – a former Sircene Mage City, but now part of the Golden Empire; ruled by an Empress (each of the 8 cities has one, they are mentally linked). Glimshard is at war, due to an expedition into the Southern Fragment, for what is called an 'Excavation'. The army is over-stretched, and the losses are huge and unsustainable. And the dig is in the Karoo forest – the Karoo being one of the decidedly non-human species on this world (although there is a huge amount of snobbery on what is considered human and what not - they definitely are not), and apparently a formidable enemy. I was not sure, for most of the book, what the reason for this was – why this was so important, worth that war, worth risking everything including the Empire. Are they really that desperate? Or that jaded? Or is this only the Empress' doing?
But now a Karoo from the North has arrived, and joined the ranks of the mercenaries propping up the army and the war effort, and things are spinning quickly out of control. There is conflict between the Empresses, someone is plotting against Torada (Glimshard's Empress), the Infomancers are spying on everyone, and Aline, the Minister of Defense, is blackmailing Tralane, a crystallomancer and Matriarch of one of the old Sircene mage families for materials for his (forbidden?) magic weapon projects...
Voting for the 2015 Hugo Awards, to be presented at this year's Worldcon, Sasquan, has started. Now, this year's Hugos have caused a bit of a stir, albeit one long in the making. There is much to be read about it on the Interwebs, but, in a nutshell - a group group of SF fans (shall we call them that) felt that 'their' kind of SF was being ignored, underrepresented at the Hugos, for which I have some sympathy (hey, the shortlists would look different if _I_ got to pick them, too). They called themselves Sad Puppies, and organised a voting slate of works they would have preferred to see on the shortlists. Now, this might be within the letter of the law (or the Hugo rules), but violates the spirit of the award and it's administration. But it got worse - a second, affiliated group, calling themselves Rabid Puppies, also issued a slate, which came to dominate the nominations and thus shortlists. Given that their political/ideological orientation is, in my opinion, beyond the pale (this is the "No women, no blacks, no gays" brigade) we all of a sudden have a misogynist, reactionary, racist dominated Hugo shortlist. And this I object to, and will thus vote tactically/politically. Should you have avoided any exposure to the above mess, and planned to vote by the strength of the works on offer only, then be aware - this is also a political vote, and potentially not for something you meant to vote for.