My Spec-Fic Favs for 2017

What have been your favourite Spec Fic reads in 2017?

This year, I’ve enjoyed the 2017 Popsugar Challenge which spurs me on to read a wide range of books. Even so, I’ve managed to squeeze in quite a few Fantasy and Sci-Fiction books and a few movies as well. So which were the ten I enjoyed the best?

 

  1. Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Marissa’s Meyer four book Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter) was a fantastic read, so I had high hope for Heartless – the origin story of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. And Meyer didn’t disappoint – Catherine is a wonderful character, as is Jest, the Mad Hatter and others. Meyer does a great job of weaving elements from both Alice in Wonderland and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass. The tale has a lot of whimsy and humour and is compelling – though inevitably, it leads to a sad ending. My full review here.

2. The Martian by Andy Weir

For something entirely different, I managed to see the movie and read the book of this popular sci-fi tale. Told primarily through the stranded astronaut’s journal (with some scenes back on earth inserted), I loved the freshness of the story, the meticulous research in conditions on Mars, the reality of space flight, the logistics and possibilities involved. Weir makes math sound cool – which is awesome. But primarily The Martian was a human story, a story of not giving up and beating the odds. My full review here.

3. The Fated Sky by E M Swift-Hook

The Fated Sky is the first in the Transgressor’s series by E M Swift Hook – when Avilon’s space ship crash lands on the high plateau of a backward and forgotten planet at the rim of the galaxy, he is captured and catapulted into the complicated and often deadly politics of Temsevar. Told through multiple points of view, Swift-Hook does a marvellous job of bringing the planet and the characters to life. An intriguing start to the trilogy. My review is here.

4. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi includes magical realism – young Pi’s family decides to sell their Zoo and move to Canada. When the ship sinks in the storm, Pi (Piscine Molitor Patel) is trapped on life boat with Richard Parker (a Bengal Tiger), an injured zebra,  orangutan,  and a hyena. The ensuring struggle for survival is gripping – with moments of desperation, terror and wonder – and a startling twist at the end that leaves you with questions of what is real. My review is here.

5. The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

The Skin Map is the first book in the Bright Empires series. It combines time travel, alternative earths, ley lines, heroes and dastardly villains in a rollicking adventure. Kit Livingstone meets his long lost grand-father Cosmo, and finds himself pulled into the quest to find the skin map and to thwart the villainous Lord Burleigh and his men. The narrative moves around in time and place, with real danger but also recreates Restoration London (1666), 17th century Prague, 18th Macau and ancient Egypt in loving detail. While the pace is at times leisurely, I found the story immersive and enjoyable to read. I’m up for the next in the series, The Bone House.  My review is here.

6. Planet Woman by Judith Rook

Planet Woman looks at human colonisation in a distance planetary system that included sentient planets. When a threat is detected, the Planet Circe sends for an envoy from (non-sentient) First Home. Tethyn Claibrook-Merjolaine is none too pleased when she has to entertain the commanding and arrogant envoy, Lewis Brock, First Peer of the ancient Haute-Forêt family. But larger threats and dangers are in motion. This is the first book in a series and has a number of subplots. Despite some frustrations with the story-telling, it was one of those stories that left me thinking about it long after I’d read it. My review here.

7. Welcome to the Apocalypse (Pandora 1) by D L Richardson

D L Richardson’s Welcome to the Apocalypse is a wild ride.  Kelly Lawrence, Jack Minnow and Reis Anderson have special tickets to try out the immersive, virtual reality game, The Apocalypse Games,  in which players are pitted against one of a range of imagined end-of-earth scenarios – from Zombies, Alien Invasion, Clowns, Global Pandemic and so on. In theory the game lasts for 24 hours, but on this debut run something goes terribly wrong and the players are trapped in apocalypse scenario after apocalypse scenario with no contact with the outside world. What I loved about the book was Richardson managed to keep each scenario fresh and that it was as much (if not more) about the inner battles of the main characters. The ending was a little abrupt – but I look forward to reading the next in the series Welcome to the Apocalypse – Cybernexis (which has been nominated for a Ditmar prize). My review is here.

 

8. Jewel of the Stars: Earth’s Remnant by Adam David Collings

Jewel of the Stars: Earth’s Remnant is Episode 1 of Season 1 of a novella series set in space. Jewel of the Stars is a cruise liner that travels the stars, until a sudden and catastrophic invasion leaves the ship cut off from the rest of humanity and heading for unknown space to avoid certain death. Collings sets up the story and introduces an number of main characters while delivering on suspense and an exciting finish. I thoroughly enjoyed the read. The only hitch is the wait for the next episode to be published. My review is here.

 

9. Futurevision  edited by Delia Strange

Twenty Aussies authors views of the future – 20 speculative fiction story, Futurevision is a wonderful collation of local talent with a range of stories from science-fiction, fantasy, horror – some full of suspense or adventures, some funny, while most leave you thinking. My own space opera ‘Rendezvous at Alexgaia’ is included. My favourites included Nola Passmore’s ‘One Hundred Words’ (what if all electronic communication was restricted to 100 words?), Duncan Richardson’s ‘Profile’ (what if our participation in society depends on our digital imprint?) and  Sophie L MacDonald’s God and the Machine (what does it mean to be human?) My review here.

10. Tales from the Underground by Inklings Press

Another great anthology with talented writers – in this case stories that take place in the dark places under the earth – in caves, caverns, mines, tunnels and cellars.  My story is a prequel for the Under the Mountain series (Heart of the Mountain, Blood Crystal, Stone of the Sea, Shadow Crystals) – though is darker more thriller or horror than adventure.  I particularly loved Rod Edwards fabulous story of fairy with ‘Lords of Negative Space’, Claire Buss whimsical ‘Underground Scratchings’ with a lovely twist at the end, and the riveting ‘Beasts Above’ by Lawrence Harding.

and a bonus – Elven Jewel by Kasper Beaumont

Right at the cusp between old and new year, I finally read Kasper Beaumont’s Elven Jewel – the first in the Hunters of Reloria series. Despite some occasional hitches in style, it was an enjoyable read – with halflings, bond fairies, dwarves, elves, dragons, goblins, trolls, giants, reptilian invaders and rollicking adventures, a touch of romance and a few tear-jerking moments. My full review here.

As for movies

  1. The Last Jedi

It’s no secret that Star Wars fans are divided about the latest offering. I went to see it with my family on my birthday – and loved it. Okay, not perfect – it had some gross moments and maybe occasionally heavy-handed – but on the whole it keep me glued to screen, and just when I’d think the story was an echo of earlier films, it would subvert or turn it. Some spectacular visual moments, and loved the ending.

2. Twice Upon a Time

Interesting finale of Peter Calpaldi’s doctor, teamed up with the first Doctor.  It had an interesting theme – as the Doctors struggle with the need to ‘change’ in regeneration. I did like the impromptu Christmas truce in WW1 into the plot, but I felt the story was trying to do too much and so ended up doing less – and not sure what I think about the newly regenerated doctor falling out of the TARDIS. As with each changing of the guard, we will have to see how the new writers and actors take this perennial favourite.

3. Moana (Disney)

My children and I watched Moana just after Christmas with my sister, a niece, two nephews – and loved it. And then watched the DVD on Boxing Day while at my sister’s, and enjoyed it again. Moana and Maui are great characters, with strong character journeys. Visually stunning, incorporating Polynesian culture and myths, and with a great story. Well worth watching a second time.

 

And for me, the other highlight is the stories and poems published – with three poems, eight short stories, one novella (Blood Crystal) and a novel (Akrad’s Children).  It’s also great seeing reviews rolling in for Akrad’s Children and Blood Crystal.

My plans for 2018 included the sequels to Heart of the Mountain & Blood Crystal, the next book in the Akrad’s Legacy series – Rasel’s Song, a Collection – Ruhanna’s Flight and other stories, plus participating in the On the Horizon Book Bundle (Akrad’s Children will be included with 22 other great stories of speculative adventure). On the Horizon is already available for pre-order.

What were your favourite reads – and watches – for 2017? What achievements have you celebrated, what goals do you have for 2018?

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and fantastic New Year.

Jeanette O’Hagan

My Spec Fic Reads for 2015 Part One

What where your favourite fantasy and science-fiction books and movies for 2015?  Here are a few of mine.

Star Wars 7 The Force Awakens

ReyForceAwakensReviewx300With all the hype and the long wait since the release of the last trilogy, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one.  My daughter and I saw it together on our trip to Melbourne in December after a day of looking at art galleries, graffiti lanes and traveling on the trams.

Star Wars 7, directed by J J Abrams, takes up the story twenty or more years after the end of Return of the Jedi. A new dark force, the First Order and dark user of the force, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), are out to destroy the Republic. Hans Solo and the Resistance are searching for a map fragment which will reveal location of the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker.

The movie was fast-paced, with lots of explosions, crashes and fire-fights.  Favourite characters Hans Solo, Chewbacca, Princess (now General) Leia, C3PO, A2D2 all make an appearance and new characters such as Finn (a reformed Storm Trooper) (John Boyega), Rey (an orphan left behind her family on  desert planet of Jaku with an affinity to the force) (Daisy Ridley), the droid BB-8, Maz Kanata and Kylo Ren (the dark ‘jedi’) who works for the mysterious Supreme Leader of the First Order, Snoke.  The plot echoes the past movies with a shocking (though not unpredictable) twist at the end.

We enjoyed the movie. For my son (who saw it with his father), it was ‘the best one yet.’ There was enough excitement, special effects, humour and emotion to keep us on the edge of our seats.  I love the fact that Finn is a person of colour and that Rey is a woman though, for some, this seems to encourage making the emo and conflicted Kylo Ren as the a dark anti-hero despite his terrible nature of his deeds. There are some obvious plot holes and many things left unexplained (how did the First Order arise and gain such devastating power so quickly, who is Snoke, why was Rey abandoned by her family and what is her connection to Luke, why did Luke walk out on the Republic and Resistance (even if his efforts to train more Jedi had disastrously failed)? No doubt some of these things will be revealed in the next couple of movies.

However, the more I think of it, the more I wish that The Force Awakens had deviated more from a recycling of old plot themes and scenarios. I guess it remains to be seen if the next two movies are more adventurous and more ready to risk alienating die-hard fans.

Mocking Jay Part 2

This final film from the Hunger Games trilogy, in which the Rebellion makes a final assault on the Capitol of Panem. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the face of the resistance but, against orders, she teams up with her closest friends, including Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) to take out President Snow.

Again, I watched this movie with my daughter and thoroughly enjoyed it. It does verge on horror in a number of scenes, but the violence is not glorified. The movie stays faithful to the book and, in some ways, surpasses it. I can remember being very disappointed with the end of Mocking Jay (the book) for a couple of reasons, especially with regard to Prim – but also the death of a number of characters. I’ve had a number of years to think about why Suzanne Collins chose to end the book the way she did and I concluded that what happens to Prim was a necessary motivator for Katnis’ final actions and her realization that tyranny and the misuse of power was not the sole prerogative of Snow. Even so, (as I discuss here) it would be refreshing to see more peaceful and diplomatic means as a way of resolving problems. And while this may seem unrealistic – it can be done without necessarily spoiling the climatic thrill – as, for instance, in How to Train Your Dragon.  Not to quibble though, this was a fantastic movie.TriggerWarningreviex220w

Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning (2005) by Neil Gaiman is a collection of short stories of fantasy, sci-fiction and horror. Some are quite brief and others are longer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book with it’s effortless prose, great characterizations and storytelling. Gaiman has a quirky view of life in which danger and retribution lurks in unlikely corners. I’ve reviewed it more thoroughly here.

Anansi Boys

I enjoyed Trigger Warning so much, I went looking for another Gaiman book and came across Anansi Boys (2006).  This book has an unlikely hero in Fat Charlie, and touch of romance, and great twist at the end and draws from Caribbean mythology. It was fun read and I really must read more Neil Gaiman. Again I reviewed it here.

Fly by Night

As I loved Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass (2012), I was delighted to discover Fly by Night (2006). Like A Face Like Glass, this is also a Young Adult fantasy novel with a young teen protagonist combined with an intricate and fascinating, almost Baroque world and a complicated and inspired plot. Mosca Mye (named after the common house fly by her absent minded and erudite father) has to flee her village in the company of her goose, Saracen, and the dubious and smooth tongued Eponymous Clent. On arriving at Mandelion, they find themselves in the middle of intrigue, murder and an escalating feud between the Stationer’s Guild and the Locksmiths. This is a book about freedom of thought. And while I found it’s zealous Birdcatcher villains almost predictable in motivation (see a fuller review here), I still enjoyed the twists and turns, idiosyncratic characters and world building. Certainly, there is a need for tolerance and the freedom to discuss and contest different positions and values in a world where opposing points of view are often howled down or ridiculed in social media storm.

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Femme

Femme (2014) by Delia Strange is the first book published in the Wanderer of Worlds series (and multiverse). Kaley  has won a scholarship to the almost Utopian paradise of Femme, a matriarchal society in which men are slaves. Kaley is excited about pursing her future tech studies but finds it hard to adjust to the mores and expectations of this rich and beautiful world, especially when she is assigned a personal slave. The world-building in Femme is rich, multi-layered and delicious. There is an underlying romantic tension and social dissonance that gradually builds up a climax and a realistic (and satisfying) conclusion. By turning social stereotypes and traditional gender roles upside down, Femme makes one think.  I reviewed it here.

That’s the first 6 of my 12 picks for 2016.  I’ll continue with the next six in the next post.

I’d love you to tell me, have you watched or read any of these spec fic pieces? What did you think of them? What are your best reads and views for 2016.

Jeanette

Cross-post to Fantasy Trekkers.