Cleaning up that TBR pile — The Fortress

The Fortress
by S.A. Jones

I requested this book from NetGalley in 2019. It sounded interesting at first glance. But every time I picked it up and had a look at the book blurb, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Reading reviews made that worse. It sounds like this: The male main character is made into a slave under the rule of women that sexually assault and abuse him, to educate him in how he should treat women. I don‘t want to read that. It doesn‘t matter who abuses whom, it‘s horrible. And an eye for an eye is not a philosophy I buy into. Finally kicking this off my shelf.

Jonathon Bridge has a corner office in a top-tier law firm, tailored suits and an impeccable pedigree. He has a fascinating wife, Adalia, a child on the way, and a string of pretty young interns as lovers on the side. He’s a man who’s going places. His world is our world: the same chaos and sprawl, haves and have-nots, men and women, skyscrapers and billboards. But it also exists alongside a vast, self-sustaining city-state called The Fortress where the indigenous inhabitants–the Vaik, a society run and populated exclusively by women–live in isolation.

  When Adalia discovers his indiscretions and the ugly sexual violence pervading his firm, she agrees to continue their fractured marriage only on the condition that Jonathan voluntarily offers himself to The Fortress as a supplicant and stay there for a year. Jonathon’s arrival at The Fortress begins with a recitation of the conditions of his stay: He is forbidden to ask questions, to raise his hand in anger, and to refuse sex.

  Jonathon is utterly unprepared for what will happen to him over the course of the year–not only to his body, but to his mind and his heart. This absorbing, confronting and moving novel asks questions about consent, power, love and fulfilment. It asks what it takes for a man to change, and whether change is possible without a radical reversal of the conditions that seem normal.

Book blurb

Classic SF in translation for a change…

Planet of the Apes 🦍🦧🙊🙈
by Pierre Boulle

Classic SF, translated from the original French version. Only slightly dated, thin on science, but still worth reading.

Unexpected beginning, considering that I see Charlton Heston in my head, when I hear the book title. But he appears in chapter 2. Well, a French equivalent of a sort… Interesting propulsion method for the spaceship in chapter 1. The science is generally pretty wonky. Yes, that‘s a technical term. 

Anyway, back to the account of the main character‘s travel. Together with two others he is headed to Betelgeuse. First stop in this audio for me, because I had to read up on Betelgeuse. Meeting humans and primates on another planet is a conundrum, obviously. The same evolutionary development in another star system? Convergent evolution to this degree?

I want to discuss a few things, but it would mean spoiling the story, so I won‘t. It‘s pretty short, give it a go, especially if you have seen and liked any of the movies. 

Written in 1963 from a typically white, male perspective of the time, women having to be beautiful to be attractive, some light racist vibes to it, etc. Mild though. The author is generally a little obsessed with beauty. And the main character is pretty full of himself and his superiority.

Ignoring all that, the story is simple, but quite smart. There are a lot of parallels to our own history strewn in. Coming close to the end of the story, all kinds of alarm bells went off in my head. Well done. I would have liked to get more of an explanation of how all of this happened, aka what triggered it.

I listened to the audio narrated by Greg Wise. It was pretty good.

Another overlong epic fantasy with insects…

…just not as well-written as Tchaikovsky‘s Shadows of the Apt.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants
by Clark Thomas Carlton

In a post-apocalyptic world humans have shrunk to the size of insects and (mostly) live as parasites in ant colonies. The description drew me in, it sounded like a fascinating idea. I requested and received this from Netgalley in 2017—yes, I am very, very late. But every time I picked this up in the past and read the first few pages, it didn‘t do anything for me. This time I was committed to making a serious attempt. I read the first 2 parts, up to and including chapter 33 (48% of 600odd pages) and I am calling it a day.

I struggled with the stereotypical racism, gratuitous violence, cruelty and physical abuse in the early chapters. Humans live in a rigid caste system and are ruled by royalty and clergy. All very clichéd. Our main character Anand belongs to the lowest caste and is little more than a slave and an untouchable. To add insult to injury, he is a half-breed and dark skinned, which apparently makes him even less of a person. Yes, the “primitives” are dark skinned. Wow.

I decided to keep reading in the hopes of developing an interest in the characters, but mostly just despised them. There was no depth to the characters or any meaningful personal development. Things happen to them and they move on to different things in the story, but they don’t mature or learn—it all felt very superficial. This happened and then that happened and then something else happened and the characters remained one-dimensional. I never emotionally connected. They all just remained their own paper-cut-outs. And the changes that do happened are never really explained.

At some point our main character Anand fell in instalove and decided he wants to marry a girl from his mother’s tribe. I say instalove, because he knew her for just a moment and had barely talked to her. Oh yes, and women in this book are either pretty or not pretty enough. And the not so nice ones spend their time screeching. Wow again.

I realize that Anand‘s origin story needs to be a nasty and and socially horrible one for this all to work, but all the cruelty, violence, racism and bigotry made me uncomfortable. Not necessarily a bad thing, I get that. But here it was so arbitrary. Maybe I could have gone with it, if the writing had been better, with engaging characters and a world building that had taken care to properly explore the social and cultural background of the various nations and tribes. 

The plot idea as such was not a bad one. I am pretty sure what will happen in the second half of the book and I will dip into some of the later chapters to satisfy my curiosity. But epic fantasy like this has been done before and very well. The setting with the insects and the downsized humans is not captivating enough for me to struggle through another 300 pages of this. There is also too much telling and not enough showing, as if the author is just working through his story outline. Sorry, I have not found any redeeming features, I am not entertained. DNF, not recommended. 💣

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher/author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

PS: There are many very good reviews for this book. Don‘t take my word for it, check out some of those reviews. Who knows…

About viral infections and the monsters we are…

Kingdom of Needle and Bone
by Mira Grant

Wow. I wish people opposed to vaccinating their children or vaccinating in general would read this. Bodily autonomy is discussed in an enlightening fashion. Published before Covid-19 broke out, which makes this an even more interesting read. 

This is very good and scary. It sounds plausible and has an excellent ending. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and listened to this 3-hour audiobook in more or less one sitting.

This is the safe part of the book blurb, I recommend to avoid the rest:

“It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it’s too late: Morris’s disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop.“

I am now going to scour Audible for any more free audibooks by Mira Grant or her alter ego Seanan McGuire. Yes, I really need to get to those five books/novellas of Wayward Children on my ebook shelf.

Another fun fact: I keep saying that I don‘t want to read too dark and depressing things. Guess what I have been reading a lot this year? Mostly adventurous/mysterious stories, but also a surprising amount of darker things:

A polar bear and an orca come to a floating city…

Blackfish City
by Sam J. Miller

“A mysterious woman arrives in the floating Arctic city of Qaanaaq, in a future where rising seas have caused dramatic geopolitical changes. She’s accompanied by an orca and a polar bear, on a mission that might be bloody and might be beautiful and might be both.“

Published in 2018, Locus and Nebula Award finalist. The first half is not fast and there is a lot of set-up, but it‘s quite atmospheric. Neuromancer meets The Golden Compass.

There are a several central characters. Fill, who is diagnosed with a deadly illness that is sweeping society from marginalized fringes into mainstream society, reminiscent of HIV. Ankit, who swapped her life as a scaler/parkour athlete for the safety of working as a drone for the local administration. Kaev, a professional fighter with unspecified brain damage, who is nearing the end of his career. Soq, a messenger, young, poor, beyond gender, running errands for the local crime syndicate.
Their chapters are interspersed with essays/reports from the „City without a Map“, a sort of underground voice explaining the workings of the floating city they all live on.

I saw people in other reviews complaining about the four POVs, preferring it to be only one or that the author didn‘t pull it off. I am not a massive fan of tales with many POVs, but I liked this. It gave a great overview of the various societies and sub-cultures existing on the city. It made the beginning a slow journey, but when the different POVs come together, it is fun to realize who they all are to each other. And that really was the beauty of the story.

The idea of nanobonding to an animal is a fascinating one. It opens up so many story telling possibilities.

The world they all live in is pretty gruesome. But I guess if or when the apocalypse hits us, this could very well be how we will behave. Genocide, fanatics, power hungry warlords, petty politics and the super rich getting away and setting up their own enclave, eventually getting invaded by refugees clinging to the less prosperous arms of the city; a multi-layered mess of the have and have-not‘s.

The final climax is pretty entertaining, tense and bloody. Anything more would give too much away. I smiled a happy smile. 4 polar bears.

The first story set in this world: Calved, originally published in Asimov’s, September 2015, 5400 words.

Author‘s website:

Podcast interview with the author about this book:… — haven‘t listened to it yet, so I can’t say how spoilerish it is. Beware.

Reed Warblers, polar bears and an orca.

Call of the Reed Warbler
by Charles Massy

This is my current audio. I thought it‘s about time that I read another non-fiction. This one here popped up when I was researching some details about regenerative farming for my job. It sounds like a good grounding on the topic. I‘m about three hours into the audio and already learned a surprising amount of things about Australia. Well, considering how little I really know about Australia, maybe not so surprising after all.

Call of the Reed Warbler shows the way forward for the future of our food supply, our Australian landscape and our planet. This ground-breaking book will change the way we think of, farm and grow food. Author and radical farmer Charles Massy explores transformative and regenerative agriculture and the vital connection between our soil and our health. It is a story of how a grassroots revolution – a true underground insurgency – can save the planet, help turn climate change around, and build healthy people and healthy communities, pivoting significantly on our relationship with growing and consuming food. 

And my current eye reading is a SF novel that was nominated for a bunch of awards.

Blackfish City
by Sam J. Miller

After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering it is now rife with corruption and the population simmers with unrest. 

Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor – a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained polar bear. She disappears into the crowds looking for someone she lost thirty years ago, followed by whispers of a vanished people who could bond with animals. Her arrival draws together four people and sparks a chain of events that will change Blackfish City forever.

This one is slow going, the first third is pretty much set up for the different POVs. I am now past the first 100 pages and the separate POVs start to make connections and the plot starts to come together. It’s quite atmospheric. Neuromancer meets Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? meets The Golden Compass.

The end of the world was Houston, Texas.

Another blast from the past, read in 2017. Here is my review from back then…

The Passage
by Justin Cronin

Goodness me, I finally finished, with a heavy dose of skimming. I liked the story, but the execution of it was not my thing. Too long, too much introspection, too much mysticism, vampires not scary enough. As a horror novel this fell flat. As a post-apocalyptic story it wasn’t bad, but I would have liked more of the in-between, not only before and after. I think that might actually happen in the next book(s), but I definitely don’t want to skim through another 800 pages and be bored for wide stretches of reading.

The first part of the book had decent world buidling, well-developed characters, I liked the changing POVs and the writing style appealed to me. The plot could have unfolded a bit faster, the build-up was glacially slow.

Almost 200 pages in the fun finally started…

The floor was slick with blood, so much blood that he felt his feet sliding on it, the grease of human remains.

Roughly 30% into the book the plot jumped about 100 years ahead into the post-apocalyptic future with its newly developed society, completely removed from the present day world. It was like reading a different book. I wouldn’t have minded staying in the present some more, to read about the collapse of society and to find out more about the characters of that timeline.

It took me a few pages to come to like this new setting, but it got interesting eventually.

Tonight’s forecast? Darkness, with widespread screaming.

Unfortunately, despite there being some very good bits in this later plot, I was pretty bored at the halfway point. Too slow, not enough tension for me. Even during attacks of the virals and supposedly very tense situations, I was just like “Oh, ok then… next…”

Nonetheless, I skimmed my way through another 100 pages or so and some quite good plot developments. And lots of looooong and boring bits in between. I considered DNFing the book, but then stuck with it, wanting to know what came next.

I think I would have been fine with a couple of hundred pages less in the center of the book. The first 30% of the book and the last 40% of it were good. I didn’t care much for the rest in between. And, as mentioned, I didn’t much like the mysticism and religious undertones. 

Sorry, only 2 not very creepy stars…

Reading progress:

March 6, 2017 –  2.0% “Ugh, I can’t believe I picked another book this long… Curse you, TBR pile!”

March 7, 2017 – page 36 – 4.38% “‘Like Smokey Bear says, take only pictures, leave only footprints.’

March 10, 2017 – page 93 – 11.33% “Sister Claire often went to the 6:00 a.m. before her daily jog, which she referred to as a visit to ‘Our Lady of Endorphins.’ 

March 12, 2017 – page 154 – 18.76% ““They were in danger, terrible danger. Something was coming. She didn’t know what. Some dark force had come loose in the world, and it was sweeping toward them, coming for them all.”
I wish it would hurry up a little!”

March 12, 2017 – page 196 – 23.87% “The floor was slick with blood, so much blood that he felt his feet sliding on it, the grease of human remains.
Here we are! Glacially slow build-up is done.”

March 15, 2017 – page 276 – 33.62% “I am in chapter 20. Did a massive time jump ahead to the post-apocalyptic future. Odd, it’s like reading a different book.”

March 18, 2017 – page 307 – 37.39% “Tonight’s forecast? Darkness, with widespread screaming.

March 18, 2017 – page 326 – 39.71% “Grief was a place, Sara understood, where a person went alone. It was like a room without doors, and what happened in that room, all the anger and the pain you felt, was meant to stay there, nobody’s business but yours.

March 23, 2017 – page 401 – 48.84% “I am bored! The second, later plotline is not bad, parts of it are good. But it’s slow, it doesn’t have enough tension for me. I could happily put this down and not pick it up again.”

March 26, 2017 – page 519 – 63.22% “All those years, waiting for the Army, and it turns out the Army is us.
And all those pages, waiting for somethings to happen. I did some hefty skimming over the last 100+ pages and , amazingly enough, have not DNFd this yet. But I am still not sure, if I can be bothered to finish. The current bit feels a bit like The Walking Dead.”

March 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

Dystopia with overloaded prose

And What Can We Offer You Tonight
by Premee Mohamed

A vaguely dystopian setting in a flooded city. The poor bury their dead by sinking them in the canals surrounding their dwellings. Our MC Jewel is an enslaved courtesan, living a relatively comfortable, if restricted and not entirely safe life in a luxury brothel. One of the other women in her house is beaten to death by a client. But she doesn‘t stay dead. She comes back to life, looking for revenge and taking Jewel along for the ride.

80 pages, pretty odd, with a rambling and overloaded prose. The actual plot could have fit into a much shorter story. The rest didn‘t really work for me. It was just a lot of fluff, with the odd shocking bit in between. I skimmed through the last part. The ending was quite nice, at least for Jewel. But the mystery of the dead girl coming back to life was never explored and the world could have done with a little more background. I didn‘t really like this, sorry.

The cover looks nice, but is as overloaded as the prose.

Nebula Award Winner, Best Novella in 2021
Author‘s website at

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

Dying Earth, part III

Dying Earths: Sixteen Stories from the Ends of Times
by Sue Burke and others…

Finished on New Year‘s Day! And I actually backdated the finishing date to the 31st of December, so I can start the new year with a clean cut. It might throw off my statistics a little — I already wrote my yearly wrap-up, it will go online on Friday or thereabouts. But I am not fussed enough to update that post. Or rather, I am working on letting go of my OCD. It makes me a little twitchy, but I‘ll cope… 😆

Ok, back to the last few stories of this anthology:

TELLTALE by Matthew Hughes ★★★☆☆ Fantasy
“Raffalon’s world had become monochrome: the thief stood on a shingle beach of gray stones, lapped by a gray sea beneath a gray sky.“
The author likes to use plenty of adjectives. Add to that a stilted prose, presumably to give a „fantasy“ feel. Ugh. The writing became more fluent after the first paragraphs. The story had the feel of a fairytale and had absolutely nothing to do with a dyeing Earth. It was ok.

THE MEAT PLAINS by Jeremy Megargee ★★½☆☆ SF
“Humans are a mass now, a great hideous stretch of fleshy plains spanning from one end of the globe to the other.“
Ugh, this was absurd and really disgusting. 

THE MIDWIVES by Jude Reid ★★★½☆ SF
Earth dies, some chose ones leave. This is the story of the descendants of those left behind.

THE SNOWS OF ADALON by Scott J. Couturier ★★★☆☆ Fantasy/SF
“Clouded over by perpetual white-gray miasma, wroth with terminal frost and cold, the planet is muffled in a cloak of blizzards.“
A blend of Fantasy and SF, with a sorcerer and his daughter stuck on a planet that was plunged into eternal winter. Salvation might be an escape capsule and the planet‘s moon.

ALONE IN IMALONE by Christopher Stanley ★★★★☆ Apocalyptic
Amusing little story about a guy trying to get onto one of the shuttles leaving Earth, before it blows up. 

CONVERTIR Andrew by Leon Hudson ★★★★★ Fantasy?
“When even something so evident as the changing of the climate becomes a matter of faith, to be accepted or rejected at the whim of the individual… in what sense is there a settled material reality at all?”
We start at the compound of a religious cult, but end up debating the perception of reality, fake news and the willful ignorance of facts that seems to be so abundant right now. Pretty wacky, but good.

This last story led me to an online SF magazine:

What I liked about this anthology:
It reminded me that I like Sue Burke. She is probably the main reason why I got this a while back. I met some new authors.

What I did not like about this anthology:
Considering the name of this anthology, I expected stories of the apocalypse. Dyeing Earth. Right? In quite a few of these stories the presence of Earth was incidental and we could have been anywhere. And even the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic setting seemed to be more of an afterthought or something in the sidelines. It was not a focal point. The title also incorporated „Ends of Time“, but it still feels a little like the book topic was missed. Still, mostly enjoyable.

Link to the review of the first set of stories.

Link to the second set of story reviews.

Dying Earth, part II

Dying Earths: Sixteen Stories from the Ends of Times
by Sue Burke and others…

Ongoing. I will update as I go along…

WAITING FOR THE RAIN by Shana Scott ★★½☆☆ Dystopia? Hard to tell. There was no magic or any SF elements.
“The summer was beating them down: plants burned before they grew, scavengers poisoned by the rotted carrion, water scarce—coveted.“
Possibly set in Africa somewhere, hard to tell. Drought, suffering, a sacrifice is needed to appease the Sun. I didn‘t like the writing much.

PURPLE NASTIES by Jez Patterson ★★¾☆☆ Dystopia / SF
“The Sun isn’t really purple either. It’s just a big ball of white light. Only, now it’s got this cloud of purple gas around it.“
Very short, very odd. Some cosmic event led to a chemical reaction that led to purple gas around the sun and purple light on Earth, with disastrous results.

TO CLIMB BY THE LIGHT OF THE SPUTTERING SUN by Daniel Ausema ★★★★★ Dystopia / SF
A team of scavengers for hire venture outside of the city to find valuables. The city is under a dome in the shape of a skull, made from bone? The sun is old and dyeing, the seas are acidic. Our crew has a steep and dangerous climb to make.
The writing of this one hit my sweet spot, I really liked it. I never figured out the skulls. Robots or machines, partially made of bone? 

LEGACY 2.0 by N. E. White ★★★★¾ SF
Maria and Juan circle a dead Earth, millenia after humanity has abandoned it. They have a cockroach situation aboard their spaceship. Good one!

DRIED SMOKE by Kat Pekin ★★★★★ Post-Apocalypse
“First to get hit were the capitals, so Brisbane was much fucked from day one.
Australia after a nuclear attack. Siblings are driving away from the cities, trying to stay alive… Well written, good action scenes, I liked the characters.

Link to the review of the first set of stories.