Nicola Barker

Happy Nicola Barker

Review By Kris Vyas-Myall

Sometimes there are works that are beautiful in style. Sometimes there are works with great character and depth. Sometimes there are works that I think about regularly long after I have finished them. It is rare to find one that is all of these but it comes in the form of H(A)PPY.

I cannot recall entirely what I heard about this book (although I feel book is too small a term for what it is attempting to do) but something intrigued me enough that I knew I had to seek it out even months after I became aware of it. And I was not disappointed.

For whilst it is a narrative prose novel, it also acts as a literary experiment, and a multimedia piece, and a meditation on art whilst being art in itself. And yet what really impressed me was both how it was not something that I could see working in any other medium but also being totally readable and understandable.  I never had any question of what was going on but would go back over passages to just swim in their beauty.

Another element of the style which flows into the next part was the narrative from Mira A’s perspective, which was something I felt very close to (I don’t know if this was Barker’s intent but who cares for authorial intent). The way she thinks very much reflects my own in many ways: the double think, the multiple voices, the points where my brain just gets stuck or the words won’t come. Even the use of colour I understood the meaning of better than 100 words of explanation on emotion, when I am asked what I am feeling I can better characterise via a colour chart than any terms.

It should not be said though that this is all in the style. The narrative is also intriguing. This dystopia is one in the very original sense – the society built to be perfect but inherently rotten. So we see how this society should be allowing people to be their happiest but in doing so it is stifling them and  stopping them from being who they need to be.

I wanted to address the sections about Barrios which I take  as an important point of mirroring. Barrios’ works were inspired by the work of others but through craft she was creating something which inspired others and is still beautiful. Just as Mira A creates her own  which then becomes her own liberation. For me I did not want the world to be   out or see others’ perspective as to do so would be to make it a much more pedestrian novel. The subjective lived experience of Mira A in this environment is what makes it beautiful and gives it the substance and flavour.

Now this book I can understand will not be to everyone’s taste but Mira’s experience is something I feel is worth everyone going through. Maybe it will resonate with you as it did with me. Perhaps it will not. But then, isn’t that the point of art?

Goodreads Link
Publishers’ Website

Announcement: The Subjective Chaos Kind Of Awards – Finalists

We are now coming to the finalists in the SCKA. Following much judicial discussion here are the works that made it to the final round, along with quotes from the discussions:

Best Fantasy Novel

Metronome by Oliver Langmead
"…on the level of pure enjoyment and delight, Metronome was miles ahead for me"
"Metronome is so much fun and bizarre"

Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

"I loved the writing and the atmosphere, and I enjoy books that make the Fae creepy af"
"…creating that most unique eerie feel in a world"

Best Science Fiction Novel

Places in the Darkness by Christopher Brookmyre

"I really loved the characters and it was very old school but told in a modern fashion"
"I love a cynical, hard-boiled detective…and combines it perfectly with the SF elements for me. I enjoyed the tension between our female leads, and the growing trust."

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

"…what jumped out was…the feelings. Giselle and Aster are both traumatised and have gone on very different directions to hide that pain the rawness for me worked"
"The idea here is that we bring the same problems from Earth to space and that the problem isn’t in the science but in ourselves."

Best Series

The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

"something very fun, very entertaining"

"…the conceit of an aristocratic Victorian naturalist with fantasy was wonderful and inspired"

The Broken Earth by N. K. Jemisin

"…near perfect. Just one of the most amazing things I have read."

"I am absolutely blown away by it – the prose / storytelling style, the characters, the world-building"

Split Worlds by Emma Newman
"I love a portal fantasy. Plus feminism, yay!"
"Absolutely fantastic characters, some you love, some you love hating, with an added folklore dimension"

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

"…manages to go such interesting places and explore a world so deeply with real brevity."

"What I really really enjoyed was the themes of the story, particularly the fact of growing up in a traditional society with a yearning to go beyond without reneging on your origins."

Best Novella

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

"…really showing that fantasy can do a lot more with social history than people think"
"Klages managed to completely get a hook in my emotions and drag me along in a marvellous manner.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

"creepy as hell yet also created a fascinating lead character"
"fascinating, and creepy, and I really liked just how hard Thompson had thought about the consequences / implications of his concept"

Best Blurred Boundaries

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

" whilst short, packs in so much and creates such a fascinating world."
"bots with personalities and goddesses in beauty salons. How to win me over"

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

"beautiful and poignant and clever in all the right ways."
"a book well worth experiencing."

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

"As always her characters, both heroes and villains, are the heart of the book and in particular I enjoyed how nearly all major roles are women."
"Familiar, unnerving, inhuman, terrifying"

Under The Pendulum Sun

Jeannette Ng

Under The Pendulum Sun

Review by Kris Vyas-Myall

This is one of those novels that has already been so discussed and engaged with by people much smarter than I am. As such I worry than anything I have to say will add little of note to the ongoing conversation. With that in mind however it is a very rich book and worth exploring, even if it isn’t always entirely to my taste.

The first point that has to be touched on is the religious aspect. The discussions of theology were interesting and I recognised them well from my degree, religious background, and own reading for fun. The choice of the time period was, I am sure, intentional where we begin to see a movement to see a shift in doctrine by many churches (as a result of both the horrors of the industrial revolution and scientific advances such as fossils, Champollion’s aging of the pyramids and the theories of natural selection) but is cleverly counterpointed by having a world that is literalist. This actually becomes even deeper and more fascinating as it goes on (but will no say no more because…spoilers…).

Going on from that it is important to mention how much of a role race plays in this. Whilst it does not go into the full horrifying effects the “civilising mission” had on the world, it does go into the Victorian view on race and the Other, and so questions what would happen if they encountered another intelligent species and how it would fit in to their cosmological view.

However, this is not only rich in the ideas it explores, it is also in the more fantastical elements. Whilst I personally did not find it to be as atmospheric as some, I still found it to be well crafted and a great exercise in world building. I also have to say I found the Fae characters to be very interesting, much more accessible and alive than the human characters. This, I believe helps highlight the ideas mentioned before.

The plot itself is a very curious and clever one. On one level it is a device to explore the ideas, the world and the characters. That in itself would be reasonable with so much going on and perfectly enjoyable. But within this there are many more threads going on, often cleverly exploring a number of literary influences and with a very clever twist at the end.

So, whilst it was occasionally not to my taste it is an extremely strong novel and I will continue to look for Jeanette Ng’s work going forward.

Site Changes

I wanted drop a note to explain what we have been doing recently. We have been pausing to regroup and consider some changes to the site. Firstly, we will be retiring the “Journey Through The Meowtiverse” feature. This may be continued at some point in the future but for now it will be paused.

Secondly, we have been taking stock of evolving nomenclature and considering how we phrase the work we are doing. Following discussion and consultation with various people we will be trialling changing our terminology from “women and non-binary” to “marginalised genders” and shall be including reviews of works written by anyone who does not identify as a cisgender male. This will also affect are #200WNBSF feed, which will be updated to #200MGSF. This may well change again as we get more feedback and see social views change. As such we always welcome feedback if you have any. We hope these changes will help with the site going forward.

Food Of The Gods

Cassandra Khaw

Review By Kris Vyas-Myall

Last year I first read Cassandra Khaw’s work and was absolutely astounded by the quality of her writing. It seems she can turn her hand to anything, whether it is the intensity of Breathe, the dexterity of Speak or the weirdness of Hammers on Bone. She has so far not got anywhere near as much attention as she deserves, so hopefully this fabulous book will help change that.

In the Rupert Wong stories she creates a wonderfully strange world that we are thrown into head-first. Landing straight on the first page with interlinked discussions of unionisation and cannibalism whilst soon learning how HIV is the ‘It’ flavour. You quickly realise this is a reading experience not quite like any other.
In less skilled hands this could, of course, be an absolute mess. However, Khaw is true master of the written word. I get the sense even if she was hired to write a McDonald’s menu it would be exciting and fun and thrilling. She understands not just how to write beautifully, but the way form, structure, style, and rhythm change how the reader receives the work. In contrast to some of her short fiction she makes use of an elaborate vocabulary, rather than stripped down rawness, and then counterpointed with a punchline. For example:
Do you know what an ageing ex-mobster moonlighting as a gastronomical genius for hire does for fun, ang moh?

He plays Dance Dance Revolution.
Essentially much of it is written as one might approach a very elaborate standup routine, allowing it to be equal parts humorous, enlightening and unnerving.
But at the same time there is something harsh and tragic about Rupert Wong’s world. One where he is working off his karmic debts whilst grinding up tourists for food and working for terrifying mythical bosses.
Rupert himself is also shown to be a complicated character. At times he seems like an asshole game player, a kind of culinary John Constantine. But at others he is very kindly and thoughtful, appearing that his humour is as much a shield as a part of his character.
I think it is also important to praise the great sense of place she gives us. Whilst I have never been to Kuala Lumpur, Khaw is able to make it permeate off the page into every sense. When the story later moves to Croydon it is described in a manner that is at once ridiculous and entirely accurate.
This locational move is also important for highlighting the political nature of her work. So much of it is built around colonialism and the contrasting of the two cities allows for a much more fully rounded examination. Whilst for myself London moves it to the familiar from the new but that reaction will obviously depend upon your own knowledge. For Rupert the situation would be the opposite. We also get to see the themes of control fully explored as it moves from being a story where Rupert is in control to one confronted by unfathomable odds. Don’t want to discuss in too much depth the direction the ending goes in but it is both signalled and surprising.
I can understand there are some criticisms people could make of Food of the Gods. The most obvious (albeit very minor) one, is that very much feels like three novellas put together. More a fix-up novel or collection than a book in its own right. I personally thoroughly enjoy these but I know some people can bounce off them. Second is the use of regular pop cultural references. I am not a usually fan of these but I think in this case it works as they are used to great humorous effect. Finally, the fact that it came out at the same time as the American Gods TV series means there will definitely be some parallels drawn between the two. And whilst there is some overlap it is absolutely its own beast and in no way derivative.
But I don’t want to get bogged down in too much criticism or the more serious aspects. In a story where we see an ex-gang member in a long-distance relationship with a ghost, startling imagery like the body train (you’ll remember when you get to it) and dragons are definitely not mythic beauties, it is an experience that should be lived through and enjoyed.
This book continues to demonstrate why Cassandra Khaw is one of the most exciting new authors writing in the field of fantasy. If you haven’t already tried her this is a great place to start. If you have then what are you waiting for? Get it now!

Passing Strange

Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages is an evil genius and I love her for it.

When I get a new book through I do not like to read any description but go in completely blind. I even try to avoid looking at author and title. So I open this and we get people talking about a Margaret Brundage parallel figure, but they are using male pronouns. I flew into such an absolute rage I could not sleep and I had to get other people to calm me down. Picking it up the next day it is revealed that the artist in question is indeed a woman, just thought of as a man.
I had to therefore sit back and question, why was I so angry? My significant other has recently been writing a piece which includes a discussion of Brundage’s art and we agreed that in spite of its skill it has a lot of problematic content and much of it really doesn’t hold up (to quote her on the subject “The more time she spent on the chest, the less she bothered anywhere else”). The reason is that experts talking about her as a man felt like total erasure. That people were completely side-lining one of the few female fantastical artists of the period and one who was so iconic despite all their flaws.
And so, this is why Klages is such a genius, because the whole story is about this much-ignored history of queer women in San Francisco and the contribution they made to our culture. The man, who is later shown once again to be a complete fool, becomes one of the figures of heteronormative patriarchy at which our anger should be directed in this novella. As the story reaches its climax the painting becomes the great symbol of love and truth that should be preserved, rather than a piece of disposable cover art representing the backward views of the time.
In fact, in many ways the story is a counterpoint to the Brundage art. One of the issues which could fit the description of the Weird Tales (in this universe named Weird Menace) contents at the start of the story is the July 1936 issue with the (in)famous Red Nails cover in which a pale woman is to be sacrificed by three darker skinned women with a hint of both sexual and violent threat. But the story of Loretta and Emily is tender and kind between them, it is the men around them and the laws of society that are the only things preventing their happiness.
Whilst Loretta Haskel is the artist of other people’s fantasies, Emily is fully living the life she wishes. She works as a singer in the famous Mona’s (often credited as the first Lesbian bar in the United States) and regularly dresses in male clothing in contradiction of the laws limiting the number of articles of clothing worn by the opposite sex. At the same time, they encourage each other to keep pushing to be the people they want to be. One quote which for me really sums up the book is:
For seven years I painted other people’s fantasies, tomorrow I’m going to paint ours.
But at the same time, this novella is tinged with a sense of regret and loss. By using the frame of Helen’s remembrance of the past on her last day, this moves from being a story which could be purely triumphal to one tinged with a sense of time passing and the opportunities that were lost. As such my emotions switched constantly right up until the final paragraph.
Passing Strange represents the best of what Tor Novellas can do. Klages produces a beautiful character-focused drama which rummages through all your emotions and illuminates a history all too often ignored in mainstream publications. Clever and poignant, righteous-rage inducing but heart-warming, I cannot think of anyone who shouldn’t read this.

Announcement: The Subjective Chaos Kind Of Awards

The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards

Apologies for our silence of late, real life has been getting on top of us. We plan to try to be a lot more active in 2018. Opening this is our participation in The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards.

As book bloggers we all love to discuss and shout about our favourite books of the year. But yet we can never read them all. So a group of us thought why not try to read each other’s and debate which ones we like best.

Thus Subjective Chaos is born!

This is not a real award in the way most people would use the term. There is no fancy ceremony or prize money. We are even each crafting our own announcements. Just a few SFF fans having some fun and reading some great books.

I will attempt to read all the entries and review on here all those written by authors who do not identify as male. (Links below). The others involved will also be sharing their thoughts:

The Middle Shelf





Bethan May

The Shortlist:

So who is on the shortlist? After much wrangling, debate and a few fireballs thrown here is the shortlist:


Best Fantasy Novel
Chalk by Paul Cornell

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Metronome by Oliver Langmead

Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Godblind by Anna Stephens


Best Science Fiction Novel

The Rift by Nina Allan

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker

Places in the Darkness by Christopher Brookmyre

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Best Series

Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

The Broken Earth by N. K. Jemisin

Rupert Wong by Cassandra Khaw

Split Worlds by Emma Newman

Binit by Nnedi Okorafor


Best Novella

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

The Winter Fayre by Christian Ellingsen

A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

The Tensorate Duology by JY Yang


Best Blurred Boundaries

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams


We hope you enjoy reading these


Teri Terry

Picture Credit: Goodreads

Review by: Nisha Vyas-Myall

This book brought together two things I really enjoy: political dystopia and sci-fi (something I dabble in myself as a writer- not to plug myself, but I have a short story in Holdfast Magazine’s 2016 Brexit supplement and I have another story in the pipeline). When I picked up this book and read the synopsis, I knew I had to read it right away. It seemed right up my alley.

So this story follows a 16 year old girl called Kyla. When we first meet her, she’s in a hospital with very little knowledge about who she is or anything about her life, save for a few scattered memories that she refuses to reveal to anyone around her. As the first few chapters unfold, we learn that she is among many people who have been Slated. Slating is a procedure where someone has all of their memories removed and assigned a new name and family, something saved for terrorists so they are given a fresh start without remaining a threat. They have a device- a Levo- attached to them that monitors their mood and provides a warning if they have any violent thoughts.

The procedure is explained for Kyla and, as a result, us in the audience. It seems pretty clear cut, but things don’t quite seem right when she goes into her new life.

There is a very clear divide between those who are Slated and those who are not. Whilst the Slateds are given this treatment so that they can continue living, there is a huge stigma attached to them because it’s common knowledge that they are former criminals (although not what it is they have done to have their memory wiped). Kyla ends up running headfirst into a lot of prejudice from her classmates and can only find some solace in mixing with people who have also been Slated. This seems like a very poignant social commentary on prejudice feeding itself, although I’m not sure if that was the author’s intent. However, the divide between the two types of people opens Kyla up to an underground group who seem to stand against the Government. But the waters become so muddy that we all begin to question who really are the good guys. There are things about the process of Slating that don’t quite add up (e.g. that the maximum age for Slating is 16), and when a few non-Slated people go "missing", Kyla goes on a mission to find out what’s really going on.

The series is written in first person. Many readers find this a bit unnerving, but I’m always a fan of first person as it gives you a decent insight into the inner workings of the protagonist that you just don’t get from a third person narrative, where the author is basically telling you how a person is feeling rather than the readers experiencing it for themselves. In the case of Slated, this technical point is very important. For us to truly get Kyla’s sense of confusion, hostility and fear, we really need to be in her shoes. And the lack of an omnipotent narrator means that we only know what Kyla knows, so we can empathise with her. We can only trust who she trusts in that moment, because we don’t have any additional information. The other thing I love about first person is that you cannot look away if the character doesn’t, and there is one particularly jarring event in the story where, had this been a TV show, I would have been behind a pillow and instructing Kris to let me know when it’s over. Teri Terry takes you on one hell of a rollercoaster ride in this book- her writing style is fluid and readable, with a good mixture of heaviness and levity.

The concept of Slating is hard to analyse without throwing around spoilers like confetti. Terry gives us the different aspects of the idea in pieces- why it’s done, who it’s done to, who is excluded, what a person needs to have done before Slating is an option. She doesn’t go too much into the How, but I can’t frame that as a criticism with the knowledge that there are two more books to this series. For all I know, the How could be next. I’m very curious about the mechanics of how it works, especially how the Levo device manages to monitor the brain without wiring. As I said, we learn about Slating as Kyla does, and we are far from the end.

As a fan of shows like Pretty Little Liars, I enjoy a good mystery. And this certainly is a good mystery- I say this in the present tense as this is the first in a series so, while I have my theories about what’s really happening, I can’t say this book has really provided any answers. If you are looking for a good read but aren’t a fan of series, I probably wouldn’t recommend this as you will get to the end of this and go "right, now I need to get the next book to find out what this all means!"

If you’re like me and love book series, I say go out and grab a copy.

Winter Tide

Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide By Ruthanna Emrys

Review By Kris Vyas-Myall

Originally Posted At Geek Syndicate

There are two interesting recent trends in writing; well-respected short fiction writers releasing fantastic first genre novels (such as Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu or Mary Rickert), and the use of Lovecraft to explore the history of racism in America (e.g. The Ballad of Black Tom or Lovecraft Country). This intersects both of these as Ruthanna Emrys – an author I have been following since the brilliant Litany of the Earth came out on Tor.com – continues the reflexive Lovecraftian universe she put together in that earlier tale.

Whilst there is a bit of a thriller style plotline to drive the tale along this, for me, was a story of mood and ideas. This is technically a tale of godlike beings from beyond time, and Red Scare style body-swapping, but that is really window dressing. At its heart it is a story that launches itself at the way America has treated those that it considers to be aliens or outsiders and how culture and history, family and home is destroyed. In particular, it takes aim at the history of Japanese internment during World War Two but also touches on elements of many other events in US (and Western) history.

This could be problematic but, I would contend, Emrys is skilful in navigating this as she puts the citizens of Innsmouth as another group directly involved in these events rather than taking someone else’s history and appropriating for other purposes. As such, Aphra regularly has to navigate prejudice and micro-aggressions which are both specific and universalistic e.g.:

“’I am as human as you. Just a different kind.’ And truly sick of having to repeat that assertion to people who supposedly respected me.”


“’Would it be so bad to tell people? … It might shut them up’ ‘…people have studied us more than enough.’”

Although these situations are the encounters between People of the Water (e.g. the former people of Innsmouth) and the People of the Air (e.g. the dominant American group), the treatment of various different groups as being less than human or treated as some object of curiosity is a common stain across Western history.

Whilst these are the main ideas it employs, the real area in which it excels is in mood. Throughout we get such a great sense of loss and longing evoked, as the place and people Aphra and Caleb thought they would be around for centuries are completely washed away, and the understanding of their culture and religion has been demonised by People of the Air telling falsehoods.

At the same time, there is introduced a fascinating counterpoint. That is a real belief that The People of the Air may well wipe themselves out soon with nuclear war and be replaced by The People of the Water. So whilst The People of the Air may be doing their best to obliterate the history of other groups, it is seen as inevitable that they will really be the ones who fall and are replaced. Not by conquest but by their own hands. For as they survive by destroying others we have the sense they will inevitably destroy themselves.

Further within this, much of the motivation Aphra has is to recover the past that has been lost to her, as she attempts to reassemble what has been stolen in their past by White Americans. What were once important or religious artefacts are now put into research libraries for the perusal of academics. Once again, this has been all too common a practice in Western history but it is often something which is overlooked for how much emotional harm it can cause to displaced communities and why these items would have such significance.

What I love about the way Emrys goes about this is that she is explicit but not didactic. It would be all too easy to turn this into an angry essay but as we are pulled along with Aphra’s journey it becomes more powerful because we experience the world as she does, and get to feel how this would impact upon her.

However, as there is such a focus on mood and ideas I do feel that some other elements may have fallen by the wayside slightly. Outside of Aphra many of the characters are a bit bland. Even Neko and Caleb, who get the most development, can sometimes feel a bit short-changed. Much like the more thriller-esque elements of the plot alluded to earlier they are really here to serve the ideas and not vice-versa. This is a style of writing I enjoy but it is not one that is necessarily for everyone.

Winter Tide is an evocative and cerebral debut novel that takes an interesting approach to Lovecraft’s work. Building on her earlier novelette, Emrys uses these themes to take an uncomfortable look at the history of race relations in America. As such the plot and character do sometimes take a back seat to the ideas and mood but it is a book well worth experiencing.

Dozey’s Journey Through the Meowtiverse: Just Don’t Know What To Do With My Elf

Recommendations by Dozey

Hello, I am Dozey! I am travelling the Meowtiverse having great adventures, exploring great writings. Why should humans have all the fun?

I have most enjoyed being an elf. I get to jump between the trees, eat grass and play with string and feathers. Not sure why the other elves kept telling me off, foolish creatures.

Here are some of the favourite realms of Women Elves I have visited:

Image Credit: ISFDB

Daughter of the Drow by Elaine Cunningham: I can relate a lot to Liriel, she wants to adventure in the outside world even though people tell her she should not, and in doing so has to learn a lot about who she is.

Image Credit: ISFDB

The Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey: Whilst the Drow are the darker half of elvenkind, in Norton and Lackey’s Halfblood Chronicles they are the evil overlords of humans. Here we follow Shana as she learns of her destiny to end their rule.

Image Credit: ISFDB

Jelayne by Lynn Abbey: Another dark take on the elves. What I loved about this most was the character journey we see Jerlayne go on and the difference between the human and elven lands.

Image Credit: Goodreads

Coexist by Julia Crane: Now to a much more normal contemporary teenage story… one where it just happens the main characters are elves. Blends effortlessly teen drama and epic fantasy.

Image Credit: Comicvine

Elfquest by Richard and Wendy Pini: And lastly one of the most famous elven tales, Elfquest. The adventures of The Wolfriders and The Sun Folk have been enjoyed for many years and should be for many more to come.

I am now travelling through the portal to a new adventure, robotic women!

I am Dozey! It has been your pleasure to read this!