While We Dream

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Just before the holidays, I broke one of my own rules about making requests on NetGalley. Generally, I avoid requesting self-published novels. I don’t believe that everything self-published is bad, but I also haven’t read any self-published books that I’ve enjoyed either. For that reason, I avoid reading them to spare myself an unpleasant experience and to avoid giving scathing reviews.

I came across While We Dream and my self-made rule went out the window. While I did have some problems with it, I also actually enjoyed this short story collection.

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While We Dream is a collection filled with short and speculative tales of science fiction. Many of the stories within had unique enough concepts that I’ve never before encountered them anywhere else. Le Dain’s writing is fairly to the point, with no unnecessary flourishes of prose to pad out the tales. Within these pages you’ll find tales of clones, ghosts, murder, and dictatorship. You’ll be entering worlds where doppelgangers roam free and your fate is decided by a series of pre-determined tests.

The story for which the title was named was perhaps the least original of the bunch, but also had the most emotional impact

My imagination was captured by many of the stories, but there was one important factor that stopped me from totally enjoying this book.

The dialogue was awful.

Whenever people spoke aloud they sounded completely unnatural. Except for in one instance, there are absolutely no contractions used in this book, even when conversations are casual or when children are speaking.

Though I did like the stories, I thought that this book fell short where most self-published novels do: the editing. Given a good edit with an eye for dialogue, I could easily see this finding its way to my bookshelf and those of my friends. Some of the stories within also seemed cut short before their full idea came through, and thus their full potential was never reached. A good editor could also go over this with the author to give him a sense of what to expand upon.

I’m not sorry I broke my own rule by reading this book, and I will certainly seek out Le Dain again should he self-publish or traditionally publish any other work. I do hope that before then, he finds an editor who can help him reach his full potential.

What are your thoughts on self-published novels? Are there any great ones you have to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation

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In late September I posted my fall TBR list, and I’m back today with a review of my fourth read from the list! When I added Invisible Planets to my list, I didn’t dare dream that I would get an advance review copy. To my delight that’s exactly what happened thanks to the kind folks at NetGalley and Tor. I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been reading it slowly to enjoy it – plus I’ve been getting more hours at my fantastic new dream job… so I’m extra sleepy when I get home and writing has passed me by a bit.

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As soon as I learned of Invisible Planets, I knew that I wanted to check it out. I’ve been more into science fiction lately, but reading diverse authors is also very important to me. Add in the fact that Ken Liu was the translator and I was absolutely sold on this book.

It certainly didn’t disappoint!

The book begins with a preface by Ken Liu giving a little bit of background on the stories included in the anthology. He also speaks about how “any broad literary classification tied to a culture (…) encompasses all the complexities and contradictions in that culture.” He goes on to say some very interesting things that me think and appreciate the stories that followed even more. His note about translation at the end proves that the reader is in the right hands. (Don’t skip this introduction!)

Before each author’s stories is a short biography in which Ken Liu tells the reader about their accomplishments, styles, and the broader contexts of their work. A very necessary addition to the text, especially if you’re going to seek out more of the authors’ work.

First up were Chen Qiufan’s stories – the first wasn’t to my tastes, but the subject matter was interesting. The other two I did enjoy. The mix of realism with slightly sci-fi elements was compelling and Chen’s writing was concise, not a word wasted. He also authored one of the essays at the end of the anthology, which definitely illuminated some of the story themes seen here.

Next up was Xia Jia, who turned out to be my absolute favourite of this anthology! Her beautiful prose and imagery were both fantastical and absolutely believable. These were the kinds of beautiful stories I enjoy reading aloud based purely on their lovely construction. In saying that, they were also the kind of soft science fiction that I’ve craving lately, though she describes her own work as ‘porridge SF’.  A tale of a boy who lives with ghosts, the story of a mechanical dragon-horse, and a story of innovation turned to an entirely new purpose round out her section. She also authored one of the essays in the book about what it is exactly that makes Chinese science fiction Chinese. I would buy this book for her stories alone.

Then came Ma Boyong, whose addition to this anthology was an eerie tale that was a nod to Orwell’s 1984, but also a commentary on a censorship regime that was published here in its original form rather than the altered one it was given to get past a real censorship regime. Now there’s an interesting twist, no? This tale straddled the line between bleak and inspiring, and I would have loved to see it as a novella to find out what happens to the main character.

Hao Jingfang is the author of the story for which the anthology is named, and it is certainly well deserved. She tells a tale of scores of planets that left me aching for more. Her small glimpses into these other worlds revealed an incredible gift of imagination and of storytelling that is again revealed in her next story. Her second story is a dystopian gem about a Beijing that folds up only to unfold again to reveal a city of vastly different demographics.

Tang Fei’s story of an unusual call girl was enrapturing. The surreal nature of the story was compelling, and this is another tale that I would love to see expanded as a novella or even a full novel.

Cheng Jingbo was next, with a fairy-tale like story that took some thinking to comprehend. The imagery was intensely unique, as was the concept itself.

Liu Cixin was last, though he is recognized as the leading voice in Chinese science fiction. His first story was an adaptation of a chapter from his novel ‘The Three-Body Problem’. It was ‘hard’ science fiction, of the kind that brings in undoubtable scientific elements. Not to my taste, but those who enjoy the works of the science fiction ‘greats’ will like this. The last story in the anthology was one that again showcased the wonders of science, but also the wonders and failings of mankind. Liu also authored an essay that explores the history of science fiction in China.

All together, I found this anthology absolutely fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone looking for not only science fiction, but also new authors to look out for. This is going on my favourites shelf and I’ll be following most of the authors within in the hopes that more of their work will be translated and made available in English. And of course, Ken Liu’s incredible skills as a translator mustn’t be overlooked. Every writer within clearly had a style of their own that was not lost to a change in language.

Thanks again to NetGalley and Tor who gave me the opportunity to explore these incredible new worlds!

 

4 Short Story Collections You Haven’t Read (But Should)!

Too often, readers don’t seek out short stories. They’re either overlooked, forgotten about, or the reader simply doesn’t know what to look for. But an excellent collection holds stories that spark your imagination and hold you just as captive as a full-length novel.

Here are some of my favourite short story collections, holding their places proudly on my bookshelves.

The Inner City by Karen Heulerthe-inner-city

This collection has the distinction of having an absolutely beautiful cover that matches the beautiful prose within. The stories within will bring you to strange places close to home and to far places that resemble home just a little too closely. Stand outs include a tale of the Rapture, a man whose gift of floating eventually takes its toll, and the story of a fish that grants wishes.

For lovers of odd sci-fi and surrealism, this book from award-winning author Karen Heuler certainly deserves your time.

 

One Good Story, That One by Thomas King

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If you haven’t read Thomas King before, this is a great introduction to his work. He’s a masterful storyteller – in a rather literal sense. Many of his stories are written as if they’re being told in the oral tradition. All of his stories have one thing in common: they feel real. Even when speaking of gods King’s work is funny and relatable, just as likely to make you laugh as it is to make you think. I can’t choose any standouts as I enjoyed everything too much.

Here’s a collection for those seeking great CanLit or clever literature.

 

Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Piercetotall

In addition to being a short-story collection, this book is also a Young Adult title and gets looked over often for purely that reason. As anyone who has ever enjoyed Pierce’s books can tell you, that is a grave mistake. The author’s skill in world-building ensures that each tale is very immersive, and leaves you wanting more. Stand outs include the story of tree that becomes a man, the tale of a girl who defies the rules of her society to teach, and the struggle of a father forced to make a choice between his child and his culture.

This collection is for those who enjoy a great character driven story, with believable fantasy settings.

All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga

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This collection is a manga, and it is stunning in every way. The writing and the illustration combine to create an absolutely beautiful selection of tales that showcase the lives of different women. The narratives are touching, and the simple elegant lines of the illustrations will have you re-reading this book often. All the stories are connected, but stand outs include a daughter’s disbelief when her mother marries a (much) younger man, and a woman who turns to faith rather than love.

This book is for anyone curious about manga, and those who enjoy slice of life novels and interconnected stories.

 

Maybe you’ve read some (or all) of these? Do you enjoy reading short stories, or would you rather stick to full length novels? Did I miss one of your favourite collections?

Let me know in the comments below!