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 http://premeemohamed.com

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: https://mythaxis.co.uk

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.

Dying Earth…

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

Ongoing. I will update as I go along…

THE TYRANNY OF BEAUTY by P.J. Richards ★★★☆☆ Fantasy
“When the Ways first appeared they felt like our salvation, an escape from the desolation we had created. They were the dream that had tempted humans for generations.“
The Ways to Fairyland or the Otherworld open and release the Host. The view into the Ways might be paradisal, but is a really scary place. Not what I expected in an anthology of a dying Earth, but interesting.

Interview with the author about another short story with a similar theme: https://mtmisery.com/2019/01/04/neon-…

THE CULT OF MOTHER-SUN by James Maxstadt ★★★☆☆ SF
A movie director from the future travels back to Earth to make a documentary about the birthplace of humanity. A little light and silly.

IN THE WEEDS by Sue Burke ★★★★☆ Climate fic / SF
Climate change has destroyed Earth as we know it. Weeds grow well, plants adapt. Great extrapolation of potential evolutionary steps of our plantlife. I wish this one had been longer.

Recommended reading by Sue Burke: Semiosis (my review)
Interview with the author about Semiosis: https://www.blackgate.com/2018/02/21/…

GOOD MOTHER by Lena Ng ★★½☆☆ Allegory
Gaia, the Mother of Earth, gives and gives and we take and take and in our entitlement give nothing back. The author wacks us over the head with what we are doing to Earth. A bit pointless.

TWILIGHT AT THE BASEBALL GROUND by George Alan Bradley ★★★★½  Alternate history
The US after a nuclear attack. Set after Star Wars (1977) and before the collapse of the Soviet Union. One boy and his parents in a bunker. Depressing, but well written. Not quite sure what to make of the ending.

Dyeing Earth, next part of reviews is here.

Unlocked potential

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome (Lock In, #0.5)
by John Scalzi 

I have a bad track record with Scalzi. The Collapsing Empire was ok-ish (my review), although I considered a DNF at the time. And I only finished Redshirts (my review) with a lot of skimming. So Scalzi is not on my list of wanted authors. Unlocked came as part of a free collection, otherwise I would not have picked it up.

A 63-page novella that tells the story of a pandemic, about a virus that locks people‘s minds in their bodies. I am not quite sure if it‘s really a prequel to Lock In or more of a companion piece that should be read after the novel. I have not read the novel yet and the story worked well for me.

I am a fan of stories building up to the apocalypse (and set during it), so this was right down my alley. Despite not usually liking the epistolary form. Here it worked well. Ok, it‘s not really an apocalyptic story, but it seems to be at first. Society and the world as we know them do not really end. But there is massive change and a high death toll.

I liked this. Not a lot of character development, which would be hard in the shortness of this novella and the amount of interviewees telling their stories in short paragraphs. The voices are interchangeable and I only managed to keep track of two or three of them. The world building was fine though. It was clear what was going on and the societal implications were portrayed in a captivating way. Heck, I wanted to be a Haden at the end.

I will check out the novel. Scalzi finally struck a nerve. I would have read this in one sitting, if I hadn‘t been so tired.

PS: Apparently I just read a novella through the viewpoint of a lenticular lens. You learn something new every day…

And here is the story for free on Tor.com.

Anachronistic climate fic — the last days of the British Empire…

The Drowned World
by J.G. BallardWill Self (Introducer), James Boswell (Illustrator)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A look at the near future after an astronomical disaster, leading to a large-scale climate change and flooding of the world.

Very reflective, with great imagery and an interesting take on mental regression, brought on by nature returning to an earlier geological age. From my edition‘s introduction: “haunting tale of de-evolution amid the fetid swamps and submarine cities of a second Triassic Age…“

I liked the first half, aka the setting of the scene, but the later part felt a bit…. too slow and esoteric? 

Probably visionary at the time of publication, parts of this novella have not aged well. During the first three chapters I kept wondering how the details of this story would have looked like, if it had been written now instead of 60 years ago.

The way the black characters were depicted is problematic from today‘s point of view, with a pretty casual racism. And the only female character was stuck in the last century instead of 200 years in the future, reduced to her looks. Add some dinner jackets and this felt very much like the last days of the British Empire. I wonder if Ballard could not have come up with something less stereotypical and a more futuristic setting. All the technology, for example the diving equipment and the ships, definitely felt like the middle of the 20th century.

I liked the relationship between the three central characters, what little there was, but was also bored through wide stretches of this read. Finishing this was pure stubbornness.

Apparently a retelling of Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. Which I have not read, so I can‘t say how it compares.

Apocalypse, horror, adventure and vampires

Impact Winter
by Travis Beacham

Earth was hit by a comet and the world went dark. In the darkness, vampires rose. This story is about a group of human survivors, battling to stay alive.

“A story of apocalypse, horror, and adventure, Impact Winter is a wholly original new saga created just for Audible with immersive 3D audio (featuring a brilliant British cast) that dares you to pop in your earbuds and listen in the dark. Venture into an eternally sunless world of swords and crossbows; primal hunters and shape-shifters; leaders and lovers. Hear how a brave few fight to survive the impact winter.“

Entertaining, a little creepy and too short to really explore this world to its fullest. Nothing Earth-shattering, but I liked the characters and the story in general. Good, if you are looking for a shorter audio, that isn‘t too taxing. The cast did a good job.

Millennial banality with zombies

Severance
by Ling Ma (Author), Nancy Wu (Narrator)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“The end begins before you are ever aware of it.“

Odd book. The beginning feels like Covid-19 reimagined, bacterial instead of viral. Or rather it’s prophetic, as it was written in 2018. Apocalyptic/dystopian on the surface, it reads more like literary fiction. Commentary on capitalism, consumerism, the life of millennials, hopes and aspirations and the reality of making ends meet, the occasional boredom and banality of everyday life and work.

A long look back at the depressing/monotonous life of the MC. Average millenial with average job, living an average-sounding life of the relatively well-off. Illness strikes, an outbreak at first and then a pandemic. People seem to wind up as harmless zombies, wandering about and repeating tasks of their living past. Society as we know it ends. Our MC eventually leaves New York and joins up with a group of other survivors.

The backstories of the MC and her parents, Chinese immigrants to the US, take centre stage for most of the book. Which made me question if the apocalyptic setting was just a gimmick, to draw more readers. There is an odd amount of narrative about the MCs book production job. This had me wondering even more, what the whole point of this book was supposed to be. The dystopian elements only play a small part.

One of my GR friends described this as a „a slightly disguised New Adult Contemporary coming of age“. It’s a bit deeper than that, but nails it pretty well.

The audiobook narrator sounded pretty bored and laconic for most of the book. Or depressed? Pretty similar to how the MC felt about her life before the apocalypse.

The last few chapters made up for the indifference I mostly felt towards this story. The ending is pretty open, which I usually hate, but it gave a nice sense of purpose and possibility here.

Getting ready for war

March to War (The Walking Dead, #20)
by Robert KirkmanCharlie Adlard (Illustrations), Cliff Rathburn (Illustrator)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Another one in the endless comic series of The Walking Dead. Getting ready for that ultimate confrontation with Negan. 

At the Hilltop. Maggie is dealing with something not to be mentioned to avoid spoilers… Rick is rallying the troupes against Negan, with varied results. People are tired and want to live in peace. Jesus helps. Aaand… that‘s not going so well. Almost.

In the meantime the classic supply run is happening… ?

There is more of the Kingdom as well. Oh oh, measuring the length of… whatever. Michonne wins…

This one probably reached new heights of profanity. So many shit and fuck and variations thereof on one page, page after page. Must be a new record.

Rick has to really become the leader they all need….

Because Negan is going to war…

“This volume collects THE WALKING DEAD #109-114, the prelude to ALL OUT WAR—the epic battle that will change the world of THE WALKING DEAD for years to come.“

From the blurb

They only eat people sometimes

Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

From the book blurb

The POV of this novella is very smartly done. We experience everything from the eyes of a main character that has a very narrow field of vision and knowledge of the world he lives in. So we also know very little at first of this seemingly pastoral and feudal world of humans in a society governed by ogres. We take every step of discovery with him. And it’s quite a stunning list of discoveries for him. Very little of what he believes to be true turns out to be real. 

I missed emotional expressions. The inner landscape of our main character was laid out in a pretty sterile fashion. I made no real connection to him and found it hard to like or emphasize with him, even during the truly horrible events of his life. Nothing seemed to have a real impact on him. However, the story as such was a very smart one.

The final head twister is a real bummer. Nicely done, Mr. Tchaikovsky!

PS: 2nd person narrative, ugh. I am not a fan of that. But I got over it.

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.