calissa: (Calissa)

Defying Doomsday, Tsana Dolichva, Holly Kench, science fiction, sci-fi, short stories, apocalyptic fiction,

Published: May 2016 by Twelfth Planet Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction
Source: Editor
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A few of the contributors are friends. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

Teens form an all-girl band in the face of an impending comet.

A woman faces giant spiders to collect silk and protect her family.

New friends take their radio show on the road in search of plague survivors.

A man seeks love in a fading world.

How would  you  survive the apocalypse?

Defying Doomsday is an anthology of apocalypse fiction featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists, proving it’s not always the “fittest” who survive – it’s the most tenacious, stubborn, enduring and innovative characters who have the best chance of adapting when everything is lost.

In stories of fear, hope and survival, this anthology gives new perspectives on the end of the world, from authors Corinne Duyvis, Janet Edwards, Seanan McGuire, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Stephanie Gunn, Elinor Caiman Sands, Rivqa Rafael, Bogi Takács, John Chu, Maree Kimberley, Octavia Cade, Lauren E Mitchell, Thoraiya Dyer, Samantha Rich, and K Evangelista.

I often have trouble with short story collections. I’ll read a story, then put the book down and wander off for a while. It takes me forever to get through an entire anthology, no matter how good the stories are.

I was surprised to find that wasn’t the case with Defying Doomsday. Robert Hoge’s introduction hooked me right from the start by providing an insightful context for the anthology and setting the tone. Corinne Duyvis then took over with an earth-shaking story that managed to be both angry and hopeful, confronting the casually discriminating attitudes that occur in most apocalyptic fiction and everyday life by examining the difference between equality and equity. It made for an epic start to the anthology.

Not all of the apocalypses featured in this anthology arrived with a bang. While some of them came out of nowhere (Did We Break the End of the World? by Tansy Rayner Roberts and I Will Remember You by Janet Edwards), others were a long time coming and seep in around the edges (Something in the Rain by Seanan McGuire). Some were brought on by aliens (In the Sky with Diamonds by Elinor Caiman Sands) and some humanity inflicted on itself (Five Thousand Squares by Maree Kimberley).

What the stories have in common is the characters’ need to survive. However, survival has no ending except one–and this is not that kind of anthology. How the stories manage this challenge was interesting. In some cases, the characters completed just one small step of their journey, survived one day that reflects the many other days ahead. Sometimes the characters managed to complete a bigger step–find a more permanent place of safety or a way to survive in numbers. Some even thrived, seeking out a way of overcoming their apocalypse for good. I’m not really a fan of open endings, so I was pleased to find the stories generally delivered a sense of resolution without needing to tie up every loose end.

The diversity of disabilities mirrored the diversity of apocalypses. There were characters who were blind or deaf. Some were missing limbs or had Crohn’s disease or were on the autism spectrum. Whatever the case, the characters were always more than their disability and were shown as fully realised people. In some stories, these disabilities posed additional obstacles to survival–such as ongoing treatment for cystic fibrosis or navigating an unfamiliar environment while blind. However, my favourite stories were the ones where the character’s disability was the reason for their survival, such as Emm’s missing legs allowing her to confuse the spiders in Samantha Rich’s Spider Silk, Strong as Steel.

I’d like to give a special mention to John Chu’s Selected Afterimages of the Fading. Written in second person, it tells the story of a genius who suffers from body dysmorphia, continually perceiving himself to be smaller and weaker than he actually is. This results in a compulsion to workout near constantly. I appreciated the way the character was both a genius scientist and a body-builder. I think the choice of second person illustrated his misperception well. And I adored that the story also manages to be a rather sweet gay romance.

There are a few stories that I felt were a little weaker than the rest, but overall it was a strong anthology and I enjoyed it even more than I enjoyed Kaleidoscope.


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Published: March 2015 by Momentum
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Aurora #4
Genres: Science fiction, space opera
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015
Available: Momentum ~ Amazon Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review contains spoilers for previous books.

After the dramatic events of the past few missions, Captain Saul Harris and Corporal Carrie Welles have found themselves on a path they never expected to be on. Carrie, more vulnerable than she’s ever been, is placed under immense pressure as she becomes the most valuable asset to the UNF. Meanwhile, Harris works with the Aurora crew to keep the UNF at bay and shield her from their nemesis, Sharley, who wants her now more than anything. As events unfold, Carrie comes face to face with the truth of her father’s past, while Harris is forced to confront the truth of his ancestor’s. The revelations leave them reeling in shock, but not as much as when the explosive truth behind UNFASP is finally revealed.

Harris and Carrie struggle with the difficult decisions they have to make, while the Aurora team endures their toughest challenge yet. Once again they come face to face with their enemies in a showdown that will rock them to their very core and change them all forever.

For the Aurora team, Centralis, is the beginning, and end, of everything …

At the end of Aurora: Meridian, Corporal Carrie Welles discovered she had been unknowingly impregnated with fraternal twins by an evil scientist. I admit I was a bit sceptical about how this would play out, feeling it was beginning to veer a bit into the territory of melodrama. However, I feel Aurora: Centralis handles its material deftly.

Centralis marks the halfway point for the Aurora series, being the fourth of eight expected books. As such, it is a transitional book and suffers a little bit from middle book sag. It’s a bit of slow, with lots of waiting around. Those expecting a lot of action will be disappointed. While there is some, the focus is mostly on the characters as they deal with their changing lives and relationships. I found this gave it a stronger space-opera feel. Centralis widens the scope of the series; more time passes than throughout the other books and we begin to see the bigger picture, the bigger threat. The stakes become higher.

Prior to this book, the plot threads involving the private lives of Captain Harris and Corporal Welles remained fairly separate; now, they begin to weave together. I enjoyed seeing this convergence. Until now, their intimacy has been more one of soldiers risking their lives for each other while nevertheless maintaining the appropriate distance as soldier and commander. In Centralis, they begin to see each other more as human beings… though perhaps not quite yet as friends.

I did have a couple of issues with the story, though these are difficult to discuss without giving too much away. I was rather disappointed in the treatment of Lieutenant McKinley. I felt his attitude was treated as misguided and something that must inevitably change. Only one person actually respected his wishes and that person had no power over the situation.

There were also some messages regarding children and parenthood I’m not entirely sure I was comfortable with.

On the whole, I found it an interesting set-up to the second half of the series. The ending packed quite an emotional punch and I’m keen to see how things play out from here.

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Published: September 2014 by Momentum
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Aurora #3
Genres: Science fiction, space opera
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015
Available: Momentum ~ Amazon Kobo

Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers for previous books.

Captain Saul Harris has found himself at a crossroads. Haunted by dreams of the dead, he fights to keep his soldiers safe as events spiral out of his control. But has his search for the truth led him to discover there is more to this mission of chasing Sharley than meets the eye?

Meanwhile, Corporal Carrie Welles seeks revenge. Consumed with demons from her past two missions, she goes rogue in the hope that her actions will end all the pain and suffering the Aurora team has endured. But will facing the enemy free them all from Sharley’s cruel grasp, or has she condemned herself to a suicide mission?

As the mystery of Sharley and UNFASP unfolds and lives hang in the balance, Harris and Carrie are forced to search deep inside themselves, and what they find will shock them

When the previous book left off, Carrie had just been unwillingly transferred off the Aurora after her inappropriate behaviour led to a conflict between other crew members. Her humiliation by friend and foe made Aurora: Pegasus a difficult read for me and I was a little bit wary of where Aurora: Meridian might lead.

The book picks up almost exactly where Pegasus left off–with Carrie aboard the Vortex in shock over her abandonment by the crew of the Aurora. While this despair is completely understandable, I was also glad to see Carrie doesn’t wallow in it. Instead, she lets it crystallise into a determination that drives the rest of the book. She vows to get revenge, not against the crew of the Aurora, but against the man that started it all: Dr Sharley. It is a dangerous plan, but it works in the context of the story because it is clear Carrie is acting from a place that isn’t entirely rational after all the trauma she has endured.

While there is a hardness to Carrie’s determination, it doesn’t strip her of compassion. This is especially made evident by Carrie’s attitude towards the crew of the Vortex. She does her best to avoid getting close her new crew members, partly to make her escape easier. However, she also quickly realises that her presence among them puts them at risk and she does not want to see any more of her crew members die. And even though she does her best to keep her distance, she isn’t entirely successful. This only made me like her more.

Interestingly, I liked Captain Harris a bit less. Throughout the series, there has been some underlying suggestions that the crew of the Aurora aren’t very far removed from the Jumbo super-soldiers they face. Sharley has had designs to convert them since the very beginning of the series and I can see why. Harris comes across as particularly territorial in this book, both in incidents with his family and in his early exchanges with Captain Lee of the Vortex. This didn’t particularly endear him. Sharley insists that Harris will make a great leader for his Jumbos, and perhaps he may. But I’m not convinced he is doing a good job with his leadership of the Aurora. To be fair, the circumstances have been difficult and I felt he began to redeem himself a little in the end.

Overall, I found Meridian to be a stronger book than Pegasus. The pacing has improved and I found it a bit less predictable. My one criticism is that the ending started to feel a bit soapy for me. I feel that Aurora: Centralis is going to need to tread carefully with its treatment of relationships. Nevertheless, I found Meridian an enjoyable read.

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calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

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I’m generally a glass half full kind of person. The year might be half over already, but I find myself looking ahead with excitement. There’s a lot to look forward to. The first anniversary of this blog is coming up in August. I have some exciting guest posts lined up as part of the Brewing Community series (the talented Stephanie Gunn will be joining me on Friday to get that started). Conflux 11 will be happening in October. And my birthday is coming up–which will hopefully mean more books and tea!

However, looking ahead doesn’t preclude also noting where I am and savouring what has been.

Reading Challenges

At the beginning of the year, I signed up for two year-long reading challenges. The first of these was the ubiquitous Goodreads reading challenge. I committed to reading 52 books–a fairly low bar. Here’s how I’m doing:

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So far, so good! I look set to exceed the target, though not by as much as I’d hoped.

aww-badge-2015The second challenge I signed up for was the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I signed up for the Miles level, which was to read at least six books and review four. I have managed to read and review seven books so far, so I have definitely met this challenge. I’ll be continuing to monitor it so that I can get a feel for what might constitute a more difficult challenge for next year.

Favourite Reads

Quantity is one thing, but what about quality? My favourite books of the year so far, in no particular order:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Okay, so this is a graphic novel series rather than a single book, but I’m counting it as one anyway. What’s not to love about science fantasy space opera? I adore the characters and every single volume makes me laugh. The last one wobbled a little for me, but I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios. This anthology of young adult speculative fiction features stories with a diverse array of protagonists. There were a few stories that didn’t appeal to me much, but on the whole I think it has deserved all the awards it has won.

Unbound and Free by Becca Lusher. I might be a little bit biased here, but Becca really does write some amazing stuff. Considered historical fantasy, Unbound and Free leans more towards fantasy than history–which suits me fine. Demero is a sweet boy and I really enjoyed reading about how he came to become one of the immortal Aekhartain. I’m reminded that I’ve left the next book in the series, Dark Rebel, languishing on Mt TBR for entirely too long.

Graced by Amanda Pillar. On the surface, this looked like clear-cut paranormal romance but turned into something entirely unexpected and lovely. There were some nice worldbuilding elements and a diversity of characters that I hope gets built on further in a sequel. It’s not without its problems but I appreciated the way it added some depth to the sub-genre.

The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles. A historical fantasy romance that was just pure fun. Again, it was the characters that drew me in, but the Victorian occult vibe was completely on the mark. I have been very restrained in not immediately devouring the rest of the series.

All in all, it has been a good year so far. How has 2015 been treating you?

 

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calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

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I love the New Year. I love the feeling of possibility, of all the exciting new projects awaiting me. I want to dive into all of them straightaway and it’s a challenge not to go overboard. This goes just as much for my reading as it does for any other aspect of my life. There are many great reading challenges getting underway and quite a few have tempted me. However, in the interest of keeping my workload manageable, I have decided I’m sticking to just two this year.

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The first is the ubiquitous Goodreads reading challenge. I’ve committed to 52 books. Considering I’ll be reviewing one book here most weeks, this should be achievable (now watch me jinx myself).

The other challenge is the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’ve signed up for the Miles level: read 6 books and review at least 4. Judging from 2014’s stats, I should easily manage this. However, I’m mindful of my tendency to over-commit. If I do well this year, I’ll definitely consider pushing harder in 2016.

I was sorely tempted by Shaheen’s Sequel Challenge. In her own words:

In 2014 I thought I’d try to get up to speed with all the series I’m currently reading, so I did this challenge as a way to reward myself every time I finished a book. The point system worked like this:

  • 1 point for Book Two of a series;
  • 2 points for Book Three of a series; and
  • 3 points for any additional books in longer series.

Tempting as it is, I think I’ll be leaving that one until next year.

I’m probably also in dire need of No Book Buying Challenge but I suspect foregoing both buying new books and borrowing library books is beyond my willpower.

What reading challenges have you signed up for this year?

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