Monthly Roundup – August through December 2015

So, my monthly roundups haven’t been quite so monthly lately. I thought I’d get back into it with a quick canter through the latter part of 2015. This will, by necessity, not be comprehensive, however to give a sense of what I liked.

Books read

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson is a bit of a dissection of the generation ship trope in science fiction. It points out a flaw that I’ve often thought about in terms of terraforming other worlds (in fact, I touch on it in my flash fiction piece The Regersek Zone – see my bibliography if you’d like to have a read). Aurora is a bit hard going at times – it took me a few attempts to get into it. But well worth reading – I suspect it is going to be one of those books that define the 2015 reading year for science fiction.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin is set in the world of the Song of Ice and Fire series, but is a prequel of sorts. It tells the story of the knight Ser Duncan (Dunk) and his squire Egg. It was very enjoyable, but I suspect you need to need to be a fan of Game of Thrones to get the most out of it.

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marlier is another excellent book in her Blackthorn and Grim series. I’ll probably review it in totality for the Australian Women Writers’ reading challenge, but well worth a read if you like fantasy.

I’ll probably also review Zeroes by Scott Westerfield, Margo Managuan and Deborah Biancotti for the AWWC, but I’ll also encourage you to go out and buy the book now. Teenagers with super powers that walk a fine line between pathetic and awesome (a bit like the UK TV series Misfits if anyone saw that). I really enjoyed the book, looking forward to the rest of the series (for the writers in the audience, a great example of seamless writing from multiple authors).

Blonde Bombshell and Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages, both by UK writer Tom Holt, were both fun reads. Holt has a very amusing turn of phrase, and I enjoyed the books immensely as a result. They are not what I’d call page turners though – I took a break from both books for a few weeks without feeling compelled to return to the storyline.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig was my pre-seeing-The-Force-Awakens reading. None of the main characters from the movie franchise, but a very enjoyable read, especially to be introduced to the murderous and mostly unhinged robot Mr Bones. I quite enjoy Wendig’s blog posts on writing – he makes the case for the hybrid writer (sometimes published mainstream, sometimes indie) quite convincingly. I especially liked his reaction to be asked to write a Star Wars novel, which was to basically geek out about it. The novel is set between the sixth and seventh movies, and was quite enjoyable.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie rounded out the Ancillary series. A great space opera covering issues of gender, colonialism, empire and identity. It was not as affecting as the first book (Ancillary Justice), however a solid end to a very enjoyable series. If you haven’t read any, start at the beginning.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher is the first book in a new series (The Cinder Spires series). This is very commercial fiction, page turning and a rollocking storyline. I really enjoyed it. The setting (Aether-punk?) had a fresh feeling, and there were relatable characters and a sense of a wider, more complex world that I’m sure will be explored in future books. I’ll be sticking with it.

Speaking of commercial fiction, its current king, Brandon Sanderson, released a new book in his Mistborn series, Shadows of Self. I’ve liked these last couple of forays into the Mistborn world. The sense of a secondary world fantasy “moving on” and developing technology is interesting, and not enough people bring in the tropes of a Western into their fantasy. Sanderson doesn’t need my signal boosting, but for what its worth it is a good read. If you haven’t read any of the Mistborn books, it might be worth going back to the beginning (although you could probably read this one on its own).

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is a near future thriller about water shortages in southern America. The water knifes of the title are sought of secret agents tasked with either protecting or stealing water supplies for various states. A fascinating extrapolation on how environmental changes might impact the political landscape, as well as having fast paced action.

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier was the winner of Best Horror novel in the Aurealis Awards last year. Not normally my cup of tea, but the setting (based as it is very near my current living arrangements) and some damn fine writing made me glad the Aurealis judges pointed me in its direction. I’ll be writing a fuller review soon, but another book it is worth going out and grabbing.

Television

The Daredevil and Jessica Jones Netflix original series were probably the highlight of the last six months. I loved both series, grittier and darker as they were. Daredevil probably edged out Jessica Jones for me because of a stronger vein of dark humour that ran through it, but it was close run. If you like superhero TV these are both well worth watching, but don’t let your kids anywhere near them!

But on the subject of superhero TV you can let your kids near, The Flash and Supergirl are going strong. Both series seem pretty light weight after you’ve watched the Marvel Netflix original series, but it is still entertaining popcorn. Arrow is probably my favourite series in this linked up DC universe, but again I wouldn’t let my kids get close to it either.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has been good as well. Too much superhero TV!

It is not really speculative fiction, but I’ve also inhaled the cop-comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine recently. Laugh out loud funny.

Movies

Well, Star Wars: The Force Awakens of course. It flew by in a wave of nostalgia and action (lots of action – the action virtually never stops). I do have some thoughts, but I think I’ll hold back – it is still relatively early days and I appreciated people’s restraint in the few weeks it took me to see the film. I am thinking about going to see it again.

Spectre, the latest James Bond, was good but I must admit I kept waiting for a final twist that never really came. Still, everything you want in a James Bond film. Well worth seeing if you like the action/adventure space.

I also saw Mad Max: Fury Road which I really enjoyed. I can see the feminist angles to the movie which really added to the story. The special effects were great and the action unrelenting.

All the other movies I saw this year were aimed at my 7 year old, so I might not list them out.

Awards

Also, Ditmar nominations are open. For any overseas readers, the Ditmars are Australia’s speculative fiction awards that are via popular vote. Details are below – I’d like to encourage any eligible readers to get in and nominate some Australian work that they loved last year!

Ditmar Nominations Open

Nominations for the 2016 Australian SF (“Ditmar”) awards are now open and will remain open until one minute before midnight Brisbane time on Sunday, 31st of January, 2016 (ie. 11.59pm, GMT+10). Postal nominations must be postmarked no later than Friday, 29th of January, 2016.

The current rules, including Award categories can be found at:

http://wiki.sf.org.au/Ditmar_rules

You must include your name with any nomination. Nominations will be accepted only from natural persons active in fandom, or from full or supporting members of Contact 2016, the 2016 Australian National SF Convention. Where a nominator may not be known to the Ditmar subcommittee, the nominator should provide the name of someone known to the subcommittee who can vouch for the nominator’s eligibility. Convention attendance or membership of an SF club are among the criteria which qualify a person as “active in fandom”, but are not the only qualifying criteria. If in doubt, nominate and mention your qualifying criteria. If you received this email directly, you almost certainly qualify.

You may nominate as many times in as many Award categories as you like,although you may only nominate a particular person, work or achievementonce. The Ditmar subcommittee, which is organised under the auspices theStanding Committee of the Natcon Business Meeting, will rule on situations where eligibility is unclear. A partial and unofficial eligibility list, to which everyone is encouraged to add, can be found here:

http://wiki.sf.org.au/2016_Ditmar_eligibility_list

While online nominations are preferred, nominations can be made in anumber of ways:

1. online, via this form:

2. via email to ditmars@sf.org.au; or

3. by post to:

Ditmars 6 Florence Road NEDLANDS WA 6009 AUSTRALIA

Conclusion

Phew – that’s covered a lot of ground. As you can see my reading slowed significantly in the second half of the year. Work and family took me away from reading very much. So, what have you been reading/watching lately?

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

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