Category: Reviews


Review – River of Teeth

Posted 26 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah GaileyRiver of Teeth, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 23rd May 2017

So, you might know I love my hippos. After all, my first teddy was Helen Hippo, and she’s been with me since two days after I was born. We have a connection. I wasn’t quite sure about reading this because, well, River of Teeth? Feral hippos attacking? That didn’t sound good. Let me reassure other hippo aficionados: there are feral hippos and they’re pretty vicious, but there are also tamed hippos who happen to be adorable, like the one who likes pastry and has her teeth cleaned regularly.

It’s a fun caper novel set in an alternate US where hippos were brought in to be herded for meat, and you’ve essentially got cowboys riding hippos through bayous and marshes. It isn’t such a leap, though you might think so: the US did consider bringing in hippos for that purpose, once upon a time. This just plays with the idea that they went ahead with it.

The cast of characters is great; my favourite is probably Hero, who is non-binary and has a romance and is completely, utterly badass. I like Houndstooth, too, mostly because his crush on Hero is adorable. And Archie is a ton of fun.

I can’t wait for the next book, though I am somewhat alarmed at the blurb suggesting the gang has split up. That better be an exaggeration!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sunbolt

Posted 25 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sunbolt by Intisar KhananiSunbolt, Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt is a fun little novella with a lot of promise, setting up an interesting fantasy world which is (thank goodness!) not an analogue of medieval Europe. It’s just satisfying enough that I got into it and didn’t want it to end, just tantalising enough that I’m sure I’ll be picking up the second book just as soon as I can.

I did feel like it was a book of two halves — before Hitomi meets Val, and after. The turning point of the book reminded me so much of the scene where Sunshine meets Con in Robin McKinley’s Sunshine — in so many ways, from the character attitudes to how it gets resolved, to the way they talk to each other. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it did feel so very similar that I kind of had deja vu.

I like the fact that romance isn’t a huge part of this; there’s some potential, but nothing really concrete. And there’s all kinds of magic; fangs and Lycans and a tanuki-shifter and just — awesome. I want more.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Vital Question

Posted 24 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Vital Question by Nick LaneThe Vital Question, Nick Lane

If you have a solid grounding in science already, particularly biology, this is probably going to be accessible for you — but if not, you might struggle a little. It starts off alright, but it gets quite dense in places, and if you’re not super-interested, you’ll probably get bogged down. That said, to me it was fascinating, and generated testable hypotheses about how early life could have functioned.

I still disagree with Nick Lane on some points, like the dismissiveness with which he treats “junk” DNA. But he covers a lot of interesting stuff about endosymbiosis, mitochondria, the way mitochondria work with the host cell, how the differences between bacteria and archaea arose… It’s a wide-ranging book, and it’s hard to summarise everything that he touches on.

He also makes some pretty bold predictions about life elsewhere in the universe — that it will work in pretty much the same way as it does on Earth. I don’t disagree with what he says here.

So all in all, a worthwhile read, but bring your thinking cap if you’re not a biologist.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Builders

Posted 23 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Builders by Daniel PolanskyThe Builders, Daniel Polansky

I wouldn’t have thought of this as a one-note joke until I read the author’s note at the end, but it’s true that’s what it is in some ways. Think Redwall, but instead of saccharine sweet mice in an abbey and wise old badgers and the clear distinction between vermin and civilised beasts, everyone is perfectly capable of being dangerous. Yes, even a mole. These animals are pretty much just humans in animal guise, with all our foibles and tendencies to violence.

It’s also an entertaining story. It’s a fast read, and it basically reminds me of Joe Abercrombie’s work. I’m not sure it’d stand up to a reread, but it works on the first read as a tidy little novella, well-paced and well put together. It just misses out on four stars for me because I don’t think I’d revisit, even though I had fun.

Maybe avoid it if you don’t enjoy gore and you’re precious about your memories of Redwall, though.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Neanderthal Man

Posted 22 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Neanderthal Man by Svante PaaboNeanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, Svante Pääbo

This book is less about Neanderthals themselves and more about the biological and technical details of extracting their long-extinct genomes from the preserved bones we’ve found, and also about Svante Pääbo himself — it touches on his bisexuality, his moves between institutions, even his affair with a colleague’s wife. I could’ve done without the personal info; it often felt like it was completely incidental to the extraction and sequencing going on in his teams. There were some interesting bits in the way his team worked together, and his decisions as the leader, but his affair with Linda Vigilant was entirely irrelevant.

Still, it’s a fascinating narrative taken as a whole, tracking the various theories, setbacks and new techniques Svante Pääbo and his team went through in finally extracting and sequencing the Neanderthal genome. There’s some coverage, too, of how it differs from the Homo sapiens genome and that of chimpanzees, and what that means in terms of phylogeny and the relationships in the family tree of human development. It also touches on some of the politics of science: rival groups, jockeying for funding, terminating partnerships which aren’t delivering what you hoped… A reminder that you’re never gonna get away from politics of some sort, I suppose!

I found it deeply interesting and well explained, though I am a little disappointed that it was more of an autobiography of Pääbo’s working life than about Neanderthals and what we know about them because of his work.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – All Systems Red

Posted 21 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red, Martha Wells

All Systems Red is the diary of a self-proclaimed murderbot — a part organic, part synthetic construct designed to protect groups of colonists, and perfectly capable of going wrong and killing them all. Hence, Murderbot — although our Murderbot has disabled the system that they think caused them to do that, and manages to take pretty good care of its little group of prospectors while also mainlining a ton of soaps and whatever other entertainment programs come its way.

I found it all very entertaining, but there was a more serious aspect, too: the Murderbot’s misanthropic attitude and even anxiety about interacting with humans, especially without its suit and opaque helmet on as a buffer. Thus the interactions with the team were a little sad as well as funny — if not sad, perhaps the right term would be invested with pathos, especially as they interact more and more with their employers (contractors? not sure quite what the term should be).

I was a little disappointed by the ending, leaving behind the established team. Obviously there’s gonna be more Murderbot, but… with a new cast otherwise? Boo. I was just getting to like ’em.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Being Human

Posted 20 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Being Human by New ScientistBeing Human, New Scientist

There’s perhaps not much to say about this collection: it’s much the same as the other New Scientist collections, in that it brings together a number of articles and features on a theme, using material from past issues. This is a bit more general than The Human Brain, of course, though it covers some of the same ground. If you read New Scientist religiously, none of this will be new to you; if you want to collect it in a more permanent form than the weekly issues, or grab one that’s on a specific topic, these are great for that.

To me, all of this is accessible, well explained and interesting. Your mileage may vary depending on what aspects of science interest you most.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dangerous Women (Part III)

Posted 19 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dangerous Women ed. G.R.R. MartinDangerous Women, ed. Gardner Dozois & G.R.R. Martin

Overall, the whole collection is pretty disappointing to me. The stories might fit the theme of ‘dangerous women’ on a technicality, but few of them feel genuinely dangerous. Usually the twist is that, surprise! She’s not a good girl after all! Righto.

‘Some Desperado’, by Joe Abercrombie — One of the better ones in the collection. The main character is, indeed, a desperado, and things don’t go too well for her — but she defends herself and keeps on running.

‘City Lazarus’, by Diana Rowland — I’ve kind of avoided Rowland’s work since I saw her on a panel at a con and all she did was sell her work, and this didn’t really change my mind. The writing is okay, but lord, the set-up is so typical and the twist so obvious.

‘Hell Hath No Fury’, by Sherrilyn Kenyon — The title doesn’t even make sense, since the ‘woman scorned’ is actually driven out of a village she helped to found, not just scorned. She lays a curse on the land, people with cameras come in long after and try to film a paranormal exposé, she rips ’em to shreds. Yawn. Isn’t this an episode of Supernatural?

‘The Hands That Are Not There’, by Melinda Snodgrass — For a female author, wow does she cater to the male gaze. I didn’t get through the bar scene.

‘Caretakers’, by Pat Cadigan — This kind of… fizzled, for me. It was slow and it took a long time to get where it was going, and once it got there, it wasn’t such a shock at all.

‘Nora’s Song’, by Cecelia Holland — It’s Eleanor of Aquitane, it should be completely badass. Didn’t work for me, though.

‘Bombshells’, by Jim Butcher — Skipped entirely, with a side-eye at the spoiler for the Dresden Files in the intro. I get that it’s been out a long time, but maaaan.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Killing Gravity

Posted 18 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Killing Gravity by Corey J. WhiteKilling Gravity, Corey J. White

Received to review via Netgalleypublication date was 9th May 2017

Basically: take River Tam, give her telekinesis, take away Simon Tam and the crew of Serenity, and send her off on her own. More or less. That’s what the main character, Mars, is like, except maybe a bit more mentally stable. Mostly.

I found this a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely read more in the same world. I’m a little disappointed about where it cut off, because I really wanted to see a particular character home safe — but at least it offers the promise of more of these characters. Squid and their chromatophores — and their casual gender neutral identity — particularly fascinate me: I want to see a lot more of them. And I want to see more of Seven… sort of. (It’s complicated.)

It’s a little bit Firefly, a little bit The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, a little bit witches in space.

Works for me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Medical Frontiers

Posted 17 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Medical Frontiers by New ScientistMedical Frontiers, New Scientist

This is a bit different to the other New Scientist collections, in that it’s focused on the practical applications of science in one particular arena: medicine. I found it a fascinating look at medical technologies and theories, and how they might change healthcare. It’s the usual suspects, of course: stem cells, etc — and it touches on some of the past advances in transplantation, antibiotics and other drugs…

So it’s not quite the scale of relativity or dark matter, but to me it’s all the more fascinating for being relatable to everyday life. Like the other New Scientist collections, it’s a good way to catch up to and collect a bunch of articles on the topic.

Rating: 4/5

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