Food of the Gods (Gods and Monsters) (2017) by Cassandra Khaw

“I used to wonder if death kills your sense of humour. It does.” (Loc 72)

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Rupert Wong, “cannibal chef,” prepares food for gods and ghouls. Sometimes he is the food. He used to be a triad and has a dark past he’s not proud of. These days, he’s just trying to make enough for him and his girlfriend to get by, as well as keep the right gods and monsters happy enough to keep him out of hell. That’s hell with a capital “D” or “Diyu”, the Chinese realm of the dead.

“The holy man didn’t tell me anything I wasn’t already expecting. He said I had an express pass to all Ten Courts of Hell. I would be there for a thousand years, if I was lucky.” (Loc 198)

In an effort to work off some of his bad karma, Rupert agrees to investigate the murder of the Dragon King of the South’s daughter. The only clue is a couple of feathers rumoured to have belonged to one of the Greek Furies. Press-ganged private investigator or chef to gods and monsters, Rupert Wong could be the hero we’ve all been waiting for. Continue reading

The Arrival of Missives (2016) by Aliya Whiteley

“There are deep roots to May Day, stretching back through the centuries. I find I have a taste for power in all its forms, […] and what is more powerful than a Queen?” (p.76)

This is the second novella by Aliya Whiteley that I’ve read this year. The first one was her stunning story The Beauty (2014) which left me in awe of its invention, its beautiful prose, and its genuine strangeness. The Arrival of Missives is not quite as strange as The Beauty, but it is equally as fascinating once it draws you in.

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Set in a small village in England just after the First World War, this is the story of Shirley Fearn, the teenage daughter of a successful land-owning farmer. She attends the village school and has a crush on its teacher, the injured war veteran Mr. Tiller. Shirley dreams of escaping the traditional, sleepy village life and is exploring the possibility of training to become a teacher in a school in the next town. Continue reading

Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) by William Gibson

“The Angie stims were sealed in plastic. She took one at random, slit the wrapper with her thumbnail, slotted it, and put the trodes on. She wasn’t thinking; her hands seemed to know what to do, […]. One of them touched PLAY and she slid into the Angie-world, pure as any drug, slow saxophone and limo-glide through some European city, …” (p.143)

 

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Art by Daniel Brown.  Gollancz 2017 edition

The third book in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, Mona Lisa Overdrive continues the story of Angie Mitchell, one of the characters from the second book Count Zero. It is set a few years later than the events of the second Sprawl book. Angie is now a famous “simstim” star, and we join her post detox clinic in a beach house in Malibu.

“The doctors at the clinic had used chemical pliers to pry the addiction away from receptor sites in her brain.” (p.18)

 

As well as Angie’s story, the narrative follows three other plot threads. The first introduces Kumiko, the young daughter of a Japanese yakuza boss. The second thread features an artist known as Slick Henry who lives out in the sticks in a place called “Factory”. The remaining plotline focuses on Mona, a young prostitute who resembles simstim star Angie. As in the previous book, Gibson takes us on a journey through cyberspace as he skillfully weaves together the four narratives. Continue reading

Dreams Before the Start of Time (2017) by Anne Charnock

‘Dr. Christophe smiles. “It seems quiet to us, but it’s noisier for the foetuses. We record the mothers’ and fathers’ voices and feed the sound into the foetus flasks during gestation. We follow a natural daily rhythm—no voices during the night, just the sound of a parental heartbeat.”’ (Loc. 1110)

Anne Charnock’s latest novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, begins in London in 2034. Two friends discover they are pregnant, one by choice, one by accident. The narrative follows the lives of these women and their offspring through successive generations. As the characters age, developments in technology allow for new ways of conceiving, carrying, and giving birth to babies. This includes such procedures as remote gestation in an artificial womb, natural gestation from carefully selected donor sperm, and genetic engineering as a way of preventing birth defects.

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Charnock asks questions about what such advanced and varied fertility techniques could mean to our conceptions of child-rearing, family, and identity. She focuses on the families rather than the technology, making this a character-driven, human story. The sci-fi is kept in the background; Charnock using it as a springboard to explore the effects such technology might have on people and society. Continue reading

White Time (2000) by Margo Lanagan

“One night he woke and it was spread around the moonlit room like oil dribbled on water; its bare organs leaned in a clump near the door, swaying very gently.” –The Night Lily (p.130)

 

7bd5896a57-c7ec-43a4-bf47-3c534d6b08c07dimg400Margo Lanagan is an Australian writer of short stories and Young Adult fiction. Her 2004 book of short stories, Black Juice, won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection in 2005. White Time is Lanagan’s first short story collection, and was published in Australia in 2000 and America in 2006. It contains ten short stories of speculative fiction.

It was Neil Gaiman’s glowing recommendation of Lanagan’s Black Juice which first brought the author to my attention. Black Juice’s opening story, “Singing my Sister Down”, is a mesmerizing piece of short fiction which left a deep impression on me when I first read it. So, I was looking forward to reading this, her first collection, and comparing the two books. (Which means a re-read of Black Juice is in order!) Continue reading

Brother’s Ruin (2017) by Emma Newman

‘“Thems what go in there like this”—the woman held a hand up, fingers pointing at the sky— “come out like this”—she tipped her hand until the palm was horizontal.’ (Loc 316)

 

29964674-_uy838_ss838_In an alternative London in 1850, the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts is recruiting raw, untrained magicians. And they are prepared to pay families handsomely for such talent. Benjamin Gunn and his sister Charlotte appear to have some magical capabilities and one of them is brought to the attention of the Society. This novella by Emma Newman tells the first part of their story, paving the way for more books in what is billed as “a new gaslamp fantasy series” by the author.

Brother’s Ruin is a short and entertaining novella which builds an interesting world around its characters. It’s Victorian England with magic, although Newman refrains from depicting magical battles in the vein of the Harry Potter books. The magic in this story is more restrained. Continue reading

Count Zero (1986) by William Gibson

“Eyes open, he pulled the thing from his socket and held it, his palm slick with sweat. It was like waking from a nightmare. Not a screamer, where impacted fears took on simple, terrible shapes, but the sort of dream, infinitely more disturbing, where everything is utterly wrong …” (p.30)

 

Count Zero is the second book in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. It is not a direct sequel to Neuromancer, but it does develop some of the themes and ideas Gibson used in his seminal first novel. It’s a more mature, more ambitious work than Neuromancer, telling the stories of three main characters: Turner, a mercenary-for-hire; Bobby, a young console-cowboy; and Marly, a former art gallery owner.

2006 Ace Books edition

Like its predecessor, Count Zero is not an easy read. Gibson has no time for info-dumps, being a proponent of the “show, don’t tell” school of storytelling. This means we are dropped into the middle of the author’s universe and need to hit the ground running as we try to keep up. It can be challenging at times, and may require a few re-reads of parts of the book, but it is so worth it. Continue reading