Book Review: The Hatch by Michelle Saftich

Introduction

The Hatch by Michelle Saftich takes readers through a dystopian future in which humanity has begun colonizing other life-supporting planets, while the humans who remain on earth must survive the planet’s harsh climate in tiny bunkers several levels below ground. EASA, a totalitarian government and spearhead of planetary exploration, utilizes all resources in the search, including psychics like Britta, her mother, and her brother, who can astral project to search light years of space for new homes without ever leaving earth. Yet both Britta’s mother and brother have gone missing, each after visiting Nattalia, the most livable planet in the galaxy. Britta must follow mysterious visions and hints from higher meaning to find them, lost in the farthest reaches of space.

Review

The only part of The Hatch that I enjoyed was the moment at the end when Britta and everyone she loves faces execution for their crimes against the government (because of course they do). In spite of technological advancement in a Utopian society on the most livable planet in the galaxy, the citizens left over after a brief but brutal civil war get whipped up into a frenzy to stone the criminals to death. I found myself, at least, interested in the juxtaposition between civility and barbarism, the way pain and suffering reduced even the most satisfied people to rock throwing monkeys as soon as they had a scapegoat to blame for what happened. I wanted to see what Britta and company could possibly do to get out of this one. Unlike the rest of the story, there were at last up against a wall.

But almost at once after that, a deus ex machina swooped in to save them. Even the injuries they had suffered were healed. No consequences whatsoever. This kind of unwillingness to push the characters sets the tone for the entire book. Britta always got what she wanted with the barest breath of a struggle. People in charge let themselves be convinced to see things her way just because she had a power they all typically doubted. The parents were all perfect, including the ones who abandoned their son on earth to abusive foster parents. The romantic subplot became more of the main plot on several occasions, slowing down the pacing of the narrative and adding not very much at all. And while I recognized after a while that Britta could describe in accurate detail the feelings of everyone she met because she was an empath, this took all the mystery out of every character interaction and made her seem almost godlike in her ability to always comprehend the emotional motive behind every action.

Conclusion

Given that The Hatch included some science fiction touchstones like cryosleep, space gateways, and actual aliens, the world building could satisfy readers of lite sci-fi, which is totally okay. The closest comparison I can give to this book is a cross between Ender’s Game and Mass Effect. So if you like those but with the stakes much lower, you might find in The Hatch a nice, cozy read.

My rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.23


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Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells

Introduction

Following the events of the first four Murderbot Diaries novellas, Network Effect by Martha Wells delivers a long-form adventure for our favorite anxious SecUnit. When its human clients get kidnapped by a familiar research transport and unfamiliar humanoids, Murderbot must fight to keep all the humans alive while trying to figure out a way out of a hostile situation. Featuring members of Murderbot’s previous crew, the fierce child of Murderbot’s favorite fierce human, and a certain research transport with a charming acronym, the story follows Murderbot’s battle to evolve as fast as the situation changes.

Plot

The narrative of Network Effect covers the importance of humanity and artificial intelligences working together to achieve the impossible: freedom for those enslaved, whether humanoid or robotic. Taking place in a chunk of space abandoned twice by the corporations responsible for terraforming planetary hopefuls, the story picks up after Murderbot and ART parted ways, with them leading their customary lives of security detail for the leader of a free planet and transporting around anti-establishment academics who forge documentation to free indentured humans from bondage, respectively.

But the research vessel gets itself in trouble when the planet its academics hope to free turns out to have an alien remnant hellbent on escaping its planetary prison to infect the universe. Dragged out into this forgotten sector erased from map coordinates, Murderbot finds itself with no chance of rescue. It must solve these overwhelming problems on its own.

Characters

Though Murderbot gets the gift of starting the story alongside some of its friends, such as Pin Lee and Ravi, it now has to contend with Dr. Mensah’s brother-in-law, Thiago, who does not trust the ungoverned SecUnit, and Mensah’s stubborn and intelligent daughter, Amana. Murderbot has grown enough to admit that it has friends and likes helping and protecting them, but starting over with new humans who did not come along for that journey makes gaining their trust a struggle all over again. Especially when Murderbot would rather be allowed to watch media or just get on with its job without human interference. Or, worse, shows of affection.

Yet with the re-entrance of an old acquaintance, Murderbot gets to revisit little pockets of peace through sharing media. The narrative covers the autonomy of constructs, but more than that, the ways respect for personhood and botdom can lead to friendship.

Review

My favorite part of Network Effect was all of Network Effect. I would happily live in that world and Murderbot’s mind full of scathing criticisms of incompetence, admissions of inability, and growth as it continues to learn how to be a person. I couldn’t get enough of the HelpMe.file snippets showing Murderbot’s normal life and inner conflicts in between the action. Though a good-sized book, the snappy pace of Wells’s writing led to me to devour the story almost in one sitting (alas, I have a day job).

As always, I appreciated the anxious desire to do a perfect job, the acceptance of Murderbot from others with the occasional gentle reprimand, and the catharsis of letting the savagery out when lines get crossed. Anyone who loved the first four books will love this healthy dose of everything that makes Murderbot’s life relatable.

Conclusion

In addition to the narrative’s human drama and space opera hijinks, Murderbot’s inner voice and its obvious attempts at “unreliable narrator” crack me up. When I read most of the book, I spent my whole evening snorting in amusement, along with the occasional cackle of glee. I also cried at one point, I think. Network Effect reaches out and grips your heart, but makes the experience fun the whole way. I recommend this book to anyone whose hands I can push it into saying read it read it read it. (Spoiler alert: I have already done this once. Expect many more.)

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.47 stars


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Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

In Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett, three years have passed since the events of Foundryside, the first installment in the Founders series. Long enough for Sancia Grado and the allies she made in Foundryside to plan and begin to execute a magical-industrial revolution, one that will make scriving, the sacred and secret art of bending reality to one’s will, accessible to all. But on the cusp of the realization of this dream, Sancia and company learn of a deadly enemy being brought back to life. So they set out to defeat him before he has a chance to manifest back into their reality. Sancia, alongside Berenice, Orso, and Gregor, must struggle against this new threat that dwarfs all of them apart, but they may stand a chance together. If only they could rise above their personal traumas still not settled from their last adventures in Tevanne.

Much as in Foundryside, the narrative of Shorefall broadens the characters’ and readers’ understanding of scriving, the medium for magic in this world. In addition, building on the resourcefulness of the main characters evidenced in the previous book, our heroes find themselves thrown against a force of evil both convincing and powerful, forced to pit their shared skills and love for one another against more of an enemy than they can handle as they are attacked both in body and in conviction as to what makes right and wrong. The villain, having lived for thousands of years, has concluded that no matter the effort put into freeing humans from slavery, they always choose to use their resources to enslave others in an endless, vicious cycle. The more he talks about this idea, the more he shakes the altruistic conviction of the Foundryside bunch, because does not history already prove his claims true? The villain’s effect on beloved, despicable Tevanne turns the characters’ world upside down as he grabs for power through human sacrifices. By the end, nothing they knew is the same.

Yet an idea introduced in Foundryside, known as twinning, reaches new heights through the dubious help of a diminished golden god, the villain’s former helper. As the Foundrysiders begin twinning themselves to each other to share experiences, they find this powerful form of walking in each others’ shoes allows them to forgive, understand, and know each other the way they forgive, understand, and know themselves. Though they already loved each other before, their love deepens with every new addition to their twinned experience. Sancia and the rest hope that such an experience could break the cycle of human enslavement if only everyone could experience through the application of this technique the lows and highs of everyone else.

The narrative seeks to interrogate the fruitlessness of altruism. Only a handful of days pass over the course of the entire story, with a majority of the plot zooming in on small moments to keep the revelations coming as the villain goes about his dirty work. While Foundryside functioned the same way, I found in Shorefall a lack of the action and discovery prevalent in its predecessor. As well, this book went to some darker places, making the villain someone truly horrifying as bodies began piling up in gruesome detail. But I think those who tend to grapple with this kind of thinking may benefit from this stark look at such difficult questions, as well as the answer.

While Shorefall was not the rip-roaring ride of the first installment, I enjoyed the deeper examination of the relationships cultivated between the main characters in the previous events. As well, I had not expected to confront such difficult questions as, how will humanity ever end its barbaric cruelty to other people? and how could the removal of free will or the deepening of empathy potentially be the solutions? I found myself facing my own conclusions about these thoughts and re-examining them as the story progressed. I would recommend this book to readers who like to read about the deep questions and who appreciate clever and fantastical representations of the answers to those questions.

My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.24 stars


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Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

In Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, orphaned, broadsword-wielding Gideon Nav makes a bid for freedom from a life of servitude on the claustrophobic planet of the Ninth House, but the Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus, necromancer and bone manipulation prodigy, thwarts Gideon’s attempt at escape, demanding the swordswoman’s help in exchange for her freedom. The Emperor has summoned the heirs of all the houses to the planet of the First House to participate in a deadly competition to gain immortality and sit at his right hand. Harrowhark cannot win without Gideon, but it turns out that Gideon also cannot survive without Harrowhark.

The narrative of Gideon the Ninth follows Gideon Nav’s foray into pretending to work with Harrowhark Nonagesimus, her lifelong enemy and tormentor, for a chance at freedom. But upon their arrival at the First House, the fabled home of the Emperor himself to which he may never return, they receive no explanation and only one rule for the trial set before them. Exploration and puzzle-solving ensue as the various heirs and their cavaliers execute different strategies to unlock the secrets of the ten-thousand year old, crumbling palace, stumbling across futuristic technology and ancient rituals alike.

Between snarky remarks and witty ripostes, Gideon and Harrowhark begin to learn more about each other and how to function as a team, even as the trial turns deadlier and deadlier. They begin the story as hated enemies and remain that way for a long time, until they catch themselves saving each other’s lives. As contestants fall around them left and right at the hands of a mysterious murderer, secrets long-kept start to surface, drawing them together.

The moment in Gideon the Ninth that sticks out to me the most happened when members of one of the houses had conned a coveted key from a character Gideon really (really) likes. It was dueling time, and though the smart thing to do was to stay out of the rising tensions between the houses, Gideon badly wanted to fight for that key. When Harrowhark announced that the Ninth House would represent the Sixth House in the match, some of the combatants got snippy about the move. Harrowhark simply said, “Death first to vultures and scavengers.” First, this moment represents Harrowhark at last caring about Gideon’s desires enough to allow her something she wanted, regardless of whether Harrowhark disagreed. Second, this also shows a tiny, tiny sliver of the way Harrowhark felt about the other houses’ taking advantage of an invalid; proof that she hid a fragment of honor beneath those layers of arrogance. This line also highlights the sudden moments of weighty syntax sprinkled within witty comments and sharp retorts throughout the narrative. Beyond just a delightful emphasis on the necromantic vibe in such short supply within the fantasy genre, brilliantly lively characters, and an even mix of action, exploration, and fighting, readers will enjoy the speedy and clever wording that had me laughing out loud.

As the first installment in The Locked Tomb series, Gideon the Ninth already has me hooked. I have to read the next books to solve the mysteries of Gideon’s past and her future – who and where did she come from? how will she continue in the state she’s left in at the end of the book? I rarely spend large swathes of time on reading these days, but as the book picked up in pace, I wound up reading the entire last half in one sitting. My only issue was the uniquely bad feeling I get when reading about enemies to lovers, as I find the unlikelihood of forgiveness for years of oppression and torment difficult to overcome in my suspense of disbelief. However, I love so, so much of the rest and I recognize that this hangup may only be mine, so I would recommend Gideon the Ninth to any readers who love the necromancy aesthetic, who are looking for a lesbian slow-burn, and who appreciate, as I did, a masculine-coded woman character.

My rating: 5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.23 stars


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Book Review: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

My Thoughts

Martha Wells, of 2018-2019 Murderbot fame, weaves a tale of social complexity in The Cloud Roads. Following Moon, an orphan Raksuran, the narrative details his experiences of finding a colony at last and attempting to integrate through politics and social expectations he knows nothing about. With an outsider’s perspective, he begins to codify the deteriorate and extinction which the colony faces as he uncovers the mystery of the enemy that seems to have pursued him to his new home. I loved the depictions of social complexity, of divergent relationship roles, and the acceptance of individuals with difficult behaviors as just part of colony life.

The Cloud Roads Synopsis

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is — a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself… someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn’t tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power… that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony’s survival… and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save himself… and his newfound kin.

Goodreads

Appraisals

PLOT

The beginning of The Cloud Roads gives little indication of the surprises, twists, and turns in store for Moon. He must learn to go from lost and alone to part of a community of his own people that he does not understand at all. At the same time, enemies of the Raksura come bearing down on his newfound colony in his wake, awakening suspicions in all and demanding action from the most powerful down to the most diminutive members of the colony. Success rides on the ability of everyone to work together, as well as both a sundering and an embracing of traditions.

While I was reading The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells herself responded to a tweet, describing the Raksurans as arguing bats.

@marthawells1: Arguing bats is basically the plot of the Books of the Raksura

I couldn’t agree more. Moon spends his time arguing with others of the Indigo Cloud Court with whom he wants to join up, while the entire colony endures a crisis of potential extinction. All of them argue back, a whole mess of distinct, intriguing characters driving the plot forward with both actions and opinions.

As someone walking around with a low level of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, I enjoyed this representation of socializing. The freedom to express one’s opinion or have a moody moment and not get immediately ejected from the social circle had me wishing I could curl up in a Raksuran nest with a few cuddly bat-lizard companions.

CHARACTERS

The Cloud Roads features a slew of complex characters, all bound together by one colony or an ancient animosity. Throughout the depiction of character relations, Wells demonstrates a powerful ability to represent diversity, polyamorous relationships, opposing world views, and social structures.

Most of all, I loved the depiction of strength and submission in both females and males of the colony, most revealed in the love triangle between Moon, the sister queen Jade, and Charm. Moon switches between domination and submission, while Jade embodies all power, all strength. Charm struggles with his identity of changing from one caste to another out of nowhere and acts more soft around Moon.

THEME

An outsider’s perspective. With his ignorance from growing up as an orphan outside of a Raksuran court, Moon brings fresh eyes to the situation facing Indigo Cloud Court as the colony deteriorates with no explanation. While he becomes embroiled in Raksuran politics, their struggles, and his place among them, through empathy and a desire to understand others, he begins to recognize the enemies they face as more than just brutes bent on Raksuran destruction.

ENDING

While the beginning of The Cloud Roads hinted not at all about the direction the narrative would take, by the end, the events that unfold seem inevitable. As if this story could have ended no other way. A testament to Wells’s skill.

Criticisms

I disliked nothing about The Cloud Roads.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 stars

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Book Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time Synopsis

A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers?

WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

Goodreads

My Thoughts

On Tor.com’s Facebook page, I came across James Davis Nicoll’s article “SFF Works in Which Violence is Not the Solution.” Among the offerings listed appeared Mushishi, my favorite television show and ultimate inspiration for my free-to-read flash fiction series about The Hopeful Wanderer. Stories with non-violent solutions speak to my heart – hence the existence of the Wanderer – and the presence of Mushishi recommended this list to me wholeheartedly.

Almost every work in this article now lives on my Goodreads TBR list, but only Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky was available in my library network when I went looking for them. I’ll get ahold of the rest someday.

Appraisals

PLOT

Part nature documentary, part retelling of the human condition, Children of Time tells of the clash between a race just beginning and another on the verge of vanishing forever. The narrative follows two intriguing plotlines and their occasional overlap.

Tchaikovsky takes a species almost universally abhorrent to humans – spiders – and makes them sympathetic and understood as they evolve into a sentient race on a terraformed planet. Guided by their Messenger in the sky and nano-virus evolution through hunter-society, superstition, radical religion, invention, enlightenment, and space-faring unity. The most interesting part I found personally was the examination of sexism through the lens of males as the inferior gender, and how the brave and the empathetic make changes to this problem.

The humans, on the other hand, walk an opposing path. As thousands of years pass to those in cryogenic sleep, individuals in the cargo get woken for crisis after crisis as the last race of its kind squabble, in-fight, revolt, and work desperately to stay alive on a crumbling ark ship. The mechanics of time and generations become skewed through the use of cryogenics, with legendary figures rising from their ‘coffins’ to find several generations of humans passed. Though the Gilgamesh seeks a home for the humans among the stars, only one terrifying world will do.

CHARACTERS

My favorite character motif of Children of Time comes from the spiders society. As the story progresses over spider generations, living and dying in the thousands of years passing by for the humans, each new generation features three or four characters, new every time, but bearing the placeholder names of their ancestors. I loved learning which roles the Portias and the Biancas and the Fabians and the Violas would play during the rise of each new situation. The scholar? The warrior? The leader? The mad genius? Always Tchaikovsky focused on these characters as the most important movers of their world.

From the human camp, I found myself relating to the four to five characters present from Key Crew. From bumbling Mason, looking for meaning in a meaningless universe; to Lain on whose shoulders ride the leadership of an entire race; to simple Karst keeping up a smiling appearance hiding a sense of failed understanding beneath; to Guyen’s egotistical bid for eternity to see through his long-range plan; to logical Vitas and her hidden fears.

THEME

The difficult path to harmony. Throughout its existence, humanity has demonstrated its inability to get along with others. Children of Time presents the notion that lacking outside help, and perhaps a three-dimensional perspective, humans may never break the pattern of self- and environmental-destruction. Without the intervention of the alien spider intelligence, humanity would continue to spiral ever closer to the brink until someday it destroyed itself.

ENDING

Couched within the ending of Children of Time comes the non-violent part promised in Tor.com’s article. However, Tchaikovsky keeps his solution close to the chest, having me worried up until the last second that violence would be the answer after all.

Criticisms

Sudden sex is sudden and people sigh rather often. The usual. Otherwise, Children of Time is a magnificent science fiction offering. The story will stick with me for ages to come.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.30 stars

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Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook Synopsis

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

(Via Goodreads)

About Daniel O’Malley

Dan O’Malley graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia. He now works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats.

(Via Daniel O’Malley’s website)

My Thoughts

I read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley just before its sequel, Stiletto, released back in 2016. I loved it then and when I got the hankering to reread it (or a third book, which doesn’t seem to be in production, unfortunately), I thought I’d give it a review this time around.

What I Liked

Plot

Supernaturals + British secret agents = secret service superheroes. The basic premise of The Rook gives off X-Men vibes but the execution lands more within the realm of humorous and relatable James Bond, just with superpowers that involve licking things or venting toxins or diplomacy. Plus it features so many ladies playing active roles, impacting the narrative, and kicking ass. The playful tone puts me in mind of Artemis, just with even more women for fun and sharp banter. Also, while multiple characters maintain or express a desire for companionship, there’s only the barest hint of possible romance, leaving all the focus on the mysteries of the story.

Characters

The main character of The Rook, Mifanwy Thomas, cracks me up. Her internal monologue as she struggles to cope with the weird world of the Checquy she’s landed in entertains from start to finish, manifesting even more so in her dialogue and interactions with other characters. I like that she gets to have and wield power and authority as she fights for the respect she never earned pre-amnesia.

Mifanwy also builds and maintains friendships with another powerful woman in her organization, her very capable secretary, and a new friend outside of work. Beyond these, she displays pettiness and flaws, weaknesses and fears, criticisms and thoughts, awkwardness and a propensity to make mistakes. Well-rounded and badass.

Themes

The main aspect of interest here is the exploration of personality sans emotional trauma. With Mifanwy’s memories, and therefore all past traumatic events that would have shaped her into the timid, mousy woman she had become before her amnesia, wiped away through nefarious events, the narrative poses a question: who are we meant to be? How does PTSD alter that? How actively do traumatic events shape an individual? The narrative of The Rook implies that the answer is very as it presents the same woman as two totally different people.

Ending

Twist on twist on twist makes the climax of The Rook. While all kinds of other mini- and sub-plots get sprinkled throughout the narrative, the main plot itself gets so many loose ends tied up altogether at the same time. The intricacies of all the moving parts weaving together at once like that makes for a satisfying ending.

What I Disliked

Nothing. I love The Rook.

Recommendations

I’d recommend The Rook to fans of James Bond, the X-Men, and dry British humor.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.12


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Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Capture
All Systems Red by New York Times-bestselling author Martha Wells

All Systems Red Synopsis

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.

(Via Goodreads)

About Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksuraseries (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel is The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, published by Tor.com in 2017 and 2018. She was also the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering‘s Dominaria expansion in 2018. She has won a Nebula Award, an ALA/YALSA Alex Award, a Locus Award, and her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eleven languages.

(Via Martha Wells’s website)

My Thoughts

How All Systems Red wound up on my Goodreads TBR list is a mystery to me. I suspect I must have seen one of my friends mark it as Read and seriously liked the description, which hints at an angry, dismissive robot learning how to deal with autonomy and other people. Can relate, so I snagged it from my local library.

I was not, however, expecting a novella. All Systems Red is only seven chapters long, about 160 pages, but what an excellent clutch of chapters. Tor will be releasing three more novellas of The Murderbot Diaries throughout this year and I already have the sequel, Artificial Condition, on order. I had never even heard of Martha Wells before, but I believe I’ve just become her newest fan.

What I Liked

Over-Arcing Content

With the constraints of the limited page amount, the plot of All Systems Red moves along at a snappy pace, wasting no time with extraneous details or fluff. Yet it avoids sacrificing important story aspects like emotional investment, character development, and plot twists. It’s interesting from start to finish, cleverly revealing bits of the universe through relevant character thoughts, dialogue, and setting description.

Characters

The main character of All Systems Red, which calls itself ‘Murderbot,’ has more personality as an android than many of the main characters I’ve read in the past. It’s shy, smart, and youthful, has interests, opinions, and wit, and embodies a certain sense of true asexual, aromantic, gender neutrality. The story happens in first person and Murderbot makes a point of indicating that it has zero interest in sex or romance, which is the kind of main character I want to read! Skip the romance fluff and get down to important things, like group dynamic observations and interactions or Big Questions. Murderbot also represents a recognizable dynamic of the Millennial generation — under-educated, over-competent, and winging it at any given moment.

The rest of the crew surrounding Murderbot shines each in their own way. Based on the names, readers can divine a diverse group in ethnicity alongside Murderbot’s observations of their eclectic gender orientations and futuristic lifestyles. Many ladies populate the crew, receiving action, agency, and voices throughout.

Motifs

The spacefaring interplanetary exploration motif put me just a little in mind of the beginning of the movie Alien, but with the draggy elements cut out. The plot features a good mix of exploration, action, and mystery.

The Ending

At first I thought the ending of All Systems Red would be just okay. There are big and small resolutions that tie up the plot itself quite neatly; however, the way things appear to go at first leave Murderbot’s personal issues somewhat reconciled, but certainly not complete or satisfied. I greatly preferred the way the plot actually ends, transferring into a sequel with a little meta tag as the last word. I’m considerably more satisfied with the way All Systems Red subverts typical short-story ending tropes, but I recognize such success arises from the opportunity to continue.

What I Disliked

Perhaps because of the point of view of Murderbot, who doesn’t care about distinguishing human characteristics, it was at first hard to tell the other characters apart. Yet as the plot progressed, it became easier to know who was who based on dialogue, actions, and group dynamics, so it doesn’t remain a problem for very long.

The explanation of Murderbot’s crew identity came off as a little convoluted so that I’m still not quite sure what the narrative meant to relate about their background. Possibly a reread would solve that problem, though.

Recommendations

I recommend All Systems Red for fans of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the world setting of the Alien movies franchise (minus the alien horror aspect), as well as for readers looking for a total lack of romantic subplot in science fiction.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.15 stars


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Book Review: The Language of Thorns

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The Language of Thorns by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Leigh Bardugo

Synopsis

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author:

Leigh Bardugo
#1 New York Times-bestselling author, Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo  is a #1 New York Times-bestselling author of fantasy novels and the creator of the Grishaverse. With over one million copies sold, her Grishaverse spans the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, the Six of Crows Duology, and The Language of Thorns— with more to come. Her short stories can be found in multiple anthologies, including The Best of Tor.com and the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. Her other works include Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and the forthcoming Ninth House. Leigh was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Southern California, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and even makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Los Angeles, where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

In stories from the likes of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the young maiden always receives and overcomes a series of awful and often demeaning challenges in order to marry some vapid prince and live happily ever after with him in the castle. Right? But what if she didn’t? What if someone thought to call into question the faults and foibles of the other characters in these fables and let the heroes make different ethical choices? The fairy tale-style short-stories from Leigh Bardugo‘s The Language of Thorns do just that, twisting and darkening, but also enlightening by illuminating familiar plot devices and calling them into question. Fairy tales have a tradition of presenting moral conclusions and this collection sticks to that tradition, but with a modern spin.

For example, a girl chosen multiple times by her family to slay a monster in the pursuit of riches, even after they have more than enough. A toy soldier brought to life for the amusement of selfish teenagers, but wishing to pursue a will of his own. A forest witch accused of stealing young girls who uses a gingerbread girl to find the real killer. A friendship ending in betrayal and beginning the villainy of the tale to come after.

There wasn’t a thing I disliked about these stories. Breathtaking artwork curls across the corners and along the borders of the pages. Fascinating stories sprawl across the length and breadth of Bardugo‘s imaginary world of the Grisha universe, wearing the coats of familiar fables but revealing themselves as something different and beautiful beneath.

I would recommend The Language of Thorns to anyone who loves fairy tales. This book is also for anyone disenchanted with their rehashed moral themes.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.48 stars


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Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter

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Tempests and Slaughter by #1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce

Synopsis

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

(Via Book Depository)

My Impressions

Any book written by #1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce will naturally get a read from me. I grew into the fantasy-loving feminist I am today because of the influence her Song of the Lioness series had on me in my early adolescence. She’s like my fantasy fiction mom, teaching me through her myriad sub-series of the Tortall and Circle series how awesome women are, the nature of respect and politeness, and the complex interplay between tolerance and bravery. She starts her characters young, engendering in the reader the seeds of the lessons she wishes to impart, so that we all grow with them as we read along.

Pierce‘s newest novel, Tempests and Slaughter, begins the Numair Chronicles, a series of as-yet unknown length. (She tends to write in quartets, however, and that’s what I’m expecting this time.) It’s about my very favorite side character, Numair Salmalín, and how he became the goofy, gentle, nerdy wizard we see in The Immortals series, in which he meets and teaches wildmage Veralidaine Sarrasri. Full disclosure, I had a huge bookworm crush on Numair as a sixteen-year-old and he’s still close to my heart to this day. I own all of Pierce‘s Tortall books (well, I did until this one released; now I’ll be buying it for my collection soon!) and I tend to read one or several of the sub-series every year.

I’m a massive fan of literary callbacks; Tempests and Slaughter has them in spades, though they might be considered callforwards, as this narrative takes place before The Immortals, making loads of references to what will happen to Numair — known at this time as Arram Draper — in his future. It has only revealed a sliver of his adventures hinted at in Wild Magic and I’m so looking forward to finding out how everything connects. Young Arram is just as incorrigible as he will be in adulthood, with a thirst for knowledge that leads him to make unlikely friends, from the downtrodden and oppressed to master sorcerers to a future emperor. His gentle nature, however, puts him at odds with the cutthroat mindset of the rulers and nobles of his country, who are just a few of the diverse cast and characters readers meet.

Despite the opportunities Arram has to influence future emperor and villain of The Immortals series, Ozorne, his policy of non-confrontation will potentially be consequential in shaping Ozorne’s ultimate tyrannical rule. Because this series is not only about the rise of Numair, but also about the eventual fall of Numair’s best friend. Pierce weaves a subtle tale where Ozorne is concerned, pointing out to her readers the dangers of brushing aside and accommodating bigoted and intolerant behavior. Knowing Ozorne’s future fate and watching the unfortunate way Arram handles the warning signs breaks my heart, because we’ve all been caught between maintaining friendship and doing the right thing, trapped in a turmoil of cultural acceptance. Tempests and Slaughter is a wide-eyed, stark look at how tyrants rise to power in the real world. Every villain was someone’s friend, and every villain had friends who did nothing to stop them before it was too late.

Tamora Pierce clearly has more moral lessons to teach us. I’m eager to hear what she has to say.

Goodreads rating: 4.82 stars
My rating: 5/5 stars