Putting the Science in Fiction, edited by Dan Koboldt

Putting the Science in Fiction

I received a free e-ARC of Putting the Science in Fiction, edited by Dan Koboldt, from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Putting the Science in Fiction is a non-fiction book, due to be published by F&W Media in the UK on 16th October 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

This book brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:
Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, Putting the Science in Fiction will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction (dankoboldt.com/science-in-scifi). Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

As someone who aspires to writing decent genre fiction, one of the most terrifying things is always the amount of things you can get wrong. Obviously, this is true in non-genre fiction, but it’s genre fiction that seems to attract the people who are going to pick apart your words and point out all the things that are wrong. And for sure, if something’s wrong, you want to know so you can fix it. But wouldn’t it be even better to get it right in the first place? And that’s what this book is for.

Divided into a number of chapters, experts in various scientific disciplines talk about the things that frustrate them in media representations of science – inaccuracies, misunderstandings, wilful misrepresentations. They explain why those popular representations are incorrect, with understanding that there are sometimes reasons for the inaccuracies (such as CSI’s instance that any and all tests can be done in a thirty second montage, rather than taking many hours, which simply would not make good TV). And then, with knowledge and humour, they explain the realities of the situation.

As someone who’s always enjoyed learning, this book is great just as a source of knowledge, whether or not you intend to incorporate the information into your writing. I genuinely felt like I learned a huge amount reading this book, on a wide variety of topics. The book covers not just traditional scientific disciplines, but also nanotechnology, CGI, cryotechnology – it’s all here. There are also some sections covering mental health and common misconceptions about mental illnesses. Really, there’s just so much to learn and so much inspiration to take away from this book.

And there’s an overarching message to this book, which is that research is key. Whether you need to understand the details of a current scientific idea or you need to know what an imagined future world would be like if you took away all the power, there’ll be an expert out there who’ll be able to help. And the more thorough your research, the more solid the basis for your writing, and the more life you can bring to your world.

This book is a brilliant resource, both for writers and for those with a more general interest in science. The authors are hugely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subjects, and there’s so much in here to teach you and provide inspiration for writing and further learning. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a starting point for some research and an idea about what misunderstandings they might have acquired from popular culture, and also anyone who just wants to learn some about some awesome science!

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In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard

In the Vanisher's Palace

I received a free e-ARC of In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard directly from the author in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. In the Vanisher’s Palace is a queer fantasy novel being self-published, and due to be released in the UK on 16th October 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

I’m a big fan of Aliette de Bodard – both her writing, and her Twitter – so when the call went out for reviewers for her upcoming book, a queer Beauty and the Beast retelling with DRAGONS, I obviously had to put my name forward, and I was delighted to receive a copy. And let me tell you, this book absolutely lived up to my (very high!) expectations.

The world de Bodard has created is completely intriguing and had my attention captured from the first page. As someone who loves the mystery and intrigue of a new world, particularly a post-apocalyptic one, but is often frustrated by a lack of detail, I think de Bodard has struck a great balance here between giving us enough information to understand what’s going on and to feel the world around us, without an exposition overload. It also suits the story that there’s a lot left unknown, and it creates an essential tension between the characters and the world they inhabit.

The main characters –Yên and Vu Côn – are incredibly rich and alive, and the way they develop over the course of the story is lovely. Yên is quiet but possessed of an inner strength; Vu Côn is powerful, and overwhelmed by responsibility. As their lives become entwined, both realise things about themselves and about each other, and about what a relationship between them might be. The way they grow, both individually and together, as the story progresses is really beautiful.

I also loved the twins – Thông and Liên. Although they’re secondary characters, they feel fully realised and their own stories are vital to the plot in a way that I really enjoyed. We also have the fascinating inhabitants of Yên’s village: her mother (loved her!), the children she teaches, and the village Elders. I liked the contrast between Yên’s life in the village, and then in the palace with Vu Côn, and the way it showed her both other possibilities open to her, and also how little she truly knew about the Vanishers.

The use of language – both in terms of the actual writing of the book, and how language forms a part of the plot – is wonderful. I’m always interested in de Bodard’s tweets when she’s looking for English equivalents for Vietnamese words, particularly those which represent the nuances of relationships which are almost entirely lost in English, and I really liked how she’s captured that in this story. There are also lovely moments with characters searching for a suitable pronoun to use to accurately and respectfully characterise their relationship with someone else, which I think highlights how language and society bind themselves together and influence each other.

Gender and language is also important, and it’s refreshing how this is portrayed in the story. An example is Yên noting which pronouns a character uses and then following their lead; super effective, and done without any sensationalism. Language also plays its role in the magic of the world, and it’s woven (sometimes literally) into the fabric of the characters’ lives in a way that I adored. As someone who loves languages and linguistics, there was so much in this book for me to sink my teeth into, and I really, really enjoyed it.

I read this book on the back of a line of disappointing reads, and it was so wonderfully refreshing to read something sharp and brave like this. It feels truly magical, and being transported to this world, terrifying as it was, was enchanting. In the Vanishers’ Palace is easily one of my favourite books of the year, and I sincerely hope that anyone who’s looking for genuinely intelligent, inclusive fantasy will pick it up.

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Top Ten Tuesday – 9th October 2018

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 9th October is…longest books I’ve ever readI wasn’t really sure how to work this out, as my Goodreads obviously doesn’t have things I read when I was younger and things, so this is a combination of organising my Goodreads list by number of pages, plus some thoughts about things I remember thinking were long when I read them.

  1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein – this was the first one that came to mind! I read this a couple of times when I was younger, and my dad’s copy was printed on bible paper, so spent the 1,000 pages having to constantly check that I hadn’t accidentally turned over five pages at once
  2. A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin – I think most of the ASOIAF books could go in this list, but this was the first one that popped up on my GR list, so I’m just going with this one
  3. The Stand by Stephen King – a proper tome, like many of King’s novels, but I feel like this read much faster than one might have expected
  4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – a classic that I actually enjoyed! I remember this one taking a while, but it was an easier read than I’d expected it to be
  5. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – this is an awesome Arthurian retelling, with a focus on the female characters. Bradley herself is pretty problematic, so I’m not sure how I’d feel about re-reading this one
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling – comfortably the longest of the series, thinking about this makes me want to re-read the whole series!
  7. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – a great book, but I do remember finding that I enjoyed this one less as it went on so for me personally, it could have been shorter
  8. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer – who knew this book was so long?! I have very few memories of it, but I don’t remember struggling with the length of it
  9. The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski – this is another book I remember feeling long. But it’s a twisty, fascinating alternate history novel centred around the Titanic, so if that’s your bag, it’s definitely worth a look
  10. This Charming Man by Marian Keyes – I do love Marian Keyes, but this book had a lot of issues, and it being so long definitely didn’t help!

There’s a lot of words on a lot of pages in these books! Some I’ve enjoyed more than others, and some have definitely felt like a bit of a slog. But there’s always something satisfying about getting through a proper tome.

What are the longest books you’ve read? And if you’ve got a Top Ten Tuesday this week, pop the link in a comment below and I’ll check it out!

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Love Like This by Melissa Brayden

Love Like This

I received a free e-ARC of Love Like This by Melissa Brayden from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Love Like This is a lesbian romance novel, due to be published by Bold Strokes Books in the UK on 16th October 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Sometimes the most imperfect match is the most perfect surprise. 

Hadley Cooper believes in happily-ever-afters with her whole heart. Described by her friends as a wide-eyed, eternal optimist, she looks for the bright side in most any situation. However, when her job as the assistant manager of Silhouette, a posh boutique on Rodeo Drive, is on the line, she realizes it’s time to pull her head out of the clouds and find a way to turn business around, and that just might mean partnering with the most stubborn up-and-coming fashion designer she’s ever encountered. 

Spencer Adair has a passion for fashion, but hates the fact that it rhymes. She’s serious about her designs, fiercely protective of her work, and is waiting patiently for her big break. What she didn’t plan on, however, was the unsolicited opinions of that overly friendly blond boutique manager. Or the way her heart beats faster every time she’s around.

Though I somehow still haven’t read the first of Brayden’s Seven Shores books, I have read the two which came before this one (Hearts Like Hers and Sparks Like Ours) and now, with Love Like This, the series is over 😦

Love Like This follows the last of the Seven Shores friends, Hadley. Working at an upscale boutique on Rodeo Drive, Hadley is kind, generous, and almost constantly happy. As a character, she’s a delight to read about. Her happiness isn’t a front for anything; it’s just who she genuinely is. Spencer, on the other hand, is more reserved. She’s focused and determined, and provides a great counter to Hadley. Coming together over fashion and clothing, we see them start to truly consider the world from another person’s perspective, and it leads to growth and change on both sides. I found their relationship in general very enjoyable to read about, and was rooting for them, and particularly Hadley, throughout the book.

Friends and family are another important element of the story. Readers of the other Seven Shores books will be familiar with Hadley’s friends, and they provide a grounding for Hadley, people who understand and can support her when the world around her is becoming confusing. We also see her two dads, and it’s great to see gay parents in books, particularly of a grown-up gay child. Spencer is close to her parents – divorced, but still good friends – and childhood friend Kendra, who lives next door to Spencer’s mother. Through them, we learn more about Spencer herself, and they challenge her to look inward and see what of her long-held beliefs might need re-evaluating.

With Hadley and Spencer, we have an interracial relationship. This is discussed briefly within the story, but not in great depth. I would have liked to see more about this, as particularly given the current political climate in the US, there are issues affecting people of colour which would not only impact Spencer, but Hadley as well, if they were in a relationship. I would also have liked to see more about Spencer as a black woman working in high fashion, particularly as a designer coming into her own through online sales and marketing. The fashion industry is definitely less white than it used to be, but it’s not exactly a bastion of diversity, and I think there was something very interesting there that didn’t get discussed.

Throughout the book however, as much as I enjoyed Hadley’s POV, I found the book somewhat lacking compared to some of Brayden’s other books. For me, the plot was just too predictable and I felt like the plot’s climax was destined from the start, rather than it being something that developed organically. I ended up enjoying some of the secondary plots – Autumn and Kate and their babies, Taylor and Isabel – more than the main plot. Having said that, it was still an enjoyable read, and lovely to have the focus on Hadley and get to explore her character after seeing her as a secondary in the rest of the series.

Love Like This brings the Seven Shores series to a close. Although though the plot itself isn’t particularly new, Hadley is a completely delightful main character, and her joy will carry you through the book. If you’re looking for a lesbian romance novel with wonderfully warm main character, this is definitely one to consider.

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Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater

I received a free e-ARC of Rosewater by Tade Thompson from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Rosewater is a science-fiction novel, published by Orbit Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, in the UK on 20th September 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

I’d seen a lot about this book before I picked up a copy, but somehow had gathered almost nothing about the actual plot; just that the book was good, and I should read it. I was excited to pick it up, but found it to be quite an unexpected reading experience.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of Kaaro, the main character. The main storyline takes place in 2066, but there are interludes which go back into Kaaro’s past and give us more of his story. I liked the way this was laid out, though I would recommend that anyone reading it try only to stop at chapter breaks (unlike me, with my commute reading which means I pretty much just stop when I get to my stop), as I sometimes found that when I picked the book back up, I’d lost track of where I was. It makes the gradual development of the plot incredibly satisfying, when things start to come together and you can see how past events have influenced the main storyline.

The concept is brilliant, with the alien biodome that’s got its own little town grown up around it. Kaaro’s backstory fleshes out how Rosewater developed, whilst in the main storyline, his life becomes more and more intertwined with the biodome’s creators, and we start to understand more about their plans and powers. There’s a great mixture of technology and (xeno)biology which I found very creepy but also intriguing to read about. And being set in Nigeria brings a very different approach towards and perspective on things, compared to your standard ‘aliens invade New York/LA/London’ story.

I had one fairly major issue with the book, which was the character of Kaaro. He’s sexist and misogynist throughout, and I found that difficult to read. This is called out in the book, both explicitly by other characters, and by some of Kaaro’s own commentary, but as the story is from his perspective, it necessarily colours the way all other characters are seen. I think Thompson did a great job of showing the insidious nature of this kind of viewpoint, and I appreciated it being called out, as when unpleasant viewpoints are portrayed, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate what is character and what is actually authorial opinion. By explicitly describing Kaaro as sexist, it’s made clear that this is the character and that the author has specifically chosen to write him that way.

Kaaro’s sexism also undermines his power, as the main female characters are often far stronger and more powerful than he gives them credit for. I found it quite satisfying each time one of these women revealed the true extent of their knowledge and abilities to Kaaro, and how surprised he was by this every time. I also liked that his attempts to be the ‘hero’ in their lives often didn’t turn out how he’d expected. However, even with his sexism being clearly portrayed as a negative of his character, I found the book difficult to read. The casual sexism, the frequent references to sex or Kaaro’s thoughts about his penis, the homophobia of the society; all these things meant that, for me, this was not an enjoyable read.

Overall, I think Rosewater is an impressive, immersive novel. I was right alongside Kaaro all the way through the book, and I thought both the premise and the way the book followed through on that were very well done. However, I personally didn’t find it a particularly enjoyable read, largely because of the character of Kaaro. I would definitely recommend this book, but with the caveat that, if you’re like me, the sexism and misogyny of both the main character and the society in which he lives might be difficult to deal with.

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Top Ten Tuesday – 2nd October 2018

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 2nd October is…authors I’d love to meetI found this topic to be one that didn’t quite work for me so instead, I’ve picked a random topic from the archives, which is Ten books I’d love to read with my book club. I have two – feminist science fiction (FSF), and queer books (QBC) – so I’m picking books for both of them

  1. QBC: The Rachel Peng series by KB Spangler – I think this would be interesting as a lot of the other attendees aren’t big into genre fiction. This isn’t super heavy in terms of genre, but there’s so much to discuss
  2. FSF: The Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie – with Leckie’s use of the feminine pronoun throughout (and how she’s spoken about it since the publication of the series), this would be perfect for our book club to discuss
  3. QBC: Skylarks by Karen Gregory – I reviewed this gorgeous YA novel a while back and was impressed with how Gregory incorporated politics and activism into her novel, which I think would be right up our book club’s street
  4. FSF: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – this amazing SF novel takes on patriarchy, queer issues, race, colonialism, and so much more, all wrapped up in a generation ship story. I know some other book clubbers have already read it as well, so it would be a good choice
  5. QBC: Final Draft by Riley Redgate – I only recently read this incredible YA novel, but we’re constantly searching for queer books that aren’t don’t just focus on the G or L. With an explicitly pansexual MC, this would be perfect
  6. FSF: Vox by Christina Dalcher – this is an explicitly feminist dystopian novel that feels like a strong successor to The Handmaid’s Tale. We read Atwood’s novel last year, so I think this would be a good follow up for us
  7. QBC: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – another YA option, I think this would be interesting as although the MC isn’t queer, many of the other characters are, and yet in some ways, it doesn’t feel all that queer. I think it would be a great book to discuss
  8. FSF: The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwahn – another feminist dystopia, this one takes an intriguing and pretty creepy take on pregnancy, and I think people would have some super interesting thoughts on this one
  9. QBC: The Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee – another of my go to recommendations, this amazing series could inspire brilliant discussions about gender and sexuality from a very different perspective
  10. FSF: The Machineries of Empire Trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee – and yeah, it for sure works for both book clubs

I enjoyed picking my own topic this month! And as I’m jointly responsible for picking books for our queer book club, I’m hoping to get some of these onto our list!

Do you have any suggestions for either of my book clubs? And if you have a book club of your own, what book would like to read for it? If you’ve got a Top Ten Tuesday this week, pop the link in a comment below and I’ll check it out!

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September Round-Up

Time to play some Green Day!! And wonder how it’s almost October. I really don’t understand that at all. September’s been a fair month for reading, and I’ve managed sixteen books. I think, at this point, that 200 is probably out of reach as I’d somehow forgotten that in November, when NaNoWriMo is on, I’m not going to read so much! But still, I’m overall happy with how it’s gone so far this year. And anyway, on with my September round up:

Read Harder

Still not done! Oh well!

Beat the Backlist

Four Beat the Backlist books for me this month. I didn’t love any of them, but they were generally decent reads for me.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire – I was so excited to read this book with an ace MC, but found its representation less than stellar

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada – this YA dystopian novel has a super cool concept, with biohacking and genetic engineering. I struggled with the pacing, but think I’ll probably pick up the sequel

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez – a book club read, I definitely wouldn’t have picked this queer vampire novel up otherwise, and sadly, it really didn’t work for me

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – another book club read, I enjoyed this one more, and am interested to see what discussion points come up next week

ARCs

So many ARCs this month!!

Food For Love by C Fonseca – a sweet lesbian romance novel about a cyclist and a restaurant owner, set in Australia

Contract For Love by Alison Grey – another lesbian romance novel, but this one had some super uncomfortable power dynamics that I did not enjoy

Life Honestly from The Pool – a collection of essays and articles from The Pool that covered some interesting topics, but disappointed me overall with their lack of diversity

If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker – this was a queer retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, and though I enjoyed the Hawaiian setting, I didn’t love the whole story

Love Like This by Melissa Brayden – the final in the Seven Shores series, this was entertaining enough, though I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other books

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard – this incredible f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast is out on the 16th, and I really can’t recommend it enough! I have a review coming soon as well!

Rosewater by Tade Thompson – a fascinating SF novel, I really struggled with the sexist, misogynist main character, but think it was a very clever, well-written book and I can understand why it’s getting the kind of hype it is

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox – a work of witchy historical fiction that pulled me in and took me on a twisty, ghost-filled journey

Putting the Science in Fiction, edited by Dan Koboldt – this is a brilliant resource for writers wanting to include science in their writing, and also just people who like reading about interesting things

Reviews

And these are the reviews I posted this month:

The Biographies of Ordinary People by Nicole Dieker

Final Draft by Riley Redgate

Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford

Life Honestly from The Pool

I Invited Her In by Adele Parks

If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker

Food For Love by C Fonseca

Contract For Love by Alison Grey

Harshville by Olivia Wildenstein

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Other

I also read a few books that don’t quite fit into the other categories:

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas – I completely adored this YA mystery novel. Like, so much. I’ve recommended to a colleague who loves mysteries and thrillers as well. But seriously, this book is amazing

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann – another book I was excited for, with an ace main character, but I ended up not loving the MC all that much, though the rep was much better than in a lot of books I’ve read

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp – I enjoyed Nijkamp’s previous book, but found this one confusing and really quite upsetting

Currently reading

Summary

I think September’s gone better than I thought it had, though there was a real mixture of books I loved and books I really didn’t. But overall, it was good.

How has September been for you? Any books you’ve really enjoyed? And if you’ve got an September round up, please let me know the link so I can check it out!

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