Audrey reviews My Real Children by Jo Walton

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My Real Children is terrifically problematic in the best possible way. Patricia in 2015 is at the end of her life, relegated to a nursing home, left mostly alone by her family–but until she opens her eyes and sees the colors of the curtains and which side of the hallway the bathroom is on that day, she doesn’t know which family. Because after a certain specific point, Patricia’s life bifurcates, and she has two complete sets of memories. She’s lived two separate lives. In two separate worlds, with two separate histories (in one, JFK survived; in one, nuclear bombs have been dropped; in both, there are research bases on the moon).

Which one is real? Which one does she want to be real? Does want have anything to do with it? It’s not as simple as choosing the life in which she was happier. In one life, she had a miserable marriage to, and divorce from, Mark. They had four living children and number of babies who were stillborn. The world in general was a pretty open and accepting place, and Patricia (in this life, Trish) found a great deal of personal satisfaction in civic involvement and in enjoying the achievements of her children. Trish didn’t get the solid connection and commitment of the deep romantic love that so many people long for, but she contributed consistently to the betterment of the greater world. And it was a pretty good world.

In the other life, Patricia (Pat) found personal fulfillment in her career and in her loving relationship with Bee. They had three children, but had to be furtive about parenting, because this world moved into darker, less accepting times, and co-parenting lesbians were in constant danger of being reported to social services. Pat found great personal loves–she fell in love with Italy and found a way to make this soul-feeding appreciation the basis of her career. She found Bee, the love of a lifetime. Pat’s efforts contributed consistently to the betterment of her family’s world. The world at large–well, that wasn’t so great.

Trish’s focus was outward; Pat’s was insular. This is the most stark case of “What if it’s not all about you?” you may ever read: Patricia thinks, at one point, what if the salvation of the world comes at the expense of her own happiness? Well, what if? “What if?” is the jumping-off point of the best stories, and the most heartbreaking; and I’ve spent a good amount of time trying to work this out, trying to find crossover points, trying to make it work, but there are no easy answers. On the one hand, that makes this book great for book club meetings. Yes, you should sacrifice your own happiness for the sake of humanity! Or, no! Let humanity fend for itself, because love is a rare and beautiful thing, and when it’s found, it needs to be nurtured and cherished.

My Real Children is fascinating in a number of ways, but be warned, it will affect you. I spent the last chunk of it sobbing. (I am not the only one. Cory Doctorow apparently did the same thing, and couldn’t even face writing his review after he finished reading the book. He needed to take a breather.) One of the best things Jo Walton does with her main character is this: it’s clear that although Patricia makes a choice at one point that splits her world’s fate, both Pat and Trish behave in ways that are faithful to the core of the person Patricia. No matter what is thrown at her, the fundamental makeup of the character is the same. I loved that faith in the fundamental Patricia-ness of the main character, the vote of confidence in our basic nature being fixed, no matter the context. I also loved the “Please, we’re so past that” attitude toward homophobia in the latter part of Trish’s world’s 20th century.

What I didn’t love, because it wasn’t fun to think about, is Walton did a painfully effective job of pointing up the dangers of insularity. You don’t get to take a lifetime off. External engagement is necessary. Walton gives us extremes. Here are both sides of the spectrum: What can we do with that? Is there a balance? Unhelpfully, we get to see these stark examples, but not any ideas of how to…how to have it all. Can you? I think, yes. This is one of those books I read at the right time, while debating these things in my own life, wishing I could stay in my happy little enclave with my happy little family and my happy little job for the rest of my happy little existence.

Yeah, no. And don’t think that by being in a loving, supportive relationship you’re putting enough good karma out into the universe to let you off easy. According to My Real Children, you aren’t. So: engagement with your world, both your home world and the world at large. Get on it, please, because the universe could fall apart if you don’t get all that under control. Also, try this as a gateway drug on people who think they don’t like science fiction.

Tag reviews Women On the Edge of Space: Lesbian Erotic Science Fiction Stories edited by Cecilia Tan and Danielle Bodnar

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I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of science fiction. There are a million reasons: the cheese factor in sci-fi tends to be higher than my secondhand embarrassment can handle, it’s too sci and not enough fi, or too fi and not enough sci. Science fiction is a careful balance of getting everything exactly right, especially if you’re a picky reader like myself who ends up preferring contemporary.
That said, Women on the Edge of Space has a premise not even my avoidance of sci-fi could ignore. Lesbians in space? Who doesn’t want to read about lesbians in space? Just those three words open up a universe of opportunities. When I began it I had high hopes for cool space adventures and women loving on women, and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s a short collection at just four stories, but each story has plenty to offer. The writing in each is engaging and fun, like I always expect science fiction to be, and instead of being too embarrassed to go on, I found myself actually drawn in to each of the stories. For me, the one exception to that was in the last story, where it just seemed too short to successfully suspend my disbelief enough to fathom such high-tech things like a virtual reality where a character has sex with the memory of her partner. The coolness of a rift-jumper in a previous story and the emotion of women prepared to die in each other’s arms under alien attack, combined with a generally quick light read make Women on the Edge of Space a sci-fi collection I’m happy to recommend to anyone.

Kit reviews The Daughter Star by Susan Jane Bigelow

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The Daughter Star / Susan Jane Bigelow

Candlemark and Gleam, release date May 28 2013 (e-ARC)

What a rotten way for everything to turn out. Freighter pilot Marta Grayline is grounded, trapped on her miserable home planet by an intrasystem war that’s separated her from her beautiful girlfriend, her career, and everything she loves.

When her sister Beth offers her a way out by enlisting in the Novan Emergency Fleet, Marta jumps at the opportunity to get back into space.

But when her ship is attacked and destroyed, she finds herself stranded on a mysterious space station with a crew that won’t answer her questions.

And, of course, then there’s the aliens – the planet-destroying Abrax that somehow seem to have a hold on Beth.

They’re coming for Marta, too.

She’ll have to face ancient forces, her own doubts, and the inside of an alien mind if she wants to get some answers, complete her mission, and unlock her own latent potential. The Daughter Star, the red beacon in the night sky, may yet be the key to the freedom and understanding Marta so desperately wants.

I jumped on The Daughter Star as soon as its galley showed up in my inbox (thank you, Danika and Candlemark and Gleam!) because Bigelow’s Extrahuman series has been on my TBR pile for months. After finishing this novel, everything else by the author has just moved up a few hundred notches, because The Daughter Star is one of the richest, most thought provoking SF novels I’ve read this year. Or last year. I haven’t actually felt this excited about aliens as a genre or construct since discovering (only a few decades late) Octavia Butler and Lilith’s Brood a couple of years ago.

Imagine that you have to leave Earth. That votes have taken place. That debates have gone on for over a year and that you, along with everyone else, have directed to a window that, you are told, opens out onto another planet. You have no choice. You—or your government—have already voted. One window–you don’t know which—will bring you to beautiful, peaceful Ad Astra. The other—and this is where you suspect you’re going, as you are neither rich nor influential, brings you to Nea. Nea. Where the gravity bites and all the plants want to kill you. Imagine the tensions that would exist between these two planets. New countries form. Bodies must change to suit new atmosphere, new gravity. Languages evolve. And, over the years, imagine asking why. Why these two planets? Why one Elysium to the other’s hell?

Now imagine that you’re long settled on Nea. Inhospitable country has led to strict borders and local governments, including one particular puritanical outpost on a rain drenched peninsula where you are, as a good young girl, expected to marry and produce enough offspring to flood the rest of your forsaken planet with the right sort of people. The aliens—the Abrax—are long gone. Earth is dead. You are frustrated, stifled, and the only gay in the village. You get out. You leave your sisters and parents and find a way out your country, off your planet. You join an interstellar trade fleet and do not particularly care about the inherent inequalities between planets, just so long as you can get off your own. You meet a beautiful woman. You can see the stars.

You are Marta Grayline, and you are going to have obscene, glorious amounts of character development before is done.

Marta moves from the rather flippant, naive, infuriating girl conjured up by The Star Daughter’s blurb into a questioning, determined, and often powerful woman by the time you see the last of her. I won’t spoil the plot—I can’t, it would go on too long. But watching Marta navigate her way through personal space, as well as the real kind, is a beautiful thing. Her relationships—with her siblings, with her planet, with co-workers and Abrax and the woman she is sure is the love of her life—are all so well drawn that I would forgive Bigelow if plot took a back seat. And it never does. I’m still left breathless by that. Every time I thought I had The Daughter Star figured out—and there were three distinct points where I was sure that I knew where this book was going—I, like poor Marta, was thrown something else. And does the twisting plot, character development, and the novel’s Serious Social Questions make for dull, worthy reading?

Like hell. The Daughter Star is often laugh out loud funny. Novans, as you might expect, have developed whole new avenues in gallows humour. Marta’s complete adoration for a girlfriend she barely ever gets to see—the way she can twist a memory to suit her longing–will touch many readers. Her relationship with Beth—the youngest and least known of her siblings, is also stunning. It was almost unfair that The Daughter Star had an ending to match of the rest of it: self contained enough for satisfaction, but still leading strongly to the other stories Marta has to tell.

Enough of this. Go read.

Laura reviews Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Publisher’s Blurb:

Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.

Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.

Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.

Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.


I have mixed feelings about Malinda Lo’s Adaptation.

On the one hand, I think the “young adult” aspects are stellar, particularly where Lo delves into sexuality. She really captures the feeling of adolescent excitement and uncertainty — and boy, can she write a kissing scene. When the bisexual protagonist is walked in on by her mother, the ensuing “coming out” discussion feels totally natural. I really appreciated how smoothly it was integrated with the rest of the plot. (Because that’s more or less how it happens in real life, right? The world doesn’t grind to a halt as you figure out your sexuality. Life — work, school, alien invasions, whatever — continues to happen.)

I also loved the realistic reactions the characters had to the (sometimes very fantastic) events unfolding around them. For example, when a national emergency strikes, Reese and David aren’t dashing about making heroic speeches — they’re worrying about the charges on their cellphones running out. Lo’s attention to detail brings this novel a long way.

Unfortunately, this dedicated effort isn’t quite enough to redeem the plot’s pitfalls. When the author treads in familiar YA territory (the sexual awakening, the love triangle, the gay best friend, the single mother, etc.), I barely notice. It’s still compelling. However, when similarly well worn sci-fi tropes (government conspiracy, Area 51, sudden unusual abilities, etc.) are trotted out on top of this, I can’t help but cringe a little.

Lo’s application of sci-fi elements feels like the heavy handed work of a student attempting to imitate the work of a genre master. It’s almost Frankenstein-y — bits and pieces of other things that are good, stitched together into something much less attractive. I don’t want to give too much away, but basically, whenever you get a hunch about anything in this story, you’re right. There’s very little subtlety to the book’s storytelling — you’re just repeatedly hit over the head with “hints” about what’s coming next. By the time your suspicions are confirmed, you aren’t even pleased to find that you were right all along. You just have a headache.

Still, I hold out hope that this book’s weaknesses will be worked out in the sequel, which will be published in September. The story ends on an intriguing cliffhanger, and depending on how the next book plays out, it could very well redeem what currently reads as weak story development. Adaptation is Lo’s first foray into science fiction, and while there are many flaws, I trust the author. I loved Ash, and I want to believe that Lo knows what she’s doing. Maybe subtlety will come in time. Maybe not. Either way, I know I’ll be reading the next book to find out.

Adaptation was also reviewed for the Lesbrary by Erica.

Laura reviews “Thicker Than Blood” by Avery Vanderlyle

Publisher’s Blurb:

When the Nanotech Plague began killing off the large population of America using the tiny, implanted robots, the so-called “normals” took it upon themselves to wipe out the rest to prevent the spread. Now, fourteen years later, performer Ayana is in a dangerous position. Her nanotechnology implants are impossible to hide, having been tattooed onto her skin. Worse, the nanobots in her brother James are malfunctioning and slowly killing him. The pair of them, along with Ayana’s lover Yan, are slowly making their way across the fractured country, hoping to find a sanctuary and a cure.

David was only five when his parents died in the Plague. It wasn’t until he was grown that he realized that he’d been born with his own ‘bots, passed down from mother to child. Now, his second generation nanobots may be James’ salvation, if only Ayana and Yan can convince him that the nanobots aren’t a curse or a disease, but the key to rebuilding their ruined society.


Some thoughts:

  1. For an 11,000 word short story, there’s an awful lot of exposition. I mean, there’s definitely a need for explanation when the setting is… what it is. But this format really struggled to accommodate it all. A little breathing room would have been nice.
  2. That said, I wasn’t exactly choking it down. I found the premise really interesting. If Vanderlyle wrote another piece set in this world, I’d probably pick it up.
  3. It totally took me by surprise when the characters started boning. Storm Moon Press is apparently an erotic fiction publisher — and I’ve read another story of theirs, so I probably should have known that coming in. But, uh, yeah. This is erotica.
  4. Regarding the sex scenes: there was a lot of shimmying. I wasn’t crazy about it, but… I guess it could have been worse? There’s no lesbian sex, although there are two women in a relationship together. There are explicit M/F and M/M scenes.
  5. What actually happens in this story is ridiculous. You think it’s going to be mediocre erotica, and then at the end… Well, it’s one of those things where it’s so bad, it comes back around again and is brilliant. And hilarious. On this basis (and this basis alone), I recommend it.


“Thicker Than Blood” by Avery Vanderlyle is available for $1.99 in eBook format.

Danika reviews Tierra Del Fuego: Parting Shots

I haven’t read a lot of sci fi, and to be honest, I was little hesitant to start Parting Shots. I was pleasantly surprised! This is a complex book. Theoretically, the main character is Trevathan Evans, an officer and experienced space traveller. She has a tragic romantic past with a lover who was taken back into the fold of a cult. But there is a huge cast of characters in Tierra Del Fuego, including Trevathan’s friends and shipmates. Personally, I thought Evangelena stole the show. She works with gorillas on Earth, doing research on their ability to communicate using melodies. She is also absolutely loveable and charming. She too has a complicated romantic link back on Earth. One couple, Jazzmin and Anjelica, both black women, play a fairly minor role in Parting Shots, but I expect to see more of them in the next books in the trilogy. Another intriguing character is Avery, a bisexual chef who is occasionally Trevathan’s lover and brags about a piece of sex toy technology she has that many queers would be jealous of: an “extender”. (If you haven’t noticed, all of the women are queer.) Those aren’t even all of the main group in Parting Shots.

On top of that, Tierra Del Fuego created what I thought was an interesting world. It is 2088, and on the one hand, it is completely futuristic. People have brain implants to assist their memory and language capacity. Countries have conglomerated into giant continent units. The USA has completely lost power in the world. A colony ship is being launched that is large enough to have enough roaming ground for elephants. Children are only conceived with permission from the government. Dangerous cults threaten space travel with nano technology. On the other hand, the Tierra Del Fuego is the very first colony ship launched into space. It is still in the early stages of this technology. The situation on ship is fragile, threatened by both outside forces and internal power struggles that threaten the utopia promised to them. All people on board are equal, with equal resources allotted to them, but they were only able to come on board by paying huge amounts of money.

There is a lot in Tierra Del Fuego to contemplate. The people on board are randomly assigned an embryo if they want to have a baby. This embryo is probably mixed-race, ostensibly for gene variation (I say ostensibly because isn’t the vast majority of gene diversity in Africa?), but also because Jazzmin, the physician who worked on this initiative, proposed that this would end racism. The research and technology detailed in Parting Shots seems not so far away from now. And the plots–a shoot-first ask-later captain attempting to seize power, corruption in the brand new elected government on board the ship, threats from cults that disagree with all of the colony ship’s ideals–definitely grab your attention. And the characters are dynamic and interesting. I can’t wait to find out more about them.

There are some weak areas in Parting Shots. There are so many characters introduced in this first book that it’s hard to remember them all. The perspective also switches between them constantly. This is fairly straightforward early in the book, but once everyone’s lives begin to converge, you begin leaping between all of their heads with very little warning. You also get the perspective of some minor characters when it is convenient. The large cast I’m sure will be less overwhelming after this first book, but the quick perspective changes were disorienting. Also, although some of the technology is described very specifically, some things–like how a ship that gigantic was able to launch from Earth–are not explained at all. And there were a few typos, but those were rare.

Overall I was really impressed by Tierra Del Fuego. I haven’t read a lot of sci fi, and I very rarely start series that haven’t finished yet, but now I am eager for the next two book in the trilogy! I highly recommend Tierra Del Fuego for its great queer women characters and its intriguing premise and plots.

Lesbrary Sneak Peek (or: Stuff I Got In the Mail This Week)

I’ve got a hundred unread lesbian/queer women books I own (one hundred and four, to be exact) and probably about three hundred more at the library I can access at any point, so even the queer women books I have I’m probably not going to read for a while yet. That’s why I have Sneak Peeks: a look at books that I’ll eventually be reviewing, but I haven’t read yet. I got three queer women books in the mail this week (thanks Bookmooch!), so I thought I’d do my first sneak peek post on them.

Stone Butch Blues is a queer classic and it’s one I’ve been meaning to read for ages. It’s by trans activist Leslie Feinberg and is about the character Jess Goldberg who deals with being differently-gendered/butch in a blue-collar town in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This is said to be one of the first novels that explicitly dealt with transgender issues. I’ve heard this is an incredibly powerful book and I’m very much looking forward to reading it and sharing it at the Lesbrary.

On a completely different note, I also got the book Night Mares in. I haven’t read a lot of mystery… as a matter of fact, I think I’ve only read one mystery, one of the Rita Mae Brown Sneaky Pie Brown ones. I didn’t like it very much, and now that I think about it, that might have been all that it took to turn me off the entire genre. I know that’s ridiculous, so I’ve been searching for queer women mysteries to read and challenge that. This one features a lesbian veterinarian. I doubt I’m the only lesbian that grew up wanting to be a vet, so I figured this would be a great place to start. It’s the second in the series, but I doubt that will make much of a difference.

This one I think speaks for itself. Lesbian feminist science fiction? Sign me up! I haven’t read a lot of scifi, but again, I’m trying to start. This collection is from the 70s and 80s, so it’ll be interesting to get that viewpoint.

Lots of fun new books! Have you gotten any queer women books lately? Are there any you’re particularly excited to read?

Also, have you read The Needle on Full, Night Mares, or Stone Butch Blues? What did you think of them?