Review | A Little Knowledge by Emma Newman

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Where to start?

First off, I’m about to get spoilery. So, if you don’t like to be spoiled. I suggest you watch my video about Split Worlds #1-3 and then go read them. They’re that lovely kind of bubble gum fun you only really get in certain sub-genres of SFF. I liked them. I suspect you will as well.

In the fourth book of the series, we pick up with Cathy and Will as Duke and Duchess. They’ve started their rise to power, and Cathy has decided to use it to liberate the women of the Nether, like you do. But, it’s not that easy and, of course, she’s upsetting a lot of people and making many many enemies. She still doesn’t know what Will’s been doing behind her back or that their Patron is threatening to kill her if Will doesn’t get a bun in that oven.

I have two major problems with this book. (1) The plot is suffering some middle-book syndrome and doesn’t seem to be coming together, and (2) it’s been so long since the first three were out that getting back into the world and writing feels disjointed. Since there were rights, publishing, and reprint issues, I can’t really blame anyone for (2), so I’ll busy myself with the more substantial issue.

We’ll talk about the storylines one at a time, shall we?

Max and the Gargoyle

So, Max is slowly putting together an Arbiter’s office from scratch and trying to figure out what’s going on in the Nether. Since dead wizards keep showing up and he can’t go to the existing Arbiters, he’s left leading a hodgepodge crew of mortals and trying to keep the sorcerers’ disappearances under wraps.

It’s one of those situations where I know that this plot is going to wind up going somewhere, but for now, it feels stalled. There are a few things that Max uncovers regarding the Nether that are used to save the day, but that point is tangential to Max himself and, frankly, is feels like a convenient way to solve a problem.

That being said, we get to find out about some of Max’s past, which I find really exciting. The mystery is starting to come together, if only through magic internet use and the Gargoyle’s persistence, but it feels like one step closer to Max and his Gargoyle becoming one entity again.


Sam’s now Lord Iron and set on trying to do some good. He’s up against a possibly losing battle (Max helps him figure out the underlying problems here), and of course, he’s sad about Cathy seeming to be happy with Will.

Let’s all say it: BUT I’M A NICE GUY!

Lord Iron is all set up to get serious, but that won’t be until next book, so we’re waiting.

Cathy and Will

Oh, Will and Cathy. That’s a hot mess, intentionally so.

Cathy is starting to try and influence the court. Will is trying to knock her up. Neither is a good communicator.

Let’s not forget Will’s creepy tendencies. Those are still around.

It’s coming to a head, though. Only so long you can drug your wife into loving you before that backfires.


It’s a middle book and it feels like one. The action is a little laggy, and what action there is takes up time that we’re using because of the needed set up. I’m ready for book 5. This one, while enjoyable, was a bit lackluster for me. Too much organizing pieces of the puzzle, not enough putting them together.


Why I’m trying this out

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If you follow me on YouTube, you know I decided to do a video every day this July (or at least, I’ve decided to try it). I wanted to provide some context because I think it explains a lot of things, especially why I’m doing this project and where I’ve been the last few months, other than lurking around the internet like a ghost.

I wish I could make this a video, but honestly I don’t know if I could handle it. I don’t really know if I’ll be posting this or if that post will stay up.

Three months ago, I lost my partner. He had a congenital heart defect and passed away. We’d been together for six years.

I’ve been, understandably, withdrawn since. The last three months have been pretty reserved.

I’ve joked for  a long time about having pre-hermit tendencies and, to be honest, resisting them has been hard. It’s been easy to withdraw and just spend my time quietly by myself cuddling kitten. I’ve been lucky on this front. I have a fantastic group of friends, both those near and far. My family and work have been supportive. My mother has been the goddess she’s always been. So, I haven’t totally withdrawn. But God knows, I don’t feel anything close to myself.

So, going into the next few months, I’m really trying to push myself.

I know I’m not going to feel great every day. It’s been hard to sit and enjoy reading. Part of me appreciates it as a relaxing quiet activity I can turn to instead of being social. Another part of me can’t concentrate, or doesn’t find the same enjoyment out of it right now. But, reading things I know I love is comforting.

I think doing a video everyday, in particular, is going to be very good for me. The structure and planning is a comfort, but it also encourages me to be creative and social. Those are two things I know I need right now. Moreover, they’re things I would typically not seek out. Hermit tendencies are running pretty high.

So, please be patient with me. I appreciate you. And, know that if I go off the radar, I’ll be back.

The Ladies Who Could Have Been…

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My shelves are filled with ladies. I’m a fan of Leia and Rey; I adore Xena and Gabrielle; Buffy and Charmed are my sick day go-tos. I have feminist SFF coming out of my ears. But I spend a lot of time wondering if it’s really THEM that I like. Something about the Strong Female Protagonist is always going to grab me, but sometimes it seems like the Chinese takeout of the speculative fiction world: tasty and fun, but not always satisfying.

What I really want in my female characters has never been strength for strength’s sake. I want them to be rivers that run deep even when they look shallow. When I think about my favorite ladies, they tend to fit that mold. It’s not hard to see the complexity in Buffy’s character as the seasons go along.

I think what may be odder are the female characters I like who aren’t in the typical mold. I like many characters set up to be side characters and many of the main SFPs I can’t stand. It’s an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about lately. Read the rest of this entry »

When people say… (or a Star Wars Ramble)

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Sometimes I feel sorry for Leia Organa. She got the short end of the stick. Don’t get me wrong. She’s got a good deal of privilege, but having Vader for a birth father and leading the rebel alliance wasn’t exactly a piece of cake.

But, in particular, I’ve thought for a long time that Leia doesn’t ever get to be a real person, no matter who’s talking to, at, or about her.

Take Note, Skywalker Boys (Force Awakens Spoilers)

People have been posting this picture left and right on my tumblr and twitter since December. Not going to lie, it’s been getting under my skin a little. I’m not going to talk about the tired Bikini Leia tropes, or about how her role is stunted after the first movie in a lot of ways. I’m going to focus on the alternate, newer trend in Leia love.

I’ll never dispute the badassery of Leia. The woman can take on The Man with the best of us. She’s gutsy and loyal. Her will is strong. As a kid, she was easily a favorite. But between the Leia as bad-ass sex icon and Leia as can-do-no-wrong purveyor of all things good, I can’t help but think we’re missing the point, all the points.

Preface to this: I’ve not read the extended Star Wars cannon. Though my wiki skills are on point, my first hand knowledge of the universe is limited to movies and the recent run of Star Wars comics. Since this is my place on the internet, I’m going to babble regardless. I promise to go get the newest Star Wars book this afternoon.

There seem to be a couple of fundamental errors in this statement, though, that have been under my skin.

We don’t know if Leia has the Force.

So, the Dark Side is a thing specific to the force, right? There are mundane helpers of the Dark Side and regular, every day employees of the Dark Side, but we all know the truth: if there is someone who can be actively tempted by the POWER OF THE DARK SIDE, they’ve got to be in touch with the Force.

But, I’ll give. I think her ability to sense Luke, her father, her son and husband are all pretty indicative of the force. We’ll save the no-training injustice talk for later.

Even if Leia does have the Force, are we really claiming she has never been tempted?!

Leia has lost a lot of stuff throughout her life.

Her family is dead.

Her planet is destroyed.

She’s had to wrestle for power in a system literally built to keep her from success.

Are we really so naïve as to claim that she’s never been tempted?

The true fact is, we don’t spend a lot of time with Leia. Her role in the story is to provide resources to the main male heroes and hopefully mentor Rey. Her story is not the focus nor has it ever been. She’s put through a lot and can be because we don’t have to follow her around. We don’t have to watch her cry the night Alderaan is destroyed. We don’t watch her rage at Vader or mourn the loss of the birth parents she’d never know. We don’t watch her struggle to come to grips with a leadership role she never asked for but can’t refuse.

Let’s not lie. All signs point to a Leia Organa who is just a bucket of rage and determination.

What we like to think as a fandom is that she can go throughout all of that without a speck of self-doubt or temptation. But, that’s certainly not the case.

And as we all know,

Luke is the obvious analog for Vader. He’s meant to be. Too young, too powerful, too uncontrolled.

But the same can easily be said for Leia. Ruler of a people without the guidance of others, fighting and mourning at the same time.

That her rage would never lead to a desire for destruction, to disproportionately wound those who have hurt her most? Let’s not be naïve. And if she does have the power, truly can be tempted by the Force, let’s not pretend that she hasn’t been. It’s easy to justify trying to change things from the inside. The whole point is that the Dark Side is a temptation to even the strongest among us. Temptation to give in to the pain, doubt, anger, is universal.

True fact: Leia isn’t strong because she’s never been tempted. She’s strong because she resists.

Review | Arkwright by Allen Steele

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There’s a lot to love about Allen Steele’s Arkwright. I’m a little in love with it myself.

The story follows Nathan Arkwright and his family. Arkwright is a fictional contemporary of Heinlein, Clarke, and the golden age authors in SF. He’s best known for his Galaxy Patrol stories, a pulpy SF series that would, in his universe, help inspire young readers to go into the sciences, become astronauts, and generally love fiction and reading. When Arkwright dies, estranged from his family, he leaves his estate to the newly established Arkwright Foundation. The Arkwright Foundation, led by his granddaughter, is committed to taking humanity into space and interstellar travel.

The book is broken up into three parts: Nathan Arkwright’s history, the development of the Arkwright Foundation and its mission execution, and the results of the interstellar travel.

As a result, I want to talk about the book in parts.


Nathan Arkwright’s history is easily my favorite part of the book. It composes the first third and is an homage to the golden age of SF. It’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. If all you read is the first third of this book,  it will have been well worth your time.

Nathan Arkwright’s history recounts the Futurian movement in SF, a push to use SF as a means of talking about social and scientific change as opposed to simply a means of entertainment. The Futurian movement in SF caused an actual break in the SF world at a New York convention in 1937. Arkwright is caught up in the split, but doesn’t feel at home with either side of the movement. As a result, he observes the dynamic and interacts with the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, John W. Campbell, and Robert Heinlein. It’s basically the coolest alt history/fanfic ever.

Note: If you want to read more about the actual Futurian split in SF, you can read The Futurians by Damon Knight and it’s mentioned in Arthur C. Clarke’s autobiography.

Nat Arkwright and his friends are fun and likeable. They’re energetic and representative of the enthusiasm for SF and the industry that makes being a part of SF great. The tone matches the time and the characters undergo changes in their lives (WWII, family dynamics, friendships and relationships) and eventually go through the cycle of enthusiast, jaded, and renewed. There’s so much to love here.

The Arkwright Foundation comes about after Nat’s death and is led by his granddaughter Kate. A significant part of this section is about the generations that it takes to make interstellar travel actually possible. It’s not overly technical, but is probably a fair description of the time and efforts it would take to make a starship actually work. One of Nat’s descendants describes the family commitment as cult-like.

While I could appreciate this part, and many folks have compared it to a generation ship in so far as it takes multiple generations to make the mission happen. There’s definitely a point here.

While each of the characters are likeable and I can understand and appreciate the role this section plays, the story feels a bit like the kind of story you write as a kid. You know the one. There’s a mommy and a daddy who fall in love and have a baby. That baby grows up to fall in love and becomes a mommy/daddy and has a baby, so on and so forth into eternity. Each character has a role to play in the mission’s success, but it wasn’t as engaging as I’d like and felt a bit formulaic.

Once the ship lands, the story picks up again. The interstellar ship, the Galactique, successfully lands and begins to disseminate new plant and animal life to make their new home habitable. Because of the expense of sending actual adults, the mission collected zygotes to send into space and fertilize upon arrival. Those become the descendants of Nat Arkwright and his allies in space.

This section of the book really interested me. It poses the question: if we do send children into space to be born and grow and develop on their own, who do they become? And equally as interesting, are we still human if we change ourselves to adapt to a new world. Evolution and a nature v. nurture are all wrapped up in one here and I thought the results are fascinating. The characters and new social norms are captivating. The development of government and religion– or rather the exploration of what may come to pass– is so interesting. It’s the kind of question I actually spend a lot of time thinking about.

To make it better, the new humans have distinct features physically and linguistically. They walk on both all fours and bipedally. Their language is all computer abbreviations, min for minutes and secs for seconds without knowing the full word. It’s really an interesting line of thinking.

I really liked this novel, though I would say it’s U-shaped. Exciting and the beginning and end with a bit of a dull middle. Regardless, you can tell Steele spent a lot of time thinking about the way he uses SF and what there really is to love about it: the future and the changes the future brings.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review

Review | The Vegetarian by Han King

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Han King’s The Vegetarian has been awarded the Man Booker Prize and while I can see the appeal, it left me wanting, not in a good way.

The story revolves around a family in which the daughter becomes a vegetarian after a nightmare. She’s compulsive about it, not eating anything that came from animals and getting to the point where instead of avoiding touching meat, she avoids touching people as well. The smell of sweat bothers her.

The story is short, with three different perspectives: the woman’s husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law.

To be honest, it’s pretty manic pixie dream girl. There’s some hand waving at magical realism, but it doesn’t follow through and the story’s structure feels stunted. The characters are mysoginists and flat. The pacing is meandering, and I didn’t find the story compelling. If it had followed through on some of its more magical and dream-related elements I would have found it more interesting.

Overall, it wasn’t for me. Maybe my tastes just aren’t literary enough.


I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Fellside by M. R. Carey

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The Girl with All the Gifts was M. R. Carey’s most recent novel and the first to cross my path, though he’d been writing comics for years beforehand and has a hearty backlist. The hype was pretty high when I read it, but after enjoying it, I kept my eye out for Carey’s works. Fellside, Carey’s new book, was released April 5th by Orbit books.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into with this one. The cover features The Girl with All the Gifts and the set up sounded fairly similar– woman stuck in an institution with surprising supernatural occurrences. I couldn’t tell if it would be too similar to TGWATG or if it would be connected somehow.

Fellside features a woman named Jess who has been sent to prison for the murder of a young boy in her apartment building. Jess was high at the time, was horribly burned in the resulting fire, and, most importantly, doesn’t remember anything that happened after shooting up. Now, in Fellside prison for a life sentence, the ghost of the young boy she killed is haunting her.

The take away from this book was by and large that Carey can write a solid story.

The book does what many stories about prison do: a dash of crime plot, mix in some character background, add in a touch of prison violence, sprinkle some drugs on top and voila!

The story plot and character constructions, though again solidly done, left something to be desired. In a lot of ways, it was very predictable, despite multiple attempts at twists. The characters were rarely fleshed out beyond the typical, particularly for the inmates, and their internal life outside of Jess doesn’t get too much consideration. Again, the construction itself is done solidly, it just lacked much in the way of pushing the limits.

The draw for this is the paranormal aspect. The ghost that haunts Jess in prison adds an element of fantasy and Carey draws on that for the book’s distinction. The paranormal aspect is twined together with Jess’ childhood fantasies and some fairly terrifying events. Carey uses these elements in a way that’s fairly well integrated with the plot and its creation and descriptions were satisfying. Jess’ supernatural history could have been expanded upon and people who knew about it could have questioned more, but overall it was pretty well done.

Fellside won’t make my best of list, but it’s an entertaining read and worth picking up if you are looking for something reliable for the time and money you’ll spend.

A thanks to Orbit books which sent me a copy of Fellside for free in exchange for an honest review.