Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016)

The Paper Menagerie

Author: Ken Liu

Title: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 453

Series: –

Ken Liu has been known as the translator to Cixin Liu’s critically acclaimed Hugo award winner, The Three-Body Problem. He is also known as the author of a “silkpunk” epic fantasy book, The Grace of Kings. But the readers of short stories know him predominantly as a talented SFF author with his own unique voice and unerring focus on humanity’s past and future, cultural diversity and a peculiar vision of transhumanism. His works won multiple awards, Nebula, Hugo, Locus and World Fantasy Award among them, and I must say that, at least with regards to the collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, he deserves quite a lot of the praise 😉.

This review will vary slightly from my usual posts; as each story or novelette forms a separate whole, I will review each in turn and give score to each separately in short paragraphs.

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species 5,5/10

Not a great start to the collection; a showcase of interesting ideas, but nothing really stands out in this fanciful enumeration of how various species in the universe might create/perceive books. It’s a fun exercise, and an invitation to the readers to think about the idea of a book, but nothing more.

State Change 10/10

One of two best stories in the compilation, based on an outlandish and very compelling idea that every person is born with their soul manifested as a concrete, tangible item – and that the form of that item directly affects their personality. A really sweet, light, yet thought-provoking story on how we create our own limits and then learn to transcend them.

Continue reading “Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016)”

Jamie Lackey, The Forest God (2020)

The Forest God

Author: Jamie Lackey

Title: The Forest God

Format: E-book

Pages: 82

Series: –

A wonderful little story reminiscent of works by Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, The Forest God is a feel-good literary adventure full of witches, quests, lord’s sons, love and duty. Who wouldn’t want to read one of those? 😊

Jamie Lackey is a name I hadn’t encountered before, and I requested The Forest God from NetGalley on a whim, my decision based mostly on the cover (I know, and I’m not repentant!) It turned out to be a surprisingly good decision, for Lackey’s novella is just a perfect read for a lazy, warm evening. With the length of less than a hundred pages there is not much space within for character development, worldbuilding and action, and yet somehow Lackey manages to cram a bit of all three – with the infallible aid of fairy tales. The Forest God offers a new retelling of a very old tale, and embellishes it with some delightful twists, subtle irony, and plenty of enthusiasm for the subject matter. But let’s start at the beginning.

Continue reading “Jamie Lackey, The Forest God (2020)”

Marie Brennan, Driftwood (2020)

Driftwood

Author: Marie Brennan

Title: Driftwood

Format: E-book

Pages: 225

Series: –

Marie Brennan’s foray into a new fantastical world comes with a lot of promise, built upon her previous series, The Memoirs of Lady Trent. That series, of which the first installment, A Natural History of Dragons, was reviewed here, had been a huge success, thanks to a happy confluence of several factors: an audacious and likeable narrator/protagonist, Isabella Trent herself; the main topic of the narrative – dragons, for many the most beloved fantastical creatures of all; the alt-Victorian/Edwardian setting with all the requisite flowery embellishment of dialogue and narrative; and, last by not least, the wonderful illustrations by Todd Lockwood. So, if you’re reaching for Driftwood with expectations built upon your reading experiences with The Memoirs of Lady Trent, beware: Driftwood has nothing in common with Brennan’s earlier books.

Not to be splitting any literary hairs here, but Driftwood is not really a novel. It’s a series of short stories connected by the setting and the recurring character of Last. Some of the stories are in fact just vignettes, focused solely on worldbuilding and showcasing characters as specimens of a particular culture; some of the other are more robust, having a discernible plot and sometimes even clear evidence of character development within its bounds. There are big and little individual and social dramas, stories of sacrifice and discovery, various religions and all that’s in between. Scarcely any science at all, which is baffling only at the first sight. For as you enter deeper into Driftwood you start to realize that the whole concept is an elaborate impression of our world’s diminishing cultural diversity. That’s my take on it, at least. To my jaundiced eye, the book revolves predominantly around the highly abstract concept of Driftwood itself – a landfill of broken worlds, floating purposelessly and inevitably through mists toward their crushing demise. We get impressions of different cultures and beliefs, alive in one moment and dead in the next, as parts of their worlds are inexorably consumed by the ceaseless grind of entropy.

Continue reading “Marie Brennan, Driftwood (2020)”

Frances Hardinge, A Skinful of Shadows (2017)

A Skinful of Shadows

Author: Frances Hardinge

Title: A Skinful of Shadows

Format: E-book

Pages: 448

Series: –

“Twenty-seven months is long enough for a place to seep into your bones. Its colours become the palette of your mind, its sounds your private music. Its cliffs or spires overshadow your dreams, its walls funnel your thoughts.

Humans are strange, adaptable animals, and eventually get used to anything, even the impossible or unbearable. […] Terror is tiring, and difficult to keep up indefinitely, so sooner or later it must be replaced by something more practical.

One day you wake up in your prison, and realize that it is the only real place. Escape is a dream, a lip-service prayer that you no longer believe in.”

A Skinful of Shadows is my first Hardinge book, but definitely not the last. Dark and atmospheric, full of loss and anger, horror and hope, this novel transports the reader into the 17th century Britain in the throes of its first Civil War. And while the actual battles, army marches and skirmishes remain on the fringes of the story, the very acute human ugliness always accompanying such conflicts is very much in the center of the novel, making the life of our young protagonist a rather difficult endeavor, fraught with danger, ill-timed happenstance and simple callousness and greed. But fear not, all is not as bleak and dark as it may seem from my introduction; and we have Makepeace Felmotte to thank for this. Makepeace (what an amazing Puritan name!) is a young girl gifted – or cursed – with the ability to see and interact with ghosts. The exact manner of this interaction I will leave to curious readers to discover; suffice to say that there are more things one can do with ghosts than I imagined, and all of them are rather creepy 😉 But despite that strange family trait, which drags her into danger more times that she can count, Makepeace is an inherently optimistic creature; indomitable would be a perfect word to describe her, were she not too humble to accept such aggrandizing epithets. But she is both, and more: humble and indomitable, steadfast, and full of empathy, ability for strategic planning and very un-youthlike patience.

Continue reading “Frances Hardinge, A Skinful of Shadows (2017)”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic (2020)

Mexican Gothic

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Mexican Gothic

Format: E-book

Pages: 352

Series: –

The title says it all. A distinctly Gothic novel set in 20th century Mexico, complete with a sprawling, haunted house shrouded in mists, a feisty female protagonist thrown by fate into the middle of unknowable, and a terrible secret from the past. Sounds a bit like paint-by-numbers piece, but Moreno-Garcia deftly introduces elements of postmodern literary play into that sombre, creepy genre, freely mixing moods and plot threads, artfully twisting tropes and the rules of the game, all the while staying true to the spirit of the Gothic fiction. Blending body horror with social commentary regarding colonial past and gender roles in old and modern Mexico, Moreno-Garcia creates a unique story that will be perversely satisfying to fans of Hannibal Lecter and Brontë sisters alike.

Noemí Taboada lives her carefree life of a rich, spoiled socialite in mid-century Mexico City – until she receives a troubling message from her beloved older cousin, Catalina, who had recently – and hurriedly – married an English heir to a run-down mining estate and moved to her husband’s mansion in the mountains. Asked by her father to check on Catalina, whose missive seems both furtive and deeply disconcerting, Noemí embarks on a perilous journey. The High Place, Doyles’ family seat, is a remote, crumbling house, full of mould and ghosts of a wealthier past. Yet the estate, however repulsive at first sight, keeps much more horrifying secrets, which our protagonist will learn in time, together with us readers, whether she wants it or not.

Continue reading “Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic (2020)”