Deep sea not of this Earth…

The Sea in the Sky
by Jackson Musker

This feels a bit like a primer on deep sea diving at first. Despite that there was very little science in this science fiction. There was a lot of character chatter that could have taken place in any kind of novel. Then there is some drama, obviously. I have to confess that I did not care. The voice acting did not convince me. I considered a DNF, but the last three chapters turned up with something interesting after all.

I was disappointed that the sound effects did not include more atmospheric sounds, aka the sounds of the ship diving through the ocean, wind, ice, etc. Instead there was this meditation music soundtrack. And for parts with more tension, the tempo of that soundtrack just sped up. Less Zen-music and more planetary background noises would have been nice.

Bottomline, nice idea, the plot was not a bad one after all. But the execution did not really grab me. It was ok. Right now I would not get anything else in this world or from this author on Amazon Originals. Probably.


This is the first book I finished in 2023. I joined an Alphabet Challenge on StoryGraph—not so much to motivate me to read more, but as a decision helper to pick my next read from my TBR shelf. I will start with my physical bookshelf and if I don‘t find a matching letter there, move on to my ebook shelf. And if I still don‘t have a matching letter, I will count my physical books and let a random number generator pick for me. That‘s the plan, anyway. For now the letter S is ticked off!

And besides tracking the origin countries of my read authors, I will also take a note of the book settings and publishing years. I don‘t think StoryGraph does that… The start looks like this:

book location / setting (Location)

Outer Solar System
Enceladus (moon, Saturn) — 1

book published in… (Year)
2020 — 1

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.

Haunted House at the bottom of the ocean

From Below
by Darcy Coates

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Divers find a wreck very deep down and want to solve the puzzle of why this cruise liner disappeared many decades ago. My Spooktober pick. I expected something pretty fast with a high body count of gruesome deaths and maybe some deepsea monster. However, this is a ghost story… mostly… with a very slow build-up. The main narrative is interspersed with short chapters going back to 1928, telling of the last few days of the Arcadia before she sinks.

A haunted-house story at the bottom of the sea, with the added claustrophobia of being far down, with a lot of water overhead, a limited amount of breathable air, unreliable team members and no fast rescue when something goes wrong. It all turns pretty creepy eventually.

Character and plot development were decent, despite the slow build-up it was a pretty quick and entertaining read. I looked up the author and she seems to write a large amount of haunted-house horror stories. It that is your jam, she might be your author!

PS: as a recreational diver with an advanced open water certification I had to suspend disbelief a few times. But for a light horror read it was ok and not so far off the mark that I was put off.

Sloan McPherson, Pirate Cop.

The Girl Beneath the Sea (Underwater Investigation Unit, #1)
by Andrew Mayne (Author), Susannah Jones (Narrator)

New to me author that I picked up because of the glowing reviews of a goddreads friend, along the lines of „guilty pleasure“. My usual brain candy is romance or creature feature horrors, but why not! Added bonus: the main character, aka the titular girl beneath the sea, is a scuba-diving police officer in South Florida, dipping underwater for fornsic reasons. I love all things underwater.

Ok, so she goes diving and finds a corpse that has practically been murdered and tossed in the water while our MC was down there. Her dad is a treasure hunter and her uncle is in jail for drug trafficking, so naturally she comes under suspicion right away. To save herself and solve the case, she has to team up with the police officer that arrested her uncle and wrecked her youth. What else could go wrong?

Nothing special, but entertaining enough for a long trip by train. I might even be tempted to pick up the next one in the series.

AIs underwater and Avatars in trees…

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Six 

I will update this anthology as I go along…

TEST 4 ECHO by Peter Watts

Six days before the money ran out, Enceladus kicked Medusa right in the ass.

Onboard thermistors registered a sudden spike—80°, 90°, 120°—before the seabed jumped and something slammed the probe from the side. A momentary flash. An ocean impossibly boiling. A rocky seabed, tilting as if some angry giant had kicked over a table.

Beginning of the story

You can tell that Watts is a zoologist and marine-mammal biologist. I really have to get back to reading all his stuff, although it usually does a number on my brain. I have to confess that I only have a vague idea of what happened in this story, but it was good regardless. AI and illegal propagation? ★★★★☆

Can be read for free here

UMA by Ken Liu

“A Utility Maintenance Avatar is vaguely humanoid, but only about three feet tall fully stretched out and no more than fifty pounds in weight.“

Our hero piggy-backs one of those to save some people… This one was fun! Very fluently written, it really pulled you in right away. ★★★★★

Can be read for free here — please follow the link to look at the illustration accompanying the story. I love it. A small part of it is shared at the top. Initially I had it uploaded fully here as well, but I was unsure how the illustrator feels about sharing, I couldn‘t see any info about it. So I took it down again. .

I really enjoyed all of Ken Liu‘s short stories so far, much more than the one novel I tried to read, The Grace of KIngs.

Top Ten Tuesday — Adjective In the Title

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

http://www.thatartsyreadergirl.com/top-ten-tuesday/

This week‘s topic / March 22: Books With an Adjective In the Title

Tricky topic. Lets see what I can did up on my shelf. For variety‘s sake I‘ll start with the books I added to my shelves last and work backwards…

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings — my latest NetGalley addition: Two Ships. One Chance To Save The Future. Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space

The Art of Cursive Penmanship: A Personal Handwriting Program for Adults by Michael R. Sull — A practice guide to improve one‘s handwriting. We start with a discourse on the history and technicalities of handwriting. There is instructions on the correct sitting posture, how to place the paper, how to use your writing implement, on fountain pens and so on. Chapter 5 is the beginning of the practical part. That‘s roughly where I am right now. Haven‘t started with the exercises yet…

Ancestral Night (White Space, #1) by Elizabeth Bear — not quite sure why I added this one to my stack: A space salvager and her partner make the discovery of a lifetime that just might change the universe in this wild, big-ideas space opera from multi award-winning author Elizabeth Bear.

Dying Earths: Sixteen Stories from the Ends of Times by Sue Burke and others — sounds depressing, but I want to read Sue Burke‘s story: The writers and contributors to the little corner of the web called SFFWorld.com have brought together a collection of stories about a dying Earth. 

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes — this was a buddy read that I skipped. Everybody really liked it, so I got it after all: Titanic meets The Shining in S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence, a SF horror novel in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.

An Easy Job by Carrie Vaughn — short story, read it already… Carrie Vaughn is worth mentioning again.

The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles, #1) by Mike Brooks — another buddy read that I skipped and my reading buddies all loved it: When the citizens of Black Keep see ships on the horizon, terror takes them because they know who is coming: for generations, the keep has been raided by the fearsome clanspeople of Tjakorsha. Saddling their war dragons, Black Keep’s warriors rush to defend their home only to discover that the clanspeople have not come to pillage at all. Driven from their own land by a daemonic despot who prophesises the end of the world, the raiders come in search of a new home . . .

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim — I like the original fairytale and the cover is pretty, so I couldn‘t resist: Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control.

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds — two novelettes set in Revelation Space. And the blurb of one of them is something aquatic. I had to get it: In the seas of Turquoise live the Pattern Jugglers, the amorphous, aquatic organisms capable of preserving the memories of any human swimmer who joins their collective consciousness. Naqi Okpik devoted her life to studying these creatures—and paid a high price for swimming among them. 

Digital Divide (Rachel Peng, #1) by K.B. Spangler — not quite sure why I picked this one. Genre bender with cyborgs: Rachel Peng misses the Army. Her old life in Criminal Investigation Command hadn’t been easy, but she had enjoyed it. Now, as the first cyborg liaison to the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police, Rachel is usually either bored senseless or is fighting off harassment from her coworkers.

Yes, not 100% certain that those are all adjectives… *shrugs*

What interesting reads have you added to your shelves recently?

Top Ten Tuesday—the ten best books of 2021

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

http://www.thatartsyreadergirl.com/top-ten-tuesday/

This week‘s topic / December 28: Best Books I Read In 2021

These books haven‘t necessarily been released in 2021, that‘s just when I read them… I left out all of my re-reads of Dragonriders of Pern, The Expanse, The Imperial Radch, etc. etc.:

Rovers by Richard Lange — A horror book with a different take on vampires. Of Mice and Men with vampires and a biker gang. 

Shards of Earth (The Final Architects Trilogy, #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky — Space opera with a touch of The Expanse and Babylon 5, with a great ensemble cast on a scrappy scavenger ship, fighting against the odds and pretty much everything else. The proverbial underdogs against the universe.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir — Mark Watney in space! And he sciences the sh*t out of his situation… so, yes, very much reminiscent of The Martian. And then some. I loved it and could barely put it down. So much fun! 

The Prefect (Prefect Dreyfus Emergency, #1) by Alastair Reynolds — On the surface this comes along as a police procedural in a SF setting. Dreyfus is a cop with a strong moral code of right and wrong, committed to justice. My first association was Miller from The Expanse, with a bit of Blade Runner and minus any projectile weapons. Space opera, ultimately, with the many and very varied habitats of the Glitter Band, artificial intelligences, body modifications, uplifted mammals, many political systems, states of being and an elaborate polling system — fascinating! 

David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa — Gods have rained down on Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. We enter the story some time later, into the dystopian society that has developed here in the aftermath. David Mogo, our 1st person narrator, is a demi-god working as an illegal godhunter. An old wizard with dubious morals sends David Mogo off to catch two high gods, Taiwo and Kehinde. David is in need of money to fix his roof, so off he goes, despite his misgivings about this wizard. Obviously things don’t go as expected. 

Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries, #6) by Martha Wells — Muderbot is back in novella length. Snark and sarcasm abound. Just another crazy day, tracking down a murderer and making sure one’s humans don‘t come to harm. All the stars.

Leviathan Falls (The Expanse #9) by James S.A. Corey — A well done ending to the series. I did not expect it to go into the direction it did, so that was satisfying. It ends bittersweet, with some sadness, but also hope.

Revelation (Matthew Shardlake, #4) by C.J. Sansom — Historically pretty sound, as far as I can tell. Very homogenous. Full of suspense towards the end, could not put it down anymore. The murders are gruesome and reminiscent of a famous 90s movie. With the context of Henry VIII, his dissolution of the monasteries and the religious upheaval of that time it works well.

Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6) by Patricia Briggs — The FBI shows up at the doorstep of Anna and Charles and asks for help. A village in the mountains has disappeared and something potentially evil lurks in the woods.

The Whale Library by Zidrou,  Judith Vanistendael — Pretty watercolours, a mature story about a whale who contains a large library, a postman delivering sea mail, his wife and a smattering of sailors, pirates, fish, sea turtles, octopi and more…

Besides this one I also read some very good more traditional graphic novels. But that probably needs another entry…

Pretty story about books, love and life…

The Whale Library
by Zidrou,  Judith Vanistendael (Illustrator) 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

We learn to tell stories 
for the same reason we learn to swim. 
To keep from drowning. 
So let me tell you the story 
of a good friend of mine: 
a whale like no other. 
Behind her smile was hidden 
the world’s largest undersea library…

From the back flap

If you know me, you know that I love all things underwater and ocean. Plus a friend reviewed this and mentioned watercolours. So this was a no-brainer. 

Pretty watercolours, a mature story about a whale who contains a large library, a postman delivering sea mail, his wife and a smattering of sailors, pirates, fish, sea turtles, octopi and more…

I loved the parts with our narrator, the postman, and his pregnant wife. Lovely and humorous. 

About the love of books and other things. Poetic, funny, mellow, tragic and sad. No, it‘s not a sad ending per se. I was smiling, while I was fighting some tears…

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

More cautionary tales…

The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Stories
by Kel McDonald

More cautionary tales…

The Night Marchers by Jonah Cabudol-Chalker (illustrator, Hawaii) & Kate Ashwin (writer, UK) ★★★☆☆

A positive ghost story. Nice page layouts. Very short.

The Legend of Apolaki and Mayari by Kim Miranda ★★★★☆

What a pretty story with nice sketches! Brother and sister end up fighting each other… Philippines again. Very simple, but I really liked the artwork.

Nanuae the Sharkboy by Gen H. ★★★★☆

And Hawaii… good story! There is shapeshifting (yay!), sharks (yay!) and the story is told a lot through images instead of text, which was done well. The ending was a bit abrupt.

Thousand Eyes by Paolo Chikiamco & Tintin Pantoja ★★★★☆

And the Philippines again… about a girl that seems to be lazy and gives her mother some trouble. Of the stories included here, this looks the most like a comic. Another good one, with a sci-fi twist this time.

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

Top Ten Tuesday and what made me want to read those books…

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

http://www.thatartsyreadergirl.com/top-ten-tuesday/

 This week‘s topic / August 3: Titles or Covers That Made Want to Read/Buy the Book

Tricky. I mainly pick up books that are recommended to me by my reading buddies. Or books by favourite authors, never mind the cover or title. But I will have a look at my want-to-read list and see if I can recall what triggered my interest.

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

I picked up this novella on Netgalley. I honestly can‘t remember why I chose it, but assume that the cover pulled me in and then the title. Because the blurb is not grabbing me right now.

In a far future city, where you can fall to a government cull for a single mistake, And What Can We Offer You Tonight tells the story of Jewel, established courtesan in a luxurious House. Jewel’s world is shaken when her friend is murdered by a client, but somehow comes back to life. To get revenge, they will both have to confront the limits of loyalty, guilt, and justice.

Sentient by Jeff Lemire

I went looking for comics written by Jeff Lemire, because I like him and want to work on his backlist. Here the title drew me in. I like SF about AI and this title suggest that something slightly unusual might have reached sentience and that offers unusual options…

When a separatist attack kills the adults on board a colony ship in deep space, the on-board A.I. VALARIE must help the ship’s children survive the perils of space.

Nemo Vol. 1: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore

Here I was looking for comics set underwater. I have a thing for anything underwater, from documentaries about the deep sea to cheesy creature features involving Megalodon. I definitely picked this one for the title. Captain Nemo is a classic. I don‘t expect this to follow Jules Verne, but who knows.

It’s 1925, fifteen years after the death of Captain Nemo, when his daughter Janni Dakkar launches a grand Antarctic expedition to lay the old man’s burdensome legacy to rest.

Oh yes, I have a thing for cheesy creature features set in Antarctica as well. Or adventure novels. That clinched the deal.

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

Definitely the title. A planet in the Goldilocks Zone is in a distance to the sun, where conditions are just right for human habitation. So, an SF about colonization? Or finding a new home for humanity… Instant winner.

This is The Martian by way of The Handmaid’s Tale – a bold and thought-provoking new high-concept thriller

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Granted, I added this to my list, because it‘s Adrien Tchaikovsky. But isn‘t the cover pretty? And doesn‘t the title remind you of some awesome MMORPG?

In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race, a junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to study to save a planet from an unbeatable foe.

Below by Ryan Lockwood

Title again. I did mention my fascination with all things underwater and creature features, right?

Now, off the coast of California, something is rising from the deep–and multiplying. Voracious, unstoppable, and migrating north, an ungodly life form trailed by a gruesome wake of corpses. 

The Audacity of Sara Grayson by Joani Elliott

Title again. I seem to be a title person. How audacious of me!

What happens when the world’s greatest literary icon dies before she finishes the final book in her best-selling series?
 
And what happens when she leaves that book in the hands of her unstable, neurotic daughter, who swears she’s not a real writer?

Sounds like fun, right?

The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Stories by Kel McDonald

Another comic. And… yes, there‘s an ocean in the title…

Ghostly warriors, angry gods, and monstrous tyrants? That’s just the start of this collection of folklore from the Pacific, retold in comics! 

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

This really was a recommendation by someone in my buddy reading group. The title piqued my interest and the cover sealed the deal. It‘s simple at fist glance, but very stylish. And then you notice those rock spires curving in, looking like claws. Hm…

This psychological sci-fi thriller from a debut author follows one doctor who must discover the source of her crew’s madness… or risk succumbing to it herself.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (The Singing Hills Cycle, #2) by Nghi Vo

Not sure how I ended up with this one, but I imagine that the cover drew me in… plus it has a very lyrical title.

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

So, that was more or less the last 10 books and comics that I added to my list and haven‘t actually read yet. Does anything here tempt you?