Friday, January 20, 2012

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Posted by Simcha 3:05 AM, under | 6 comments

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favorite kind of job – missing persons.

Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow.

Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.

Zoo City is not my typical reading fare. It's dark and gritty and at times heart-breakingly sad. And yet, once I started it I just couldn't bring myself to put it down.

Zinzi December is a former journalist and recovering drug addict whose pet sloth attests to a horrible crime committed in her past. Shunned by society, Zinzi now uses her writing skills to compose spam letters, scamming the rich and soft-hearted out of their money. Zinzi lives in the the ghetto community of Zoo City, in Johannesburg, along with all of the other Aposymbiots, or zoos like herself, whose crimes have earned them an animal companion, from which they can't be parted. But being zoo isn't all bad because it also comes with a magical skill. For Zinzi that skill is finding lost things, a talent that lands her a side-job with the music producer, Odi Huron, to find a teenage pop star who has gone missing.

Zinzi doesn't usually take-on missing person cases but this job could earn her enough to get her back on the path of the straight and narrow, and so she reluctantly accepts it. Putting her sleuthing skills to work Zinzi goes in search of her missing pop-teen, but the trail ends up leading her to a series of zoo murders that may or may not be related to the girl that she is looking for.

Zoo City is a really unique book in so many different ways. First of all, the South African setting is a very unusual one for a genre book, as is the African history and culture that permeates it. You can see parallels between the spread of the Zoo Plague, which causes people's crimes to manifest as an animal that they are forced to shoulder, and the spread of HIV virus through Africa in the 1980's. Africa's grim political past also plays its role, such as in the case of Zinzi's boyfriend, Benoit, who was a child soldier forced to kill his best friend, which is how he earned the pet mongoose that lives by his side. Benoit also had a wife and several children who disappeared while fleeing the FDLR. As I said, it's a rather dark tale. But Zinzi's strength, wit and optimistic attitude sheds enough light to keep the story from becoming overwhelmingly depressing.

The book did not end as I had expected, getting even more gruesome before culminating in a bittersweet ending that left me feeling both sad and hopeful. I haven't been able to find any information about a sequel to Zoo City but I really hope that Beukes intends to write one because there is so much more I still want to know about Zinzi and Zoo Plague. In the meantime, I'll be checking out her other book, Moxyland, in the hope that it's as good as this one was.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where I protest SOPA by "stealing" Other's content

Posted by Simcha 3:33 PM, under | 5 comments

Many bloggers, and several big websites, are blocking their sites today in protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills which would allow Internet censorship in the US. As a non-US resident I'm not sure how such a bill would affect me or my blog, but the idea of it is still abhorrent to me and so is worth talking about.

For specific reasons why the SOPA and PIPA bills should not be passed, watch this video. Though Jennie Lawson had me at " would be like a never ending visit from your parents..for the rest of your life." Yikes! Now that's scary.

 If you are a US citizen and want to help put a stop to the SOPA bill you can sign this petition.
And in further protest against SOPA, today I am only going to post content stolen from other blogs. So there! (and this has nothing to do with the fact that I don't have any reviews prepared)

So on with the show....

Last week Jim Hines published an amusing post in which he photographed himself imitating the poses of the heroine's featured on several Urban fantasy covers, with some ridiculous, and painful, results.

Jim's conclusion: 

My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.

Anna at Genre Reviews, takes this idea a bit further by posing in the same poses as Jim, as well as imitating the poses of some of Urban Fantasy's male protagonists, and comparing the two.

Anna's conclusion:

Men's poses emphasize strength, capability, perhaps with a bit of mystery. They follow the body's natural lines and actually look like something a real person would do. Women's poses emphasize sexy sexy dangerous sex and most vary from awkward to painful to impossible. What puzzles me most about this is that studies show the vast majority of people who read novels with female protagonists are, in fact, female. Unless they're going for a very specific demographic, marketing assumes we're all cisgendered, so why are we using the cover art to objectify characters we're supposed to identify with? Posing like a pin-up is not the only way to be attractive, and twisting your body to the point of OW robs us of anything beyond "T&A." The men's poses are dynamic and interesting, implying the male characters inside are, too. So what are we saying about our female characters?

While I had often been bothered by the suggestive way women on urban fantasy covers are usually portrayed I never payed much attention to their poses, or how they differ from those of the male models, so these two posts were really eye-opening.

And over at Geek Tyrant I found this beautiful and poignant short CGI animated steampunk film by Colorbleed Studios.

Why or why didn't he get out of the street? *sigh*

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Scifi & Fantasy Releases: Week of January 15

Posted by Simcha 8:01 AM, under | 5 comments

This week is the release of The Flame Alphabet, by Ben Marcus,and while I'm not sure if I'll be reading it the book trailer certainly got my attention. It's seriously intense and eerie.

And here are more of this week's new book releases...

Science Fiction

Shadows In Flight (Shadow, Bk 5)
Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 17

Ender’s Shadow explores the stars in this all-new novel...

At the end of Shadow of the Giant, Bean flees to the stars with three of his children--the three who share the engineered genes that gave him both hyper-intelligence and a short, cruel physical life. The time dilation granted by the speed of their travel gives Earth’s scientists generations to seek a cure, to no avail. In time, they are forgotten--a fading ansible signal speaking of events lost to Earth’s history. But the Delphikis are about to make a discovery that will let them save themselves, and perhaps all of humanity in days to come.

For there in space before them lies a derelict Formic colony ship. Aboard it, they will find both death and wonders--the life support that is failing on their own ship, room to grow, and labs in which to explore their own genetic anomaly and the mysterious disease that killed the ship’s colony.

In the Lion's Mouth (January Dancer #3) 
Michael Flynn
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 17

It’s a big Spiral Arm, and the scarred man, Donavan buigh, has gone missing in it, upsetting the harper Mearana's plans for a reconciliation between her parents. Bridget ban, a Hound of the League, doubts that reconciliation is possible or desirable; but nonetheless has dispatched agents to investigate the disappearance.

The powerful Ravn Olafsdottr, a Shadow of the Names, slips into Clanthompson Hall to tell mother and daughter of the fate of Donovan buigh. In the Long Game between the Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery, Hound and Shadow are mortal enemies; yet a truce descends between them so that the Shadow may tell her tale. There is a struggle in the Lion’s Mouth, the bureau that oversees the Shadows—a clandestine civil war of sabotage and assassination between those who would overthrow Those of Name and the loyalists who support them. And Donovan, one-time Confederal agent, has been recalled to take a key part, willingly or no.

Blue Remembered Earth
Alastair Reynolds
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: January 19

One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked - well, blackmailed, really - to go up there and make sure the family's name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise - or anyone else in the family, for that matter - what he's about to unravel. Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything. Or shatter this near-utopia into shards ...


In the Mouth of the Whale
Paul McAuley
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: January 19

Fomalhaut was first colonised by the posthuman Quick, who established an archipelago of thistledown cities and edenic worldlets within the star's vast dust belt. Their peaceful, decadent civilisation was swiftly conquered by a band of ruthless, aggressive, unreconstructed humans who call themselves the True, then, a century before, the True beat back an advance party of Ghosts, a posthuman cult which colonised the nearby system of Beta Hydri after being driven from the Solar System a thousand years ago. Now the Ghosts have returned to Fomalhaut, to begin their end game: the conquest of its single gas giant planet, a captured interstellar wanderer far older than the rest of Fomalhaut's system. At its core is a sphere of hot metallic hydrogen with strange and powerful properties based on exotic quantum physics. The Quick believe it is inhabited by an ancient alien Mind; the True believe it can be developed into a weapon, and the Ghosts believe it can be transformed into a computational system so powerful it can reach into their past, collapse timelines, and fulfil the ancient prophecies of their founder.

John Meaney
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: January 19 (UK)

The second volume of Meaney's epic Ragnarok space opera trilogy. The dark matter in the universe is alive and is seeking to pervert human history to its own ends. Its influence has reached back into the dark ages, to the centre of the 3rd Reich and 600 years into the future. The Ragnarok universe not only provides a stunning SF rationale for Norse mythology but posits a world where pilots are locked into symbiotic relationships with their ships and the cities can come alive. 

The Flame Alphabet
Ben Marcus
Publisher: Knopf
Release Date: January 17

From one of the most innovative and important writers of his generation: a brilliant, mesmerizingly dark new novel in which the speech of children is killing their parents.
At first it's just Jews--then everyone. People are leaving their families to survive. Sam's wife, Claire, is already stricken and near death. In a year or two, as she grows into adulthood, their daughter, Esther, too, will become a victim. Sam and Claire decide to leave Esther on her own, hoping a "cure" will miraculously appear. Sam's car is waved off the road at a government-run laboratory where horrific tests are being conducted to create non-lethal speech. Throngs bang on the doors to be subject volunteers; they're all carried out half-dead. When Sam realizes what's going on, he makes a desperate escape, vowing that if he dies it will be with his family, the only refuge of sanity and love.
Ben Marcus's nightmarish vision is both completely alien and frighteningly familiar.



Orb Sceptre Throne
Ian Cameron Esslemont
Publisher: Bantam UK
Release Date: January 19

The tumult of great powers colliding has passed and the city of Darujhistan and its citizens can at last get on with what matters: trading, bickering, politicking and enjoying all the good things in life. However, not all are ready to leave the past behind. A treasure hunter, digging amongst the burial grounds that surround the city, is about to uncover a hidden crypt. He will open the last of a series of sealed vaults - the one that no other dared touch - and, in so doing, set free something so terrifying that the knowledge of its internment may have been systematically wiped from all history.

Fortune hunters are also at work far to the south. When a fragment of Moon's Spawn, once the home of Anomander Rake, Son of Darkness, crashed into the Rivan Sea it created a chain of small islands. Legends and rumours already surround them. The most potent of these is that here is hidden the Throne of Night, claimed by some to be the seat of Mother Dark herself. Either way, all who seek this ancient artefact - renegade mages, hardened mercenaries, even a Malazan army deserter - believe it will bestow unlimited power upon the eventual possessor. The stakes are high, greed is rife, betrayal inevitable, and murder and chaos lie in wait...


Urban Fantasy

Dark Victory
Michele Lang
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 17

Magda Lazarus was a reluctant witch until the dire threat of Nazi Germany convinced her to assume the mantle of her family’s ancient powers. But though this young, beautiful Jewish woman has fought off Hitler’s SS werewolves and the demon who would rule through the F├╝hrer, she has been unable to prevent the outbreak of World War II.

As long as Magda can summon spirits, there is still a chance to save people from the dire threat of the Holocaust. Her family’s guardian angel, Raziel, stands beside her in the battle against the human and supernatural forces of evil arrayed against her people and all of Europe.

In Michele Lang's Dark Victory, as the Nazis prepare to invade Poland, Magda and her beloved Raziel marshal their own army, a supernatural force that will battle Hitler’s minions to the death…or beyond.

Young Adult

Megan Miranda
Publisher: Walker & Company
Release Date: January 17

Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine —despite the scans that showed significant brain damage. Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she's far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can't control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?

Heather Burch
Publisher: Zondervan Publishing
Release Date: January 17

After being inexplicably targeted by an evil intent on harming her at any cost, seventeen-year-old Nikki finds herself under the watchful guardianship of three mysterious young men who call themselves halflings. Sworn to defend her, misfits Mace, Raven, and Vine battle to keep Nikki safe while hiding their deepest secret---and the wings that come with. A growing attraction between Nikki and two of her protectors presents a whole other danger. While she risks a broken heart, Mace and Raven could lose everything, including their souls. As the mysteries behind the boys' powers, as well as her role in a scientist's dark plan, unfold, Nikki is faced with choices that will affect the future of an entire race of heavenly beings, as well as the precarious equilibrium of the earthly world.

Hallowed (Unearthly, Bk2)
Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: January 17

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

Stolen Away
Alyxandra Harvey
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release Date: January 17

For seventeen years, Eloise Hart had no idea the world of Faery even existed. Now she has been abducted and trapped in the Rath of Lord Strahan, King of Faery. Strahan was only meant to rule for seven years, as Faery tradition dictates, and then give up his crown to another. But he won't comply, and now chaos threatens both worlds. The only one who can break his stranglehold on the Faery court is his wife. . . Eloise's aunt Antonia. Using Eloise to lure Antonia, Strahan captures his wife, desperate to end the only threat to his reign. Now Eloise must become the rescuer. Together with her best friends Jo and Devin, she must forge alliances with other Fae, including a gorgeous protector named Lucas, and Strahan's mysterious son, Eldric-who may or may not betray them.

Julie Cross
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: January 17

The year is 2009.  Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy… he’s in college, has a girlfriend… and he can travel back through time. But it’s not like the movies – nothing changes in the present after his jumps, there’s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors – it’s just harmless fun.

That is… until the day strangers burst in on Jackson and his girlfriend, Holly, and during a struggle with Jackson, Holly is fatally shot. In his panic, Jackson jumps back two years to 2007, but this is not like his previous time jumps. Now he’s stuck in 2007 and can’t get back to the future.

Desperate to somehow return to 2009 to save Holly but unable to return to his rightful year, Jackson settles into 2007 and learns what he can about his abilities.

But it’s not long before the people who shot Holly in 2009 come looking for Jackson in the past, and these “Enemies of Time” will stop at nothing to recruit this powerful young time-traveler.  Recruit… or kill him.

Piecing together the clues about his father, the Enemies of Time, and himself, Jackson must decide how far he’s willing to go to save Holly… and possibly the entire world.


Paranormal Romance

The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story
Theodora Goss and Scott Mckowen
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: January 17

One enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever.

When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself . . .

The Thorn and the Blossom is a remarkable literary artifact: You can open the book in either direction to decide whether you’ll first read Brendan’s, or Evelyn’s account of the mysterious love affair. Choose a side, read it like a regular novel—and when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself at a whole new beginning.


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