Quick Review: LOW LIVES by Denny Flowers (Black Library)

FlowersD-N-LowLivesAn excellent Necromunda novella featuring a great pair of protagonists

Even in the nightmare depths of the underhive, there are heroes… or at least those who’d like to be heroes. Caleb Cursebound is one such soul, but pursued by bounty hunters and desperately outgunned, can he even survive, let alone prove his worth?

Caleb Cursebound, the Underhive’s ninth-most-dangerous man, and his ratskin partner Iktomi are in hiding, having deposed the tyrannical lord of a Necromundan noble house. Pursued by relentless bounty hunters, the pair descend to the remote mining settlement of Hope’s End, the last place anyone would think to look. They soon learn, however, that all is not well in Hope’s End; the people are being terrorised by a powerful Orlock gang, and in desperate need of a hero. Caleb cannot resist the opportunity to prove himself, but there are those who would see his reputation forever tarnished…

I’m very happy that GW decided to re-launch Necromunda — it was the game that most caught my attention and imagination when I was in my teens. With the recent re-launch of the game, there has been a welcome return to the setting in BL fiction. Denny Flowers is just one of the authors writing about life in the Underhive, but he has quickly become one to watch. I very much enjoyed this novella. Continue reading

Quick Review: RIOT BABY by Tochi Onyebuchi (Tor.com)

OnyebuchiT-RiotBabyA powerful dystopian novella

Ella has a Thing. She sees a classmate grow up to become a caring nurse. A neighbor’s son murdered in a drive-by shooting. Things that haven’t happened yet. Kev, born while Los Angeles burned around them, wants to protect his sister from a power that could destroy her. But when Kev is incarcerated, Ella must decide what it means to watch her brother suffer while holding the ability to wreck cities in her hands.

Rooted in the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is as much an intimate family story as a global dystopian narrative. It burns fearlessly toward revolution and has quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.

Ella and Kev are both shockingly human and immeasurably powerful. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by racism. Their futures might alter the world.

In Tochi Onyebuchi’s first book for Tor.com, we are introduced to Ella and Kev: sister and brother, navigating contemporary and future America. This is an unstinting look at the injustices of modern society, as well as an extrapolation of where the country could be headed if these failings are left unchecked. It’s a powerful story, and I very much enjoyed reading it. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE by Nghi Vo (Tor.com)

VoN-EmpressOfSaltAndFortuneA short, engaging novella about imperialism and exclusion

A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

In this short novella, Vo introduces us to a handful of interesting and engaging characters, as one regales another with a story of imperialism and oppression. As the synopsis states, the world depicted is akin to imperial China, and the author has a gift for writing evocative, albeit-brief description. After meeting Rabbit, the emperor’s wife’s handmaid, Cleric Chih learns Empress In-yo’s story. Through this, we glean the larger picture of not only In-yo’s life, but also the world and culture in which all of the characters exists. Continue reading

Quick Review: PROSPER’S DEMON by K.J. Parker (Tor.com)

ParkerKJ-ProspersDemonAnother magnificent novella from the master of the form

In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.

The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out — he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.

Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed.

I love K.J. Parker’s short fiction. In addition to his excellent prose, the author is able to pack in so much into his short stories and novellas: they are humorous, subversive, and peppered with historical allusions. Prosper’s Demon is no different. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE GURKHA AND THE LORD OF TUESDAY by Saad Z. Hossain (Tor.com)

HossainSZ-GurkhaAndTheLordOfTuesdayAn amusing, interesting and thought-provoking sci-fi novella

When the djinn king Melek Ahmar wakes up after millennia of imprisoned slumber, he finds a world vastly different from what he remembers. Arrogant and bombastic, he comes down the mountain expecting an easy conquest: the wealthy, spectacular city state of Kathmandu, ruled by the all-knowing, all-seeing tyrant AI Karma. To his surprise, he finds that Kathmandu is a cut-price paradise, where citizens want for nothing and even the dregs of society are distinctly unwilling to revolt.

Everyone seems happy, except for the old Gurkha soldier Bhan Gurung. Knife saint, recidivist, and mass murderer, he is an exile from Kathmandu, pursuing a forty-year-old vendetta that leads to the very heart of Karma. Pushed and prodded by Gurung, Melek Ahmer finds himself in ever deeper conflicts, until they finally face off against Karma and her forces. In the upheaval that follows, old crimes will come to light and the city itself will be forced to change.

This novella was a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t read anything by Hossain before, but The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday turned out to be amusing, engaging, and also thought-provoking. I very much enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: MY BEAUTIFUL LIFE by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-MyBeautifulLifeAn excellent new novella from a master of the form

The story of an individual life that takes extraordinary turns. As the story begins, the nameless, dying narrator takes us back to his childhood home in a remote corner of the ubiquitous Empire. The second of three sons, he lives there with his mother in a state of unrelieved poverty. Life eventually becomes so dire that the mother — who can only find work as a prostitute — is forced to sell one of her children. The oldest son, Nico, volunteers to be sold in order to protect his family, and that decision sets in motion everything that follows.

Nico’s journey takes him, in time, to the heart of the Empire and the very center of power. Over time, he acquires considerable power of his own and uses it to bring his younger brothers into the circle of his influence, changing their lives forever. Under Nico’s guidance, the middle brother — our nameless narrator — achieves a destiny that will alter not only his own life, but the life of the Empire itself.

Each new K.J. Parker novella is something to be cheered. A prolific writer of short fiction (and full-length novels), Parker always brings something new to his stories. Written with a gentle, observant wit, this novella manages to pack a lot into its slim frame. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: SISTERS OF THE VAST BLACK by Lina Rather (Tor.com)

RatherL-SistersOfTheVastBlackAn intriguing sci-fi story of secrets and survival

The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita captain their living ship into the reaches of space…

Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own.

When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care — and that of the galactic diaspora — are in danger. And not from void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.

This, for me, was a novella ultimately about secrets: the secrets we tell ourselves, and those we keep from others — especially those who are close to us. It is also set in an engaging, interesting version of the future. Continue reading