science fiction

Small Reviews: all the good stuff from the past month(s)

I have read so many good books since… June? July? That I didn’t find the time or energy to review. Ideally I’d want to give each of them a big, long, gushing post, but as I keep postponing that and my memory becomes wobbly on the details, I figured it’s better to write SOME review than none at all!

I read upwards of 20 books in July, and I did kind of burn myself out in the process – and then lots of personal, health, and work related things happened so I’ve been putting the blog on an involuntary hiatus, but reading remains my primary hobby and I want to share with you all the good stuff I read in the meantime! I will likely do a few of these instead of cramming them all in the same post.

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ARC Review: The Future Second by Second, by Meridel Newton

The Synopsis

In a new America where civilization as we know it has ended, every hour counts. Everything is ticking along perfectly in the sanctuary community of Osto until a band of raiders arrives intent on violence. Vasha has led her people through the worst the world has to offer for years, but this new threat could destroy her hope for the future. She’s forced to strike a bargain with the leader of the raiders as tensions rise among the survivors and refugees who call Osto home. Old rivalries and prejudices put everything they’ve worked for at risk. But if Vasha plays this right, she just might forge a new future for Osto.

The Future Second by Second is the first in a series of novellas showcasing a different kind of post-apocalyptic world—one dependent on community and cooperative living. Flipping the genre of dystopia on its head, Newton understands the power of hope and collaboration in the face of an uncertain future. 

The Review

I was given this eARC by the publisher, Interstellar Flight Press, through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review. Thanks for the opportunity!

Over the long weekend I was looking for something short enough that I could get through it quickly on the train, and I happened to have this sitting on my TBR shelf. I’m also not an avid ebook reader, as regulars on my blog know, but I found myself turning page after page until there was no more left to read! It’s very short, and I finished it in an afternoon, which is more than I can generally say for ebooks…

I’m also not a big dystopia, or post-apo fan, but the blurb had me intrigued: what I do enjoy quite a lot are stories of hope. And I think this delivered pretty well!

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Book Review: The Galaxy and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers

I’ve owned this book for a while but despite absolutely loving Becky Chambers’ every book I’ve read so far, I was not starting it. I think because it’s the last in the Wayfarers series, which made me really sad. I could honestly read 20 more books in this universe, I dream of a sitcom set in it.

The Story

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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ARC Review: Seven Mercies, by Laura Lam & Elizabeth May

Seven Devils was one of my favourite books of 2021, and I Could Not Wait for the follow up, so I jumped at the chance to review the ARC from Netgalley! I also buddy-read it with Tessa, mostly for support and general yelling “wtf” at each other.

(spoilers for Seven Devils in the following review, but I will not spoil the actual book of course!)

Confession time: this cover is not my favourite. I prefer the space/ship version, but i think they both look weird…

The Synopsis

THE MOST-WANTED REBELS IN THE GALAXY ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN SAVE IT

After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the Seven Devils? Biggest score of them all.

The Devils take refuge on Fortuna where Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences: the Oracle has gone rogue. In a planned coup against the Empire’s new ruler, the AI has developed a way of mass programming citizens into mindless drones. The Oracle’s demand is simple: it wants its daughter Ariadne back at any cost.

Time for an Impossible to Infiltrate mission: high chance of death, low chance of success. The Devils will have to use their unique skills, no matter the sacrifice, even if that means teaming up with old enemies. Their plan? Get to the heart of the Empire. Destroy the Oracle. Burn it all to the ground.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I will start by saying I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It took me a bit to get back into it, but after a while I just could. Not. Stop. Reading. I had to know what happened next. There were also a lot of “wtf” revelations and semi cliffhangers that really made the pacing of this book work for me.

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Small reviews: Hugo nominated short stories

So as I explained in my post on the Hugo nominated novellas, I’ve signed up for the Worldcon supporter membership, which gives you access to the “voter packet”, in which most authors and publishers kindly provide their nominated works for you to review! Not free, but a very cheap price for the year’s favourites.

So I’ve decided to do my best to read as much of it as possible to vote fairly (since you do, also, get to vote) and put the reviews out there. It feels like that’s the least I can do for authors who provide their stuff for free (membership money goes towards organizing Worldcon and the Hugos, not to the authors).

I’m currently reading my way through the Novel and Astounding nominations (and doubting I’ll make it through them all before the 19th) but I thought I’d take a short break and go through the short stories! These are all free to read somewhere online, I’ll put the link down there as well.

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Review: Seven Devils, by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam

I know I promised a review of this in my last wrap up, I did mean to post it quickly but time got away from me this week. Anyways… This was one of my favourite reads this year. I rarely do “one more chapter and then…” at 2am like I did when I was 12, because I have a job in the morning and I’m always tired, but this was one of THOSE books that I had to force myself to put down.

I keep seeing the other cover but I actually prefer this one! I think it’s the UK hardback? Who knows… It’s shiny!

The Story

This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire — or die trying.

When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was devastating, and I loved it. I had to ask a friend if any of the good ones died, before I could make myself finish it. That’s how terrified I was. (Spoilers: there are no dead gays in this book. go ahead and enjoy it!)

The universe this is set in is absolutely awful, with a tyrant at the head of the galaxy, and everyone being mind controlled or brainwashed into thinking everything is ok. Those characters have… a lot of trauma.

And at the same time, it was a joyous read, a comfort read almost. To see, as they call it, a space Mad Max: Fury Road, where a bunch of women of different backgrounds and with different (all traumatic) pasts (and one man) fight for something better. It gives hope, in a way.

The authors made me care for all the characters so, so much. They’re relatable, they’re deeply wounded, and I wanted to give them all a hug. Every single one of them. It’s very hard to pick a favourite. They’re just all so, so well written, flaws and all. And I do love a book with mainly women.

I found especially on point the way their guilt at their actions still affected them, even though they had no choice (or very little choice) in the matter. There would be a lot more to say about war, and trauma, and tyranny, and I don’t think I’m capable of saying it in a coherent way, but the book certainly makes its point come across clearly. Just… *waves hands* go read it? you won’t regret it.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Portal Bookshop | Kenny’s

Review: Persephone Station, by Stina Leicht

I saw this book on a list of 2021 queer releases and I immediately knew I had to read it. It took me some time, but I finally got to it, in audio format. I’m still not sure what to make of it, though, so the review got a bit away from me. Some spoilers ahead.

I am, once again, in love with the cover. Although I still don’t know which character this is for sure… (art by Tomer Hanuka)

The Story

Hugo award-nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds, becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie—owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner—caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drink at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who seek to employ them.

Angel—ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing—is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will affect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.

The mildly spoilery Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I am of two minds about this book because I rather liked it, but I feel like it could’ve been even better if it weren’t for some missed opportunities.

Partially, I think I was a bit confused by it at times because the narrator did not really differentiate between voices, except for Suki’s posh RP accent which was quite distinctive. There was a lot of back and forth dialogue that was just “she said”, “Angel said,” “Enid said,” and it was quite hard to follow who exactly said what without these clear distinctions that you often hear in audiobooks. So I did enjoy it, but with moments of “wait what?”

And there was also a lot of fighting… Friends, I lose focus at the battle scenes in movies, and it looks like I do the same in audiobook format. It was just pretty hard to keep track of who was doing what where… and the battle scene was a good chunk of the book.

That being said, I did enjoy the whole concept of the story, and I really liked the characters. The whole idea is that this pacifist species native to the planet (it’s not a spoiler, you learn it literally in the first chapter) has some hidden talents that corporates want, and our friends go to help them make a stand. You do learn very quickly also that they have some great healing abilities, and they could do a lot for humanity. Just, you know, maybe not sell their knowledge to evil capitalist bosses.

Another thing I really liked is what I’d like to call the Aliette de Bodard syndrome – there were practically no men in this story. There were nonbinary characters, Rosie being a prominent one but not the only one. There were a few background characters, like one of the fighters’ boyfriend, who’s named but barely says anything. It’s just refreshing to have books where women and nonbinary people are both the good guys (sic), the bad guys, and the in-betweens. With different sexualities and genders and family models represented too.

So overall it left a good impression on me. BUT and that’s where we get to the missed opportunities part. The author makes use of different point of views, but then seems to drop that towards the end. Whereas I feel like a few chapters, and especially the big revelation at the end, could’ve benefited from being told from another perspective – notably Kennedy’s. Kennedy is… an AI? of sorts? though only she knows that. And parts of the plot revolve around her finding?? another AI? It’s not clear what she expects to find. We do know she may have to destroy it when she finds it, even though she really doesn’t want to. So to me, it made no sense that we saw all this through Angel’s perspective – when Angel really had no idea what was going on. It’d have had more depth and emotion from Kennedy’s perspective at least in part.

And that’s my main complaint overall I think. I don’t know that much about these characters, I’m not made to care enough. Some get wildly injured and I felt nothing about that. So, it’s a good adventure book, but it’s not a book where I could get really attached to anyone in a meaningful way. And when [spoiler] dies, I really was pretty indifferent. I did, however, feel like this was another missed opportunity. Angel’s people are dying. They’ve actually died a few times, and have been revivified, and are all living with chronic illnesses as a result. They’re put in the path of a species who, it so happens, has healing and life-prolonging capabilities. Which they all know. And yet it’s never broached, there’s not even a discussion of “no we don’t want that” or “after all that happened we’re hesitant to help another human” etc. The possibility is thoroughly ignored and it was quite glaring to me.

I think my main issue with this book may be that I saw it from a plot and plotholes/missed opportunities perspective rather than as a story to enjoy. And I’d put this in part on my inability to get attached to the characters, and in part due to the audio narrator who made me feel quite detached from the story too. Maybe this is a rare one where reading it in paper might improve your experience.

Overall good fun, but not up to my expectations, and probably not a book I’ll find myself thinking about too much long term.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

Review: Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells

I’ve written previously about how much I enjoy the Murderbot series. Since then, I’ve read the novel, and I absolutely jumped on the latest novella when I realised the audiobook was already available! So I thought I’d give it its own review.

The Story

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I had so much fun reading this audiobook! It’s once again narrated by Kevin R. Free (who also played Kevin in Nightvale), and the snark is oozing through as always. This one is a bit different from Murderbot’s previous adventures, though, because it’s a murder mystery.

You read that right, Murderbot, armed with a nonnegligible amount of crime serials in its memory archives, attempts to solve a murder. The novella references previous events from the series but I’d say it’s mostly a standalone. Yes, all your favourite characters are there, like Mensah and Pin-Lee (I f*cking love Pin-Lee!). You’d probably need some context from the earlier novellas, but not necessarily the novel, if you’ve not read it yet.

Murderbot’s trying to get integrated into society and, well, other security people don’t really like that, on account of it being a SecUnit. So as it tries to solve this issue with/despite them, there’s a lot of entertaining internal conflict, in true Murderbot fashion. Humans are just so, so stupid! The usual references to media tropes, the usual snark and Depressed-Bot remarks. I just love it!

It was fun to read a Murderbot murder mystery, as it were, and made me realise I’d read any genre with Murderbot (except romance! it’d object to that!) and I’m happy to read as many Murderbot books as Wells will write. As many as there are episodes in Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, if she’s willing!

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission (or a free month on Scribd) for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you

Review: the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

I’ve had a pretty intense 2 weeks and very little time to read. Very little time at all, if I’m being honest. What I did get though, is a Scribd subscription, so I thought why not read a couple novellas. I’d read Murderbot Diaries #1 (All Systems Red) on paper, back in May or June and absolutely loved it!

So in the last week or so I read the next 3 novellas and started the Network Effect novel (Murderbot Diaries #5) and I want to tell you all about it!

The Story

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

What I thought of the first book

Another one where I thought I’d written a review back then! So I’m very bad at remembering things, but it’s stayed with me since then with lots of good thoughts and “I gotta read the next one at some point”. I’m also not sure why I “only” gave it 4 stars then.

I really enjoy the grumpy robot trope, and Murderbot really is fun to read. A security robot who just wants to be left alone to watch media? Who thinks humans are stupid and can’t take care of themselves? And who reluctantly finds itsself helping its humans? yeah, loved it! It was very short, but packed a lot. And I always love stories that bring up ethics around robots and non-human sentience so it really hit all the right spots.

The crew it’s with (for some reason I keep gendering Murderbot but it goes by “it” so far) is also diverse, and the whole series gives Wells more opportunities to show diverse cultures, relationships, etc. which is really good.

The Audiobook

First off, even though the books are amazing on their own, I want to tip my hat off to the narrator, Kevin R. Free (aka Kevin in Welcome to Night Vale) for reading Murderbot so well. He gives it a grumpy, deadpan voice dripping with humour and sarcasm and it’s so enjoyable to listen to, I just couldn’t wait to get to the next one every time I finished a book. I did think I recognize his voice so it was funny to me to realise he was in Nightvale, because those two characters are so different!

Because the audiobooks (until now) are roughly 3-4h, it’s really bite-sized, and feels a lot more like a podcast. I’ve been carrying Murderbot round the house as I was doing other things all week, basically!

The series overall

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Yes, yes, I know I said I’ve not finished it. But I can say pretty confidently that I’m enjoying the hell out of it! and that’s that.

I mean, it’s funny, it’s full of important topics and interesting characters, robots or otherwise. I really enjoy the worldbuilding that went into it, and all the things Murderbot is capable of, but the tone of the narration is what really does it for me.

I also think this series should be called Grumpy Series Addicted Robot vs Capitalism. But of course that’s way less catchy! We still get to see better futures, like Preservation where people have universal income and healthcare and don’t have to work their health away for corporations (sounds familiar?) and family units that are not monogamous or heterocentric but that are still portrayed as loving and caring. An asexual robot, humans with various genders other than M and F, with neopronouns… all of that is normal in Murderbot’s world, and it’s really what I like to see in my scifi. Despite the title it’s really a heartwarming series. I want to be Murderbot’s friend!

Oh and the robots… Robots, AIs, constructs… whatever they are, Murderbot hates them almost as much as it hates humans, and like humans it ends up liking them and making friends in spite of itself. Which is both hilarious to read, and sometimes really heartbreaking. Either way, love it!

I’ll be over there, reading the last books in the series and patiently waiting for the next!

Get the books

Amazon UK* | Waterstones | Or read the audiobooks on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links (or a free month on Scribd) at no extra cost to you

Review of Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight

I’ve been distracted to no end this new year and college exams (who said going back to school would be easy?) and I’m regretting how little reading I was able to put in. I did, however, manage to finish this great short story collection, so I thought I’d review it.

The Book:

Come discover the breadth and endless invention of her universes, ranging from a dark Gothic Paris devastated by a magical war; to the multiple award-winning Xuya, a far-future space opera inspired by Vietnamese culture where scholars administrate planets and sentient spaceships are part of families.

In the Nebula award and Locus award winning “Immersion”, a young girl working in a restaurant on a colonized space station crosses paths with an older woman who has cast off her own identity. In the novelette “Children of Thorns, Children of Water”, a shapeshifting dragon infiltrating a ruined mansion finds more than he’s bargained for when his partner is snatched by eerie, child-like creatures. And in the award-winning “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, three very different people–a scholar, an engineer, and a spaceship–all must deal with the loss of a woman who was the cornerstone of their world.

This collection includes a never-before seen 20,000-word novella, “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness”, set in Bodard’s alternative dark Paris.

My cat Lucky here modelling with my copy of the book

The Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I always struggle to read — and review — short story collections. I just don’t have the focus for small slices, paradoxically. It’s easier for me to get invested when I can stick with the characters for longer. But I enjoyed the Xuya short stories I read before (the Tea Master and the Detective mainly was a great read!) so I wanted to give the wider universe a try. 

It helps that all the stories are in the same universe (except for the last two which are in the Dominion of the Fallen universe and got me really interested in that as well) with common themes of war and grief. I almost want a history book of Xuya to get to know more about the different empires and their background. But the slices we get definitely paint a good enough picture. 

I was invested in the various characters, each story hit right where it should, and they were all equally good – I usually find that short story collections have highlights and then others that drag the collection down but that wasn’t the case here. I liked some better than others, of course, and Pearl was probably the highlight for me, as well as the final short story, “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness”. “Days of War as Red as Blood as Dark as Bile” also really got to me, and “the Waiting Stars” too, but again they were all really good!

(as a side note, I was disappointed when I received my copy because this cover is nice but it’s Not As Nice, in my opinion, as the US cover edition which I keep seeing everywhere online. It’s grown on me though.)

Find the book

Portal bookshop (UK): signed copies!! | Amazon UK / US (affiliates) |B&N (US)