1st Birthday Celebrations!!!

Updates

Cut the cake and pop the champagne, it’s Parsecs & Parchment’s first blogiversary! I feel like I’m stuck in some kind of time warp cos, despite 2020 lasting for seven years already, it only feels like yesterday I posted my first review. The world might be a trash fire right now but I’m glad to say amidst it all I’ve found a great community of like-minded book lovers to escape from it all from time to time.



I was actually on holiday in Nice, France around this time last year when I decided I wanted to start a blog (holidays, remember them?). I’d started listening to Calvin Park’s Under A Pile of Books podcast and binged through all the episodes while sitting on the balcony of my Airbnb sipping Carrefour rosé cider in the warm dusk of the Côte d’Azur. I’d also started following some of the folks from The Fantasy Inn on Twitter, noteably Sara and Jenia, who happened to be organising a readathon around the same time. I enjoyed getting involved in that and found this little community so welcoming I just wanted to be more involved. I don’t think they know it, but right at the start it was these three folks that did the most to make me feel welcome and encouraged me to be part of the online book community. So a special thanks to them, I raise my glass to you.

Obviously since then I’ve made new pals who share my love of all things speculative and found a bunch of other really quite wonderful blogs to follow. The recommendations I’ve got from you all have improved my reading life immeasurably.

I was a big SFF nerd beforehand obviously, but in hindsight the range of books I was exposed to was quite homogenous and I wasn’t adventurous at all, despite what protestations past me might have had if you told him that. Not to say none of those books were any good (I still think A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, despite how unfashionable that might be now) but over the past year my horizons have expanded beyond recognition and some of my now favourite authors are writers who I would likely never have heard of without the book community.

Jade City and Jade War by Fonda Lee are hands down some of the best fiction I’ve ever read; everything P. Djèlí Clark has ever written blows me away; Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna and Coil by Ren Warom, both published by small press Apex Publications; and most recently I’ve finally started getting into some of the fantastic self-published fiction that graces the shelves of the SFF world these days, with books like The First of Shadows by Deck Matthews and The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang. These are just a small selection of the amazing books I’ve encountered over the last year that otherwise I simply would not know about.

So I owe a big debt of gratitude to all you guys, for your recommendations and insightful reviews, as well as for your kindness and warmth in welcoming a new member into your flock. Here’s to you all and long may our little community flourish. Cheers!


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Review: SNOW OVER UTOPIA by Rudolfo A. Serna

Book Reviews

SNOW OVER UTOPIA is the most batshit crazy book I’ve ever read. It’s like Snowpiercer and Legend hooked up in a post-human hellscape, dropped a shit ton of acid and proceeded to viscerally tear each other apart limb by limb.

This genre-defying story is set in a post-human age that has moved so far beyond our own world that it’s simply unrecognisable, where fanatical and sadistic slave masters rule company towns with an iron fist, where mutantoid creatures monitor the transmissions of living computer programmes and biohacking demon worshippers battle genetically modified forest hunters in a twisted and brutal apocalyptic landscape. A world where blue eyes are rare and mystical.

Amidst all this a young woman called Eden has her blue eyes brutally cut out of her head by greedy and covetous company men and is left for dead before being rescued by the living computer programme known as Witch Mother and sent on a mission to the city of Utopia, ruled by the ruthlessly fascistic and bloodthirsty Robot Queen, where Eden hopes her eyes can be restored.

I’ll say at the outset this book is not going to be for everyone. It’s not conventional. It’s heavy on atmosphere and light on character. And it’s very, very dark. And I don’t mean dark in the usual sense that it has morally ambiguous characters who do bad things; I mean the thing is absolutely saturated with brutal oppression, violence and visceral prose that at times is stifling and nauseating.

It’s not a book that treats the reader kindly and yet, in the face of all that, I felt this was a book ultimately about hope. This was reflected quite masterfully in a wonderful synergy between the setting and Serna’s prose; both are savage, merciless and yet at the same time shot through with a poetic beauty that is both evocative and strangely optimistic. What I particularly love about Serna’s writing (and it’s something he shares with other great world builders like William Gibson and Tade Thompson) is the confidence he has to throw you in at the deep end of the unrecognisable world he’s created and just let you sink or swim. I was absolutely pulled into his bizarre setting and yeah, I found it difficult to keep up at times, but for me this just means that Serna has succeeded in imagining and creating a world so far beyond our current idea of humanity that it’s inherently difficult to wrap your head around. And he’s done it masterfully.

Snow Over Utopia is a book that starkly highlights the importance of small presses. I mean never say never, but I can’t see a Big Five publisher ever willing to take a risk on a book like this. It’s simply not mainstream enough. Not conventional enough. Not marketable enough. And yet we need books like this. Props to Apex for putting out books like Snow Over Utopia and for being such important engines of experimental and unconventional storytelling.

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Hey! Watcha Readin’: Apex Special

Updates

Happy Sunday booklings! Welcome back for another weekly update. I’m still reading my way through the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and continuing with the DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT readalong, so this week I’m gonna shift focus a bit and talk about some books I’m really excited to read from small press Apex Publications.

This post was prompted by Jason Sizemore, the owner of Apex, who tweeted that one of my favourite books of the year was originally published by Apex, but didn’t really garner much attention until it was picked up by a major publisher. That book was ROSEWATER by Tade Thompson (read my glowing review here), a novel I loved for really pushing the boundaries of what modern SFF could look like. This got me looking into some of the other books Apex are putting out and a lot of their stuff sounds just as Out There and boundary-pushing as Rosewater. So here are a few books by Apex that I’m very excited to read.

PIMP MY AIRSHIP by Maurice Broaddus

All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protester known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be. When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.

COIL by Ren Warom

Bone Adams is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be. As more victims are discovered, Bone and Stark get drawn deeper into a world where pain and personal statement blend and blur, and finally end up hunting for a semi-mythical, man-machine named Burneo deep within the labyrinth of the sewers. But things aren’t what they seem, and while searching for Burneo, Bone and Stark discover a hidden lab full of evidence of horrific abuses of science and experimentation. Meanwhile, the killer is still on the loose, and, as Stark becomes more and more obsessed with the case, Bone is forced to a shattering realisation. Everything is connected, the killings, the gang activity, the labs, and his own past, and unless he can figure out how, he’s not going to survive.

SNOW OVER UTOPIA by Rudolfo A. Serna

In an age of savage science powered by black-mass, and thrown away bio-matter leaked into an underground sea lit by the heart of the great tree, a girl named Eden loses her rare blue eyes. Escaping her fanatical and sadistic slave masters with her eyes in a jar, she runs away with a murderer named Miner. After fleeing for their lives deep within the forest, they are found by the Librarian and his daughter Delilah, and sheltered in their mountain-top sanctuary. But she cannot stop there. If Eden wants to restore her eyes, then she must go on through time and space in a necrotronic stream generated by the living computer program called Witch Mother. While mutantoid priests in underground bunkers monitor transmissions from the great tree, Eden and Miner must face the horrors of the factories and the coliseum run by the Robot Queen in the city of Utopia.

Looking into these less mainstream books has made me much more appreciative of the work small presses like Apex do to bring some of the more experimental and ‘out there’ SFF into the world. I’m looking forward to diving into these books and I’ll be paying much more active attention to the work of small presses in the future!

Do you have any small press recommendations? Let me know what you’re reading this week and make sure to follow the blog to never miss a post!