Mini Review: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèli Clark

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Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History

Publisher: Tor.Com

Length: 110 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: August 21th 2018

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Instead, she wants to soar, and her sights are set on securing passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber. Her ticket: earning Captain Ann-Marie’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper keeps another secret close to heart–Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities concerning Creeper and Ann-Marie…

 

Book Review

Creeper is a young teenager living by herself on the streets of an alternate steampunk version of New Orleans. However, she doesn’t intend to live this way her entire life: her goal is to get the hell away from the streets and, hopefully from New Orleans altogether. Her opportunity to do so comes up when she hears about the disapperance of a scientist and how it might be linked with the Black God’s Drums, a mysterious weapon that could destroy New Orleans in the blink of an eye.

Creeper intend to use this information to flee the city, however, Oya, the goddess who constantly whispers in her ears have other wishes for her.

I haven’t been reading a lot of fantasy lately and I usually don’t like steampunk books. However, I read a couple of reviews gushing about this little novella (and I have to say that the gorgeousness of the cover may have helped as well), so I decided to request this book anyway since I usually like the range of novellas from Tor.Com.

I’m very glad I read this book because I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. It’s a fast read set in a fascinating city and the main character, Creeper, was an interesting one for sure. She’s young and sometimes a bit stubborn but she’s very clever, ambitious and full of good intentions. She knows what she wants and she isn’t afraid of fighting for it which made her perspective very interesting.

The world, the magic system and the constant presences of gods influencing the characters were all very interesting. I would definitely read other stories set in this world, Clark’s descriptions made it very easy for me to picture how everything looked and worked without ever feeling like too much.

My only issues with it were the fact that I wished the novella was a bit bigger because I found some events a bit rushed  towards the end. I also sometimes struggled a bit with the writing. Indeed a lot of characters don’t speak a very good English and, being set in New Orleans, they often use French words that they mispronounce as well and it made it hard for me to understand some of their sentences. It was oddly bothering me even more with the French words than the English ones (if you don’t know, I’m French and English isn’t my first language) . For example, the characters mentionned “Maddi grà” a lot and it took me quite a while to get that characters were talking about “Mardi Gras”. It’s not an issue for one word but it happened several times and it was a bit annoying.

Anyway, except for those little things, I quite enjoyed The Black God’s Drums and I would recommend this story. It is a very fun, fast-paced novella set in a fascinating world.

 

Recommended.

 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. My thanks to Tor.Com.
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Mini Reviews: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells & The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

As I predicted in my last post, the last couple of weeks were a bit busy, I traveled a lot and I recently went back to college so I read very little. However, now that things have gone back to normal, I shoud have a lot more opportunities to post!

At first, I didn’t think I would review the two Tor.Com novellas featured on this post because I didn’t have a lot of things to say about them. However, I think both of them are worth a read so I figured mini-reviews would be a good way to still recommend them to you.


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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 158 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: May 8th 2018

 

Artificial Condition is the second book in the Murderbot Diaries, a science fiction series of novellas about Murderbot, a security robot who loves watching soap-operas and hate talking to humans because they are 1) stupid and 2) tend to die a bit too easily.

In this installment, Murderbot is looking for clues to a brutal accident that happened while she was working. While traveling to its destination, Murderbot is going to meet ART, a very moody Research Transport vessel,  which may or may not have the same taste in dramas as them and might very well be a useful friend to have in order find the information it needs.

As with All Systems Red, I was a bit underwhelmed by the plot that I find a little predictable, however, I still very much enjoyed this new adventure. I really enjoyed the banter between ART and Murderbot, I thought they made a great team and I really liked their dynamic. Artificial Condition isn’t THE novella of the year but it was a pleasure to read and very fun overall. It’s the type of science fiction popcorn read  that I really like to indulge in once in a while and I will definitely be reading Rogue Protocol, the third novella in the series, when I will be needing a fun read!

3.5 stars


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Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 96 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication Date: January 23rd 2018

 

 

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander is a completely different thing from Artificial Condition. I liked it so much that, at first, I wanted to dedicate a whole post to it just to rave about it. However, when I tried to do so, I found myself incapable to write a coherent review of it. First of all, the plot is so strange that it almost impossible to write a synopsis that makes sense without spoiling everything.

To make it simple, let’s just say that this novella follows a series of interconnected stories and timelines and that it is about radioactive girls, elephants and a new world order. The Only Harmless Great Thing is an alternative history novella with a lot of original and thought-provocking ideas and it manages to do a lot more in 96 pages than most novels.

At first I was a bit thrown off by the writing style and the unusual structure but, after a couple of pages, I found myself completely immersed in the story and I devoured the entire thing in a sitting. It is definitely worth a read for the ideas and sheer originality of both the plot and the structure. One of the best novellas I had the chance to read for sure!

4.5 stars

Short Fiction Sunday |Clarkesworld #140

As I mentionned in my last post, I have been reading short fiction again which means that I can finally revive my (sort of) weekly segment on short fiction. Short Fiction Sunday is a way for me to share the short works I have been reading recently, it can be a review of a whole issue or just a couple of stories from different venues that I read. Today, this SFS is going to be focused on the May issue of Clarkesworld that I read and quite enjoyed last month. 🙂

 

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Original Fiction

A Vastness by Bo Balder ★★

A Vastness follows a scientist obsessed with a group of alien creatures. It is about searching for the meaning of your life and what you do when you finally realize what it is.

The premise was interesting but I had trouble engaging with the story. I don’t know if it was because of the writing or the characters, but something was off for me. Also I found the ending was a bit anti-climatic.

 

Not Now by Chelsea Muzar ★★★

A pro-robot family living in a city where most people are afraid of them find themself in an accident involving one. Indeed, one day they found their house crushed by a giant mechanical arm. Not Now follows the repercussion of this accident on the family and particularly how their daughter is affected. It is about loss, discrimination and growing up.

I liked the themes but the characters felt a bit too flat. The daughter was only anger and frustation and the parents were the definition of indifference. I understand how an accident could affect them but I don’t understand why they were made to be so one-dimensional.

 

Flying Oslige by Sally Gwylan ★★★★★

Set in alternative world where people are at war with either a) modified humans or b) humanoid aliens, Flying Oslige follows a woman who is just trying to survive the conflict. She is escaping her city with a small group of soldiers and we follow her journey as she tries to reach a safer place. But where can this be when you can trust no one?

This story was terrific, I never wanted it to end and I hope Gwylan is going to expand this universe with a novel, a short story collection or both! I highly recommend this one.

 

Farewell, Doraemon by A Que ★★★★★

Another very good one.

Farewell, Doraemon is about a man returning to his village after quiting his job as an illustrator in Beijing. However, it’s also about his childhood and his love for an anime, Doraemon, that changed his life when he was little. It’s also about friendship, love and the consequences of small actions.

This story is quite melancholic and full of nostalgia but I was completely immersed in it. I found the whole thing fantastic: the characters, the ideas, the pacing, the ending, everything felt right.

I believe I read something else by A Que in a previous issue of Clarkesworld and I remember really liking it as well so I should definitely check out other works by this author!

 

Reprints

 

Cold Comfort by Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty ★★★★

Cold Comfort follows a very pragmatic scientist who is not afraid to commit a bioterrorist attack in order to show the world how dangerous global warming is. I really, really enjoyed two things in this story. First of all, I loved the main character and how sure she was of her action and I also loved how the authors imagined the future and how humanity will adapt. It still managed to feel optimistic (it reminded me a bit of New York 2140!) I won’t say much more but I want to read more stories set in this world!

 

In Panic Town, On The Backward Moon by Michael Flynn ★

This is without a doubt my least favorte story of the issue. It follows a theft/murder investigation on a planet (Mars maybe? I don’t remember well which shows how much I cared!…).

It felt very dated and I just couldn’t connect with anything. It wasn’t the worst story ever but I forgot it immediatly after turning the page and that’s definitely not a good thing. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.

 

You can read all of those stories for free on the Clarkesworld website here.

 

I know that not a lot of people read short stories but they are amazing! They really are a way to discover new authors and sample their style. The format is also great to tell certain stories that wouldn’t work on a longer format.

Short Fiction Sunday | Clarkesworld #115

This week’s SFS is going to be a bit different since I read about 16 or 17 short stories and I don’t want to make an overlong and boring post. So this week’s I am going to review issue 115 of Clarkesworld because I just got a subscription to this magazine and this issue was particularly good.

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Cover Art: Robot in Love by Rudy Faber

 

As I said, it was a very strong issue, I disliked onlly one story, one was pretty meh but the other four were very good. What I love about short fiction is that it allows me to discover some new authors without having to commit to a novel. I don’t have much time so short fiction is perfect for me. I know that a lot of readers don’t enjoy this format, I can understand. Before 2014, I had never read any stories, in 2014, I read one, in 2015, I think that I only read three short stories and I don’t know what exactly happened in 2016 but I think that I must have read at least forty and I am now subscribed to a short fiction magazine.

Go figure.

Anyway, I should probably stop rambling now and actually start my review.

Clarkesworld is a short fiction that mostly focuses on science fiction even though sometimes they also publish fantasy. Each issue is divided in three categories, original fiction (where we can find new stories published by the magazine), reprint/classic fiction (where they reprint two stories previously published elsewhere) and non-fiction (where we can find interviews, short essays on different SFF things etc..).

ORIGINAL FICTION

Touring with the Aliens by Carolyn Ives Gilman **

It is story about a woman who has to guide an alien on a USA tour. Not gonna lie, it was my least favorite story of the issue, I’ve heard mixed things about Dark Orbit by Gilman and reading this story did not manage to convince me that I should pick it up. The writing was pretty dry, the characters, one dimensional and it was overall pretty boring. There was some interesting ideas about conciousness but really, it didn’t add anything new to the subject. Also the ending left me a bit angry because the main character does something very, very dumb and selfish at the end and it was extremely frustrating.

Balin by Cheng Quifan *****

I am very bad at giving synopsis in general and it is even worse with short fiction because I don’t want to spoil anything but I would say that it is a story about friendship, family, cultural identity, science, ethics and empathy.

The more I read from Chinese authors, the more I like their perspective on things. They usually have very different views and writing style from Western authors and I really appreciate that. This story was heartbreacking and beautiful and I can’t recommend it enough. If you enjoy Ken Liu’s fiction, you’l probably love this. (It is translated from Chinese by Ken Liu by the way and I feel like it was story that could have been written by him).

The Bridge of Dreams by Gregory Feeley ****

I don’t really know how to rate this one. I wasn’t a huge fan of the actual plot (it’s basically about someone building a bridge between Pluto and one of its moon) but the ideas and concepts were great. It is a reflexion on genders, time and humanity in a Norse mythology/space opera setting. I would be very interesting in reading other things written by him.

The Cedar Gird by Sara Saab ***1/2

This is a story about the consequences of the death of a child in an alien terrorist attack.

It was one of the most surprising story of the bunch. Yes, the pacing wasn’t great and I probably would have liked it more if it had been longer. I can excuse this because it is Saab third published short story and I think that she’ll probably improve a lot in the future. However, I really enjoyed how humans emotions such as grief and pain were portrayed and how believable the characters were. It was a beautiful story with some incredible lines and I really enjoyed it. It is extremely short (less than 5000 words) and as I said it could have been the double.
I am definitely looking forward to other things she’ll put out in the future!

CLASSIC FICTION

Old Friend by Garth Nix **1/2

This is the meh story I was talking about at the beginning, it wasn’t  bad  but it was pretty confusing and didn’t really understand the point it was trying to make (or if it was trying to make one at all). I never read any Nix before so I don’t know if it’s a good sample of his work or not but yeah, I wasn’t the biggest fan. I don’t even really know what it was about. A tree which drinks coffee maybe? Not 100% sure.

Winter’s Wife by Elisabeth Hand *****

I don’t even want to say what it was about because you should read it 😛 but this is set in a small American town but it has magic and Norse mythology in it.

I really enjoyed this one! It grabbed me in like four paragraphs and I couldn’t stop reading. I never heard of Elisabeth Hand before even if she’s apparently pretty well known. This story was originally published in Wizards: Magical Tales From the Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois in 2007 and Hand wrote four short story collections and a lot of novels.
This story was a fantasy story which is pretty rare for Clarkesworld. I must admit that even though I love fantasy, I much prefer to read fantasy novels than fantasy short stories because I like stories to have a very solid worldbuilding which is not always an easy thing in 10 000 words. This story was amazing though, the atmosphere, the pacing, the ideas, the characters were all fantastic and, I would recommend it to everyone!

NON-FICTION

I don’t have much to say for this category, I skim read Silver Machine: Hawkwind’s Space Rock Journey throughout Science Fiction and Fantasy by Jason Heller because I wasn’t interested at all. The interview of Davin Brin was fairly interesting. I really enjoyed Another Word: Technology Creates a New Golden Age of Speculative Fiction by Margot Atwell even though I didn’t learn anything new but  I don’t really care since I read Clarkesworld for its stories not really for the non-fiction.

 

I would really highly recommend this issue!

★★★★ 1/2