BooksOfTheMoon

Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night and Other Stories

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

This book collects four short stories set in the Alita-verse, two of which feature Alita herself. We open with a story featuring Ido, shortly after he was banished from Zalem and his discovery of a girl who needs his help (sound familiar?). It’s quite a melancholy story, but gives us more insight into Alita’s ‘father’.

Second up, we have Sonic Finger, set during what I think of as a golden period of Alita’s time in the Scrapyard. She’s finished with Motorball and being a hunter-warrior, but is beloved by them and trains them. When someone attacks her with what appears to be a gun, her friends all rally round. There’s a lot more action in this one, but no real depth. We don’t get any character development or even any real reason as to why Sonic Finger was doing it.

The third story is a short one with hardly any dialogue, featuring a Deckman who left the scrapyard, and its encounter with Alita. This one manages to pack a lot of punch into a short, almost wordless story. We see the Deckman learning about the world outside the Scrapyard, playing with children and seeing the beauty of a sunset. All the while being trailed by Alita in her A-1 TUNED phase.

The final story is set after the end of the main series, following Koyomi’s attempts to be a journalist photographer, and her desire to find the rumoured still living leader of the Barjack rebellion again, just so that she can have a purpose in life. Again, not a huge amount of action, but some nice character development for Koyomi.

These are an enjoyable set of stories in the Alita-verse that help round out her world, but are by no means essential.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632367105
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2018

Federations

By John Joseph Adams (editor)

Rating: 3 stars

This is a nice idea for an anthology: stories set in and imagining large-scale interstellar societies. There’s a mix of reprints and originals, and I tended to find the originals tended to match the brief better than the reprints.

There was a mix of stories here. There weren’t any that I outright hated, but I couldn’t remember enough about Ender’s Game to appreciate Orson Scott Card’s Mazer in Prison, set in the same universe, before Ender’s time; and I feel there was some mythology in LE Modesitt Jr’s Life-Suspension that I missed which probably stopped me getting the most out of it. Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy by Harry Turtledove was probably a bit too comic for my taste; while Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason just felt grim, after a hopeful start.

The story I had the most problem with was Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Returned, which is another story abut the brainship Helva, The Ship Who Sang. I was very fond of another Brainship book, The Ship Who Searched in my youth, but this makes me very wary of going back and revisiting it. To put it kindly, there’s a lot of outdated notions of womanhood and ability, not to mention outright rape jokes that really left a sour taste.

On the other hand, there were some great stories as well, including Spirey and the Queen by Alistair Reynolds about two (too-)balanced factions fighting a war in a distant solar system; Mary Rosenblum’s My She about telepaths who form the basis of the communication network between the stars; The One With the Interstellar Group Consciousness, about the conscious Zeitgeist of a civilisation that just wants to settle down and get married; and finally Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy which is a great story that paints a society through wine.

So a great idea for an anthology, but the execution could have been better.

Book details

ISBN: 9781532739941
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Year of publication: 2016

Flotation Device: A Charity Anthology

By E.M. Faulds (editor)

Rating: 4 stars

This anthology from the members of the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle was put together quickly after the start of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, in aid of various charities. All the authors donated their stories, so all the money (minus PayPal fees) went to the chosen charities. Given the cause, how could I refuse?

There’s quite a variety of stories here, light and dark, and of varying lengths. The opener, Of Gods and Monsters was strong, with a modern take on a fantasy Quest, where the princess gets pregnant with the Chosen One’s child and the Mighty Wizard storms off in a huff, so they have to find another solution. Sweet and funny, a fun way to start the collection.

Other highlights included The Map, or a Pocketful of Dog’s Teeth about a carny and their con trick against a punter; Amaranth, a metaphor for depression wrapped in a superhero story and The Snow Baby about a boy and his younger brother who’s been hidden from the rest of the village for fear they’ll kill him, which turned out better than I was expecting.

Some stories are short but pack quite a punch, such as The Anniversary by Ruth EJ Booth. Christopher Napier’s The Sea Calls its Own is longer, but has father-son feelings going on, and an end that punched me in the guts.

There are some well known names in here, such as Hal Duncan, with Threnody. I’m sorry to say that having read several pieces by Duncan in different collections, I’ve never entirely clicked with his style. Neil Williamson also contributed a story: Rare as a Harpy’s Tear, which is lyrical and melancholy.

I’m saving my favourite story for the end though. I must proclaim an interest here, in that I know Brian Milton personally and he’s a lovely chap, but I always perk up when I see a new story by him. His style is whimsical and light, but always full of heart. Here, he contributed Some of the Great Old Ones are on the Pitch, a story in broad Scots about a kerfuffle at a Partick Thistle football game. And, because some people apparently found this difficult to interpret, he’s provided a translation into the Queen’s English on his website. Heartily recommended if you need a smile today.

This is a good collection, with many of its stories based in Glasgow or Scotland, and for a good cause. Definitely worth your money and your time.

Book details

Publisher: Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle
Year of publication: 2020

Robots vs. Fairies

By Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (editors)

Rating: 4 stars

This is another gem from Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” over on Whatever. The idea of an anthology features robots and/or fairies tickled me, and I’m very glad I picked it up, as it’s a very strong anthology with a lot of big names in it.

It opens with Seanan McGuire‘s Build me a Wonderland (featuring both robots and fairies), which is a great read that satirises theme parks, consultants and HR. This is followed by a thoughtful story by Ken Liu on life in Silicon Valley, robot nannies and the way they change the social fabric around them. It’s also filled with geek popular culture references (particularly from the Star Trek episode Darmok), which always goes down well with me.

Other highlights include Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt, about a human librarian of a fairy library, which is a huge amount of fun; Just Another Love Song about a New York banshee just trying to make a living as Fae disappear around her; and To a Cloven Pine, Max Gladstone‘s science fictional take on The Tempest.

Hmm, looking at that list, it looks like I’m on Team Fairy, which surprises me, since I would consider myself much more Team Robot. The things we learn about ourselves.

Special mention to Catherynne M. Valante‘s closing story A Fall Counts Anywhere, which, like the opening story, also features both fairies and robots, this time in a very literal take on the anthology title, with robots and fae fighting it out, Battle Royal-style, in a WWE-style wrestling ring. Very fun, and with a surprising amount of pathos for such a silly concept.

So a great anthology for any fan of fairies and/or robots. With an absolutely beautiful cover to boot.

Book details

ISBN: 9781481462358
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2018

How Long ’til Black Future Month?

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 4 stars

I approach every NK Jemisin story I read with trepidation that is mostly undeserved. The reputation of the Broken Earth books casts a long shadow, and to me, the author has the kind of reputation that meeting her would lead to me cowering, in the submission position, while backing away as politely as possible. This reputation, if it exists outwith my head, is undeserved, if this collection is anything to go by. Yes, it has the (deserved) anger of a black woman who has finally found a voice, but there’s joy and playfulness in there too. Stories such as L’Achimista, about a chef given a chance to prove her greatness, after a fall from grace; and The City Born Great, telling of the birth of the soul of the city of New York are beautiful and joyful.

There’s conversation within the genre, with responses to Heinlein and Le Guin and there’s dread, pain, death (and other anthropomorphic personifications) and, of course, hope.

I wish that Jemisin had provided a few words on each of the stories. I always enjoy hearing the context in a which a story was written, to help foster a deeper appreciation, but although it’s something Asimov did a lot, and did well, I’m not sure how common it is these days.

I’ve encountered a few stories before in other forms (often in audio form on Escape Pod and its siblings), but there was only one story which I skipped entirely because it was difficult enough first time round (Walking Awake, where alien Masters possess human bodies like puppets, if you’re wondering). And despite my memory, Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters is a fantastic story and a great way to round off the collection. Oh, and this story also has the most memorable metaphor in the whole book: “blue sky hard as a cop’s eyes”. Ouch.

So 4.5 stars, rounded down. A fantastic collection, with just one or two stories that just didn’t gel for me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512549
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2018

Asimov’s Mysteries

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 4 stars

This book is science fiction of the old school: where characters are there purely to drive the plot, but the plot hinges on some extrapolation of actual science. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve really started to appreciate more sociological and character-driven SF, but this is the stuff I grew up on, with all its strengths and flaws.

Asimov presents thirteen of his science fiction short stories, all with a mystery theme to them. Several of them feature Wendell Urth, an “extraterrologist” with extreme agoraphobia, who has never travelled further than he can walk. And yet, he has a detailed knowledge of the worlds outside of Earth and uses this to help the police solve crimes from around the solar system. Some of the stories are funny (a two page shaggy dog story that was there purely to set up a pun had me cackling), some are serious. There’s a spy story that seems like it’s inspired by James Bond, except that the author says he wrote it before he’d heard of Bond. And the final story in the collection: The Billiard Ball is the only whodunnit I’ve read in which the key to the mystery involves general relativity!

As ever, Asimov’s own words on his stories are part of the fun. He provides fore- and/or afterwords on each story, with a bit of history or context, and his authorial voice is charming. I do wish I could have met the man.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, but, as ever with SF of this era, YMMV. There are almost no women to speak of and there’s not much in the way of depth of characterisation. But if you want a set of solid whodunnits, in an SF context, you can’t go far wrong with this.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586029299
Publisher: Panther
Year of publication: 1969

Binti: The Complete Trilogy

By Nnedi Okorafor

Rating: 3 stars

I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. It had such a positive vibe on social media, and won a number of awards, that I was excited to get this omnibus for Christmas. Unfortunately, it just didn’t grab me that much, and I can’t really figure out why. I quite enjoyed the first novella, which had a sort of almost dreamlike feel to it. The killing of everyone on the ship and Binti’s survival feel like they’re being seen from a distance or through water. This means they don’t create as much of an emotional impact as they should.

The short story (Sacred Fire) and the second novella (Home) probably left me the most cold. In the former, it’s clearer that Binti has a sort of PTSD (not unexpected, frankly) and goes out into the desert to try and deal with it. We also see some of her classmates and some friends that she makes. In the latter, Binti decides to return home to Earth to complete a ritual to achieve womanhood, and brings her friend Okwa (the Medusa who had helped kill everyone on her ship) with her, to try and cement the peace treaty between them and the Khoush, the human tribe (country? Empire? It’s never made clear) that they had been at war with. But more importantly, she has to deal with her own family and the rest of her people.

This I had real trouble with: these people are so mired in tradition and desire for home that they viewed any attempt to leave as a betrayal, and a selfish move on Binti’s part, and one that meant that no man would want to marry her. I snorted out loud at that one. I understand a love of home, but to deny someone their desire to learn seems almost perverted to me, and left me feeling very cold towards them.

The last story, Night Masquerade had the most plot to it and was probably the one I enjoyed the most. Having just discovered that she has alien DNA in her (well, more alien DNA than she thought) Binti has to use her utmost skills as a master harmoniser to bring peace between the Medusae and the Khoush before her people are trampled underfoot by their war. And also discover the secrets of her edan.

I think one of the things that irritated me about the book was that Binti was too special. She was, by the end of the first story, a genius mathematician; a master harmoniser; a Medusae ambassador; wielder of the edan. And then by the end of the whole series she’s more than that again. It just felt a little too much. And I thought the reveal of the edan while being funny was a bit of an anticlimax.

Book details

ISBN: 9780756415181
Publisher: Daw Books
Year of publication: 2019

City

By Clifford D. Simak

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of eight short stories in the same setting, connected with a framing story that describes the stories themselves as legends that Dogs have passed down throughout the years about the decline and fall of the mythical species known as Man.

Simak sees a future where first humanity abandons the cities in favour of small, rural communities and later flees Earth for new forms on Jupiter, leaving only a small remnant behind, that is too intimidated by their forebears to create anything new, content to pass on their legacy to the Dogs.

There is continuity in the stories through the Webster family that recurs at pivotal moments, and of the robot Jenkins who serves the Websters. It’s a melancholic sort of book, dealing as it does with the end of humanity, but one with hope that our successors, the Dogs that a Webster uplifted, will be better than us.

The idea of the rugged individual or small community rather than the close living of cities feel decidedly American to me, especially the America of the middle of the 20th century. Having read other of Simak’s works, this love of country life above that of the city is a hallmark of his work. Personally, I really enjoy city life, which made the premise of the first story (which sees the end of the cities) difficult to accept, but once I got past that, the decline of humanity was easier to accept.

The stories are very Golden Age SF, with hardly a woman in sight and, apart from one that was set on Jupiter, all very much rooted on Earth. Simak contrasts Man’s desire to look outward and reliance on technology with Dog’s more introspective intelligence and finds us wanting.

A quietly retrospective book, tinged with melancholy, whose ideas will linger in mind after you put the book down.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575105232
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2011

The Folk Tales of Scotland: The Well at the World’s End and Other Stories

By Norah Montgomerie, William Montgomerie

Rating: 3 stars

This was an interesting collection of folk- and fairy-tales from across Scotland. Most of them are very short, only a few pages each, which hardly leaves any space for characterisation or plot development. There’s a lot of repetition within stories as well – the power of three crops up again and again where the hero must do things three times to get the effect. I imagine this works better in the oral tradition than written down. There are also variations on well-known stories (including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin) and lots of very traditional roles (princess offered in marriage as a prize for the hero recurs often).

But it’s interesting to read older versions of some of these traditional stories to see how they’ve evolved over time and where there are seeds for other stories. It’s also nice (if somewhat surprising) to see several stories featuring Finn McCool, who’s more closely associated with Irish mythology.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841586946
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 1956

Sunspot Jungle: The Ever Expanding Universe of Fantasy and Science Fiction

By Bill Campbell

Rating: 4 stars

This is a pretty huge collection, and the range of stories is impressive as well. There’s no real theme to the collection, but it’s a set of well-told tales. The opening is as strong as you would expect from someone with the reputation of N. K. Jemisin, being a dystopia where the alien Masters control the earth, and the very bodies of its people. The tone of the stories varies up and down, but seems to get darker towards the end of the collection. That particular beat isn’t to my taste, but there’s enough else here to enjoy, and no story really outstays its welcome (the only story that I mostly skipped was Clifton Gachagua’s No Kissing the Dolls Unless Jimi Hendrix is Playing as I just found it impenetrable).

Some highlights for me include Sarah Pinsker’s A Song Transmuted about the power of music; Real Boys by Clara Kumagai, telling the story of one of the boys turned into donkeys in Pinocchio (that scene in the Disney film terrified me as a kid); Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar, about a woman who may or may not be going mad; How to Piss Off a Failed Super Soldier by John Chu, about a super-powered person who needs help to learn how to live. I perhaps shouldn’t have read Hal Duncan’s A Pinch of Salt — tale of sex and blasphemy — while I was eating, but then knowing what I do about Duncan, that was my own fault.

So a strong collection, with a lot of variety, and contributions from all over the world. It’s nice to see an editor willing to pull contributions from beyond the usual anglophone sphere.

Book details

ISBN: 9780998705972
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing
Year of publication: 2018

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