Review: Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

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I was so surprised and delighted by Willful Machines by Tim Floreen! I saw a friend recommend it and say it was underrated — and they were 100% right. It’s so emotional, complex, and relatable and entirely underrated! Although it does have an ending that is rather destined to set you biting your nails and crying desperately for a sequel. But that’s the kind of reaction a good book should give, right?!?

The story is set in the not-so-distant future and centres around the president’s son who goes to an elite boarding school. And he’s not doing very well at all. His mental health is declining with the grief and anxiety of losing his mother, and the effort of keeping his sexuality hidden from his very conservative father. He throws himself into building robots — even though robots are the reason his mother is dead and the world is in an uproar. There’s a robot computer virus, named Charlotte, who seems intent on destroying people. And it’s possible that her next target is the president’s own son, Lee.

I love how it was set in a world that is very similar to ours, but just with a little more tech. Like really clever robots. Dude, I need a clever robot to go search for my continually missing left socks. There are cleaning droids and mechanical creatures that just may or may not be manipulated into evil. #exciting

The topic of “choices” comes up a lot, and I really appreciated this discussion. Lee firmly believed you can’t choose aspects of yourself, which is so true and so important to say! You can’t choose your sexuality. You can’t choose to be depressed or not. There are a lot of misconceived notions that those are choices, so I loved how the book delved into the matter. It was also intensely interesting how it talked about being predisposed to make a choice. (Like if your culture likes a certain type of food, won’t you? And if your parents have a certain belief system, won’t you be more likely to adopt it?) And doesn’t that make humans similar to programmed machines at times? It was an interesting discussion and I appreciated how the book made me think.

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The characters were also adorable and tragic creatures. Lee was amazing! I adored him! Being the son of the president is hard enough (with constant bodyguards eliminating craved-for privacy) but he’s also antisocial, a complete nerd, and very very anxious. He’s also very firmly in denial of being gay, in case his father finds out. I loved his character development and how relatable and dorky he was!

The romance is equally adorable. When Lee meets Nico, he’s captivated by this loud-laughing, Shakespeare-quoting, Chilean, perfectly handsome boy who eats anything and everything and will sneak out at midnight to throw sparklers down a cave in a mountain. I can’t even with how cute they were together.

The writing is excellent and I flew through the book in a few hours! It keeps you rooted to the page, perfectly weaving together Lee’s personal life at school and the robot crises of the world, and the conspiracy theories against the president and his son. It’s more of a boarding-school-story than a hair-raising action adventure, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. It focuses on emotional writing and character development. And then it leaves you clutching your paperback and breathing fast at the end as everything goes perfectly dreadfully wrong.

Willful Machines is splendidly cute, heartfelt, and bittersweet. It has characters to root for, mysteries to solve, and an open ending that’ll leave you thinking. It didn’t shy away from tough topics and I felt the diversity was excellent and perfectly represented. I loved the creepy old-fashioned school setting and the slightly sinister robot undertone.

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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After the amazing phenomenal experience that was reading Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, I was obviously desperate to get my clammy paws on the sequel. I get nervous reading sequels, because what if it doesn’t live up to the incredibleness that was the first book?!? But Gemina was an absolutely mind-blowing book. It had gut-punching plot twists, blood and bullets, and that gorgeous and complicated visual formatting we know and love from this series.

And I think it probably has left many readers screaming into the void in pain and agony while waiting for the finale. I just have this hunch.

Gemina begins with two new characters from those in the first book. This time we have Nik and Hanna. Their relationship is love-and-war as Nik has an insurmountable crush on Hanna, but she, as the captain of the station’s daughter, is dating a respectable officer. Nik is son of cutthroat Mafia organisation that sells drugs (which Hanna buys covertly) so you can imagine that getting them together is not going to be easy. Since the story takes off outlining what’s happening at the Heimdall Jump Station while the journey in Illuminae is still going on, we get to see the evil Baytech company infiltrating the station and trying to take it down. Except they didn’t count on Nik and Hanna being a lot better at fighting then their given credit for.

I was worried I wouldn’t love these new characters as much as I adored Kady and Ezra from Illuminae…but I shouldn’t have been concerned! Hanna and Nik were fantastic and complex and dynamic. One of my favourite things about Hanna was how she drew quirky things in her journal, liked fashion, and did things like draw hearts around her and her boyfriend’s name…but then she was also skilled at physical combat training and military strategy. She was absolutely full of badass surprises.

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Nik was equally wonderful, with a dash of tragic bad-boy on the side. As part of the Mafia, it’s dubious as to exactly what illegal activities he’s been involved with. Which does create some questions. And tensions. He’s about 90% sass and 10% sadness, which he covers with sass, and his crush on Hanna was equal parts adorable and pathetic. This is unrequited love at it’s finest. I also loved Nik because when something bad happened, he reacted like any normal teen would. He’s not bullet proof and he’s emotional.

And bad things happen to everyone all the time, so this book is, in a word: stressful.

The plot has a similar set up to the first book: two teens have to save a lot of people on a dire countdown. This time we have psycho soldiers from Baytech sneaking about and trying to utilize the wormhole for their own dark needs. There are freaky monsters in the vents and clever guerrilla warfare tactics.  Nik and Hanna are trying to save people and also stop the jump-station from exploding as the wormhole collapses. There’s clever traps, traitors, child computer geniuses, Mafia families, an irritating pop song, explosions, murder, and plenty of sass.

The plot twists are also my favourite part! This series never fails to blow my mind with the genius creativity. Although be ye warned: the cliffhanger is not kind.

And of course I must mention the art! This series is done in a very unique type of formatting, which involves pages of art, interestingly done typography, transcripts, interviews, and amazing galactic explosions across the page. The added affect of art by NYT bestselling author, Marie Lu, was also incredible and so cute. I would also thoroughly recommend the audiobook as it’s dramatised and features many actors and sound effects that makes it feel like a movie in your head!

Gemina was everything a sequel should be. It was exciting and terrifying and had my heart pounding several times wondering who’d make it out alive. The kill-count is high and the nerves are exploding. It’s not your traditional sci-fi story, which I think makes it the best kind.

Review: Spark by Rachael Craw

9781922179623Spark by Rachael Craw is an amazing superpowers origin story that focuses on friendship and punching things. Two fantastic things to read about honestly. Sure it fell into a few typical superpower themed cliches, but it still managed to be exciting and engaging! It featured a simple magnificent plot twist that is guaranteed to blow your mind and knock your socks off simultaneously.

Evie is basically an average girl, living with her single aunt after her mother died. But turns out she’s actually a Shield — an experiment gone wrong leaving her with DNA that means she’s programmed to protect her best friend from any killers. Her body starts changing until she looks like a superpowered warrior and she starts training for the oncoming surprise threats. Except she gets a little distracted by her best friend’s brother — Jamie. Who, being a Shield too, is out of bounds. Ha.

This concept of DNA modified humans who have compulsively programmed to protect people was extremely awesome. It made them into almost “default heroes” but just to their one charge. There were plenty of sci-fi themed DNA discussions which kind of befuddled me, but a more science-attuned reader would probably adore.

Evie is also a fantastic narrator! She’s deep in grief when the book starts and not sure what her life is going to look like now that she’s without her mother. But as her Shield tendencies start activating and she finds a whole secret organisation is waiting for her — things take on a very different and exciting turn. I only got annoyed at the emphasis on physical beauty. With only a few weeks of combat training, she’s suddenly fit and athletic and super-model level gorgeous. All the superpowered people in this book are very carefully emphasised to be gorgeous and I thought it was a little shallow. But if that was the only drawback in pages of action, great dialogue, and superpowers — then I think we’re still doing well!

The romance was also slow-burn and intriguing. Especially since it’s “forbidden”. And I love how friendship still was a major focus! Evie is destined to protect Kitty and they have a very close bond. Although Evie does gravitate towards Jamie. Of course. Evie and Jamie had a “thing” when they were younger, but it rekindles in the book. I liked Evie and Jamie’s relationship and it was well balanced with training and action scenes, school and family dynamics.

The ending features incredible plot twists of awesome. Intense awesome. I didn’t see any of the twists coming and it opened up so many questions to be explored in the next novel, Stray. I’m desperate for answers and therefore needed the sequel ASAP. Because sure we have people bound by DNA to protect others…but there are also those bound by DNA to kill certain people. The plot just kept getting more interesting and mysterious which is a definite win for me.

Definitely try Spark if you’re looking for… superpowers, fight scenes, friendship, and an awkward heroine who finds out she has Mr. Incredible level strength and isn’t quite sure what to do with it.

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Review: Starflight by Melissa Sanders

Starflight by Melissa Sanders was an incredibly fun surprise! I didn’t have very high expectations because the author’s previous book, Alienated, was cute but a bit unimpressive for me. Yet Starflight?!? IT WAS AMAZING. It was like Cinder meets Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and it was stuffed with action and hilarious dialogue. This is the kind of quality intergalactic space shippy books I want to board immediately.9781484723241

I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi (space opera?) before this. So I literally have nothing to compare it to. But Starflight is basically about Solara who is a criminal and Doran who is son of rich galaxy company dude and how they end up working for each other — and hating each other. Solara is a mechanic. And Doran is an entitled selfish grape who gradually shows he is a small gooey chocolate pudding whom I adored. They get caught up in space-chases, get into trouble with pirates, and end up with assassins hunting them down. As you do.

The hate-relationship between Solara and Doran was definitely my favourite. I love this romance trope! It starts off as aggressive arguments and the small wish to boot each other off the galaxy….and then warms to an adorable romance I can’t help but root for. Plus there’s plenty of excitement around them. Doran treats Solara like a peasant to begin with, and then she stun-guns him and cons him into working for her. They fight endlessly and it’s hilarious.

“Scoot over,” she whispered.
The mattress shook with his movement.
“A little more,” she said.
“If I get any closer to the wall,” he hissed, “I’ll have to buy it dinner.”

The plot is monstrously action filled too. There’s definitely no chances to be bored because you’re too busy wondering what calamities these two are going to accidentally throw themselves into next. They’re either zooming through space, running from assassins, getting conned into pirate marriages, getting drunk tattoos, stealing things, or complaining about the lack of bed space on board the ship. And the writing was just downright pleasant to devour. It made 3rd person so personal and I really connected to both Solara and Doran. I can’t even choose a favourite.

Also it has amazing witty banter! I laughed out loud. (Which doesn’t happen very often for me.) The sarcastic quips were amazing and clever and definitely had me wishing I could think up such snarky comebacks.

“Demarkus invites you to join his table.”
Solara’s prideful grin faltered. She wanted nothing to do with Demarkus. Besides, nobody had told her about pirate dinner protocol. She might use the wrong fork and start a war.

 

I’ve definitely found a new favourite sci-fi book that I’ll basically recommend to everyone of ever. It’s such a fabulous feeling to finish a book and just feel so happy about how awesome it was. It was fun and exciting and hilarious and I loved the complex characters and their amazing development. The writing was perfection. My only sadness is that this is a standalone! I could’ve read a ton more books about these characters!

 

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Review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the second book in the Reckoners trilogy — and even better than the first. Which doesn’t often happen right?! But no sequel-blues here, folks. This book was just an explosion of PURE AWESOME. It was so exciting and fantastic I couldn’t help but flail and get thoroughly emotionally invested. I am so ridiculously addicted to this series. Steelheart w9780575104495as amazing; but Firefight just took it up to the next level. I suspect this is because it’s about superheroes and has excellent writing and the best protagonist of ever.

“My name is David Charleston. I kill people with super powers.”

So where do I start?!? The plot was perfect. It’s set in a different city, Babylon Restored, which is all water and apartment buildings filled with trees and jungles. There’s glowing spraypaint and magical fruit and it was all written so visually I could basically see the city. I’m in awe of the aesthetics here!

We also have a new set of villains with different, complex powers to fight and destroy. There is not even a second of rest here.

The characters are permanently spectacular. OF COURSE. Although I did mess Cody and Abraham. Only Tia, Proff, and David go on this little escapade. And, unfortunately, Proff is still my least favourite character. He’s complex, alright, and after the staggering reveal of his secrets at the end of book 1, I do understand why he’s so gruff and cold at times. But he definitely abused his position of authority and it got me so riled up and angry. ARGH.

9780385743587I still adore David — and he’s possible he’s gotten even more awesome. He’s one of my new favourite protagonists! He’s funny and brave and flawed and stupid and he’s SUCH A DORK. His metaphors are worse. (He romantically yells “YOU’RE LIKE A POTATO” and that made me laugh for only 9 hours.)

And let’s not forget how INTENSE the plot is. There’s a lot of mystery elements since the supervillain in control — Regalia — has basically lured Proff and his small team of Reckoners to the city. Is she looking for a fight or is there a deeper plot at hand? The story keeps you guessing the entire time and I loved this! I couldn’t put it down!

Plus it barely lets the action rest — and when it does we get treated to pages of hilarious banter and David’s self-depreciating commentary on the world.

There is much shooting, but also a lot of stretching people to their limits. And pain. And death. And explosions. I love how David is continually pushing the boundaries and getting everyone to think and plan. He’s underestimated so much, but basically nothing stops him. Plus the plot twists in this one live up to the amazing ones we got in the first book.

I cannot get enough of this series! And I’m eternally grateful that the final book, Calamity, is already out and I’ll be able to devour it soon. Because — hello — cliffhanger? I’m in mild pain needing answers here.

 

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Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson basically flawed me with its intense, indiluted awesome. Until now I hadn’t read a superhero book that lived up to the films. But this?!? This is everything. If you’re a superhero geek, TRUST ME — you need this book in your life. The plot twists! The adorkable narrator! The guns! The action! The car chases! The explosions! It had everything.9780385743563

The story is about David, whose father was killed by the infamous super-villain Steelheart, and David’s life is basically: revenge revenge revenge. He joins up with a small rebel force, called the Reckoners, and they make a plot to take down Steelheart.

It’s about superheroes and villains. In fact, super “hero” doesn’t so much enter the story, because the premise is those with powers are all EVIL.  It’s like “what if Superman appeared and was a jerk and liked to kill people and be terrifying?” But it turns tropes on its head and impressed me a million percent.

I absolutely adored the protagonist: David. He’s such a DORK. And a NERD. He is absolutely the worst at metaphors and he has the BIGGEST dorky crush on one of his team mates. He tries so hard. He’s a shaker and a stirrer — a visionary. And while he’s totally hellbent on revenge on Steelheart, it doesn’t turn him into a bitter mushroom. Which was a pleasant surprise to read!

A quick run down on the Reckoner team?! (They go from city to city in the destroyed American states and kill supervillains).

  • Proff: He’s the “leader” so the gruff, commanding, type who is full of secrets and probably a tragic mysterious backstory. He honestly was not my favourite, but he did lead his team well.
  • Tia: She’s the hacker and the behind-the-scenes intelligence.
  • Abraham: He’s French/Canadian and seriously AWESOME. He’s like soft spoken but carries this HUGE MACHINE GUN and I believes in the Faith.
  • Cody: He’s the comic relief and is like American, but also Scottish. Um, it works. Somehow. He’s always talking about devils and pixies and cracking everyone (aka me) up.
  • Megan: She’s the seriously coldhearted, better-than-thou girl on the team (that of course David crushes on) who is just AMAZING at everything she does but really hard to make friends with.

9780575104044I thought all the characters were really well written and complex. Which is amazing considering it was quite a large cast!

Also the superheroes were admirable because they had unique powers. It wasn’t all just “he can fly and is invisible” blah blah. They had ones who could turn the sky dark, or controlled with shadows, or made illusions, or could predict attacks or could regenerate or etc etc. It was so interesting and I loved that.

Also another thing that stood out to me was that: I appreciated how the adults were running the show. I mean, David might’ve been a bit of a suppressed genius there, with his plans on how to take down Steelheart, but the ADULTS were the ones with the big weapons and getting things done. And it felt super realistic. It’s still YA and David was still doing so much cool stuff. But I appreciated the realism.

Also the whole mystery aspect of “what is Steelheart’s weakness??!” drove me CRAZY wanting answers. And you don’t get to know until the end!

Also I cannot recommend the audiobook enough. (Which you can purchase here!) The narrator captures David’s personality perfectly and is just extremely pleasant to listen to! He also captures the accents of the rest of the team and makes the whole experience like a movie in your head.

If you’re looking for a superhero/villain book that’s unique and exciting and complex — this is for you. It’s realistic and talks science and gun mechanisms and sets up clever masterminded traps. It’ll make you laugh! And then have you clutching the pages hyperventilating over the plot twists. Oh and the cliffhanger? Let’s just say you’ll want Firefight on hand.

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Review: This Shattered World (Starbound #2) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

9781743319703Since I recently reviewed These Broken Stars in all its incredible starry glory, I feel like we need a follow-up review of the sequel: This Shattered World! Because these books are EXCELLENT. And the third book (Their Fractured Light) comes out in December! SO SOON. I am anticipating it greatly by flailing and also planning to be an astronaut. But anyway. Onto the review!

This Shattered World is about Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac. Jubilee is in the army and crushing rebellions and, um, Flynn is the rebellion. They make an unlikely duo and get caught by people who want to kill them and they’re sassy and the plot is exciting and — it’s basically all-round interesting. No dull moments! And you never quite feel safe reading it, with this military people with their trigger-fingers and the rebels who will do anything to get their freedom back. I loved that it kept me glued to the page!

I loved This Shattered World, but I loved These Broken Stars (#1) a little bit more. The first book set such a high standard and I connected to the characters so much. But that doesn’t mean the sequel wasn’t incredibly exciting and intense. This Shattered World had a strong military vibe, conspiracy theories, and dug into politics. I did miss all the banter that book #1 had though. Although Jubilee is utterly kick-butt and you would not want to mess with her. Not ever. It’s also diverse! Which is so glorious. Jubilee is half Chinese. Flynn is Irish.

Oh, and remember the dastardly “whispers” from book #1? How everyone was going crazy because of them? WELL. HERE THEY ARE AGAIN. There’s more explanations this time and the sickness was referred to as “the fury”. Which is nefarious and evil.

Everyone also acted very mature. It’s still YA and the characters are around 18, but gwash, I guess the army living in outer-space ages you? I loved their kick-butt attitudes and confidence and maturity, but they felt very too old.

The romance between Jubilee and Flynn was definitely adorable and didn’t take over the plot. It’s more about war.  Jubilee and Flynn have similar personalities and their relationship basically started out as, “HEY I HATE YOU, YOU LITTLE REBEL.” Then guns firing. Glares flying. All the good romantic stuff. I loved their character development and how their relationship changed.

“Letting yourself get hurt isn’t brave, love. Brave is protecting others from hurt.”

I loved this book and it’s one I definitely have plans to reread. It was so rich in detail and so packed with conspiracy and secrets and broken hearts. I loved the characters and I was engrossed with the ending. There are some serious twists that will leave you gasping for breath. (I’m beginning to rely on Kaufman and Spooner to deliver mind blowing twists! They haven’t let me down yet!) This series has definitely sold me on sci-fi and I’m absolutely dying for the next book’s release.

 

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Getting serious about Series # 2 – The Warlock’s Child – Guest post with Sean McMullen

Book 1 - BURNING SEA - front coverBy now, the last of those cleverly crafted Book Week costumes are washed and tucked away. Authors and illustrators all over Australia are reaching for mugs of hot lemon and honey tea to soothe raw throats, and children are undoubtedly curling up with pen and paper or else reading a brand new story, inspired by their last week of close encounters of a literary kind. It’s why we as (children’s) authors write, to be read and to in doing so open vistas, create possibilities and share adventures.

Fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk author, Sean McMullen subscribes to this notion with the same fervor he injects into his trillions of fantastical tales. Together with well-known fantasy author, Paul Collins, he has penned yet another epic fantasy series, The Warlock’s Child. I have yet to complete the adventure with Dantar and Velza but if the hackle-raising cover by Marc McBride (he is the illustrator of the Deltora Quest series) is anything to go by, then I cannot wait to jump on that ship with them!

Sean was kind enough to share his thoughts on how reading fantasy can seriously hone a child’s reading skills.

FANTASTIC READING

Sean McMullen

What is the The Warlock's Child Bk 2most powerful tool that can be used to boost literacy in kids? In my opinion, it is persuading them to read voluntarily, and fantasy has a lot going for it when it comes to alluring, rather than forcing, students to open books.

While studying medieval literature for my PhD I discovered the origins of fantasy’s powerful combination of adventure, action and excitement, romance and magic. Around 1140 the old-style chanson de geste was being shouldered aside by the newly invented roman courtoise. The chansons were dominated by men fighting, but the romans had a good balance between male and female characters, and included romance. There were still quests and battles to maintain the excitement, but warriors generally did their great deeds for their ladies, rather than some boring king.

The roman courtoise was a sensation, and soon you were not cool if you did not read. In many tournaments, real knights dressed up and fought knights from books, and real kings and queens presided as King Arthur and Queen Guenevere. Medieval kings and queens pretending to be medieval kings and queens? It happened.

Warlock #1 launch photo
Marc McBride, Paul Collins, Sean McMullen

What worked for medieval readers still applies today’s schools, but accessibility is now the issue. When Paul Collins and I were planning The Warlock’s Child series we were careful to keep it reader friendly. Instead of hundred thousand-word doorstopper, the story is spread over six less daunting books. The first five end on cliff-hangers, encouraging kids to keep reading. The perspective is shared between two teens, Dantar and his sister Velza, avoiding gender bias.

Book One, The Burning Sea, opens with a dragon attacking a ship, and in the first five thousand words we also witness a court martial for cowardice, learn that there are spies on the ship, and discover the importance of fire prevention at sea – the hard way. In short, it’s fast and exciBooks 1-6 - THE WARLOCK'S CHILD - all coversting.

Thus readers are encouraged to begin the series and to keep reading, yet it is fantasy, which is often criticized for being escapist. Is this bad? When asked this question on a teen literacy panel my daughter – then twelve – replied, “If the real world follows you into all your reading, then you might as well not bother reading.” Fantasy can provide much needed respite from the real world, and when kids return to this world their reading skills are always sharper.

The Warlock’s Child is out now with new titles being released throughout 2015 by Ford Street Publishing imprint Hybrid Publishers.

 

 

 

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

9780091956134This was of the funnest books I can remember reading in a long time. Gripping, funny and told in a totally original and authentic voice you can’t help but be hooked in by this part-Apollo 13, part-Castaway survival story.

Mark Watney is an astronaut, part of the third manned mission to Mars. Six days after landing on Mars a fierce dust storm forces Mark and his crew mates to abandon the planet. However during the evacuation Mark is left behind. Now he must work out how is going to survive on Mars until the next resupply mission. In two years time.

The majority of the book is told via Mark’s log entries detailing his survival. The log is written in a beautifully sarcastic tone where outright panic is only a hair’s breath away. There is plenty of self-deprecating humour and the log format works perfectly in detailing Mark’s day-to-day survival.

Mark is completely stranded. He has no way of communicating with his crew mates or NASA. He only has enough food and water to last half the time he needs. Mark puts to work his skills as an engineer and botanist to figure out if he can survive. The how is one of the most entertaining reads you will come across. Full of insane (but practical) problem solving you are glued to the book wanting to find out how Mark gets himself out of each new predicament he finds himself in. I defy anyone to be able to put this down once they start!

Buy the book here…

Review – The Human Division by John Scalzi

Firstly, WOW! John Scalzi has already blown my mind with Redshirts and the previous Old Man’s War series but his new book is something else. For any literary snob that still looks down on genre writers I pity you because the way Scalzi has constructed this novel is something to behold.

The Human Division was originally released in 13 parts, over 13 weeks. Think your favourite TV series and you’ll understand the structure. Each part is an episode that pretty much stands alone but bound together forms a story arc that comes to a climax in the season finale. I really wanted to read this week by week but, for one reason or another, my reading life didn’t seem to make room. But just like a TV series I totally binged on all 13 episodes at once. And having now been “renewed” for a “second season” I will definitely be reading week-by-week next time.

Each of Scalzi’s previous Old Man’s War books have explored different aspects of the universe he has created; The Colonial Defense Force’s recruiting process, their special forces and colonization. In The Human Division Scalzi explores the murky and high stakes world of diplomacy in the universe. Not only must the CDF navigate delicate negotiations with hundreds of different alien species they also must deal with The Conclave who are trying to put an end to unmitigated colonization. This is complicated by the fact that, thanks to John Perry, Earth wants more of a say now in universal affairs.

Harry Wilson, who was a back seat character in the previous books takes centre stage but the episodic structure means we also explore and visit many different characters, old and new, as well as a variety of fascinating, hilarious and intriguing storylines. I loved the previous four books in this series but I think this might be my favourite novel of all. Scalzi’s universe contains a rich plethora of stories to explore each more beautifully complicated than the last and I’m chomping at the bit for season two!

Buy the book here…

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book for ages – Winner of the 2013 Hugo Award

9780575134300

Review – Redshirts

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book for ages. I literally chuckled through the entire book. I’m not a sci-fi reader but am a big sci-fi watcher which works perfectly for this book.

Whether we watched it religiously or not at all we are all pretty familiar with Star Trek. And we’re also familiar with the coloured shirts they wore in the 60s TV series. Captain Kirk, Spock and co wore the blue and yellow ones. And the poor unfortunates who usually got killed off wore the red ones. Well this is the redshirts’ story…

The novel opens like your classic sci-fi story. We are introduced to five characters who are about to the join the crew of the starship Intrepid. However these new crew members quickly realize that all is not well with Intrepid and its crew. Firstly there seem to be an above average number of highly dangerous “Away Missions” where a crew member is nearly always killed except for 5 officers who always manage to escape being killed or narrowly avoid death. The rest of the crew do anything they can to avoid these “Away Missions” and try to hide whenever one of the 5 officers enter a room. The new crew members, led by Ensign Andrew Dahl, soon learn that there is more going on than bad luck and the colour of their shirts.

“Avoid the narrative”

This works on so many levels it may possibly give you a headache as you try to get your head around it. It is a great sci-fi adventure with lots of action and tech. It is also great satire that will have you laughing out loud wherever you’re are reading it. And it is totally brilliant metafiction. It breaks down the sci-fi genre, the writing process and the omnificence of the narrative. John Scalzi does all this while entertaining the pants off you.

The novel finishes with three codas. I had be warned off reading the codas and had heard some dissatisfaction about the end but I think they are great. They take the metafiction up another notch and if your brain wasn’t already spinning enough they give it another few, fast rotations.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read and wish it had come out in Australia at the same time as the US rather than 6 months later. But in saying that it is a perfect book for Summer reading and having a good laugh out loud. And it may lead me to read a bit more sci-fi.

Buy the book here…

Getting published? Not a fantasy says Harper Voyager

Last week I posted about some good opportunities for aspiring writers who wanted to see their work published and also to achieve the far more elusive goal of actually getting paid for it.

While writing can be its own reward, sometimes it’s nice to see some value placed on your work by others too (and even more so when you could do with the cash to buy yet more books or perhaps a bigger set of bookshelves). When it comes to writing, I’m firmly with Stephen King who once said, “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Want to get your writing talent out there and have a whole manuscript gathering dust? Since posting that blog, I’ve had another excellent opportunity brought to my attention. Anyone who writes fantasy and science-fiction can tell you it’s a particularly difficult area to get any way into. But a door has just opened: for the two weeks between October 1st and October 14th, and for the first time in a decade, Harper Voyager Books will be looking at unsolicited submissions.

Harper Voyager Books is the science fiction and fantasy imprint of publishing behemoth HarperCollins, and if you make it into their ranks, you would be in some exalted company. They currently publish such huge names as George R. R. Martin, Raymond E Feist, Sara Douglass and, my personal favourites, the always excellent Robin Hobb and my best new find of this year, Joe Abercrombie.

They recommend you have a good look at what sort of books they are already publishing to see if your work would be a good fit, but they are casting a deliberately broad net on this one.

“We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. We’ve already been publishing digital originals from our existing Harper Voyager authors, and are thrilled to expand this wider to welcome new authors and voices to Harper Voyager. The growth of eReaders and e-books have created an exciting new opportunity that allows us to begin increasing the number and diversity of our speculative fiction list. And speculative fiction readers are the most savvy early adopters so we’re keen to provide our readers with the best ebooks possible.”

Manuscripts should be between 80,000 to 120,000 words and should be completed. For more information, see  and remember, it’s only open for 2 weeks.

Still on the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk/YA/I have really got to stop with the genres already theme,  if you’re in Melbourne tonight, Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer is being launched.  It’s free to attend, but you need to let them know you are coming. Jay has already written an excellent series of posts on how to get from scribbling in your spare time to having three major publishers try to buy your debut offering, so there could be pearls of wisdom to be had if you can get there before one – or five – too many celebratory drinks have been had.

Navigating the next book maze (sci-fi and fantasy edition)

Regular readers will know about my slightly unnerving love of a good spreadsheet about books but even more thrilling than seeing all that data is seeing that vast amounts of information presented really well. And when that data is a fantastic compilation of recommendations on what to read based on complex choices that you can actually make, well… I’m not going to stop frothing in glee anytime soon.

You had me at "Don't Panic".

It all started when NPR decided to make a list 100 science fiction and fantasy books of all time, as compiled by its listeners and readers. NPR (National Public Radio) is a US news organisation that also collates independent radio stations. Its plentiful selection of thoroughly diverting best-seller and reading lists are a collaboration by listeners and the American Booksellers Association, who compile their lists from 500 independent bookstores in the USA.

They asked their audience to nominate titles for a top-100 list of the best science fiction and fantasy ever written. The response was good — almost 5,000 people posted to the site with thousands more offering suggestions on Facebook. NPR put together an expert panel to narrow the list to a manageable field of a few hundred titles and then threw this list open to the polls again. What they ended up with was a Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy reads.

All very well, but science fiction fans at SFsignal thought they could go one better. Taking the massive list and analysing it, they designed a flowchart guide that enables you to browse through the recommended books by making choices – are you in the mood for fantasy or sci-fi (or both!), would you like to read books from the past or the future, are you in the mood for politics or philosophy etc, and you navigate your way to your next great read.

It’s pretty immense (have a look at the full-size version here). According to the designer it is the largest flowchart they have ever seen attempted.

“There are (obviously) 100 end points and over 325 decision points. For people with lower resolution monitors, netbooks, or tablets, this 3800 x 2300 image is going to a scroll-fest. But it’s totally worth it.”

After spending about 20 happy minutes scrolling and exploring, I agree, both with the comments on sheer size and it being worth it. They’ve since released an easy-to-navigate interactive version which has both eaten up the tiny amount of spare time not taken by the Rugby World Cup and ensured that Boomerang Books are going to enjoying most of my pay-cheque for the foreseeable future. Read, navigate and enjoy – just don’t blame me if your book collection is exponentially bigger by the end of the day.