Tag: SF/F


Review – Waking Gods

Posted 2 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWaking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date was 6th April 2017

Wow. Sylvain Neuvel isn’t messing around. Waking Gods is the follow-up to Sleeping Giants, and it doesn’t pull punches. If you hoped that it’d end with everything being okay, well, certainly not yet. And there’s apparently more to come, if the ending of this book is any indication…

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s worth discovering it yourself. The structure is the same as in the first book, and if that annoyed you previously, then this isn’t going to be any better for you. If you found it simultaneously frustrating and intriguing, then that sensation will also pretty much persist. If you straight-up love it, well, again. The point is, the format hasn’t changed, and it’s roughly the same characters as well. However well those things worked for you in the first book is likely to be repeated.

If Mitchell could just, like, implode or something, I’d be pretty happy, I’ve gotta say.

The solution at the end of this book struck me as a bit convoluted and contrived, because of the constraints on it and the limited time to suddenly figure it out. All the same, hurrah for the character who figured it out making good.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Harrowing the Dragon

Posted 1 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillipHarrowing the Dragon, Patricia A. McKillip

As you might expect from Patricia McKillip, this is a lovely collection — some of the stories are just beautiful, and her writing always is. ‘The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath’ is a strong point, as you’d expect from the fact that the collection is named after it, and I enjoyed ‘A Matter of Music’, ‘The Stranger’ and ‘Lady of the Skulls’, too.

The lighter, more humorous ones like ‘A Troll and Two Roses’ and ‘Baba Yaga and the Sorcerer’s Son’ are still well written, but the tone doesn’t work for me. Mostly, it just doesn’t fit with the dream-like prose-poetry I expect from McKillip (and which she delivers, even with the lighter stories).

It’s a nice collection, but not a favourite by any means. It’s one of those I’ll keep because I enjoy the way McKillip writes rather than because I particularly want to revisit most of the stories. This sounds like faint praise, but McKillip’s writing really is beautiful.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sea of Rust

Posted 30 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sea of Rust by C. Robert CargillSea of Rust, C. Robert Cargill

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 7th September 2017

The cover of this is gorgeous, no question, and the idea sounds pretty cool: post-apocalyptic robot Western, what’s not to love? Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book, because it’s just too bogged down in tons and tons (and tons) of exposition via info dump. There are whole chapters where the main character, Brittle, does nothing but explain the history of her world. It’s first person narration, so to whom is she telling the story? Why wouldn’t they know?

(I credit, or curse, Lynn O’Connacht with my pickiness about first person narratives, these days. She’s the first one who really made me go, oh, right. Why is this person telling this story anyway, and to whom?)

That gripe and the exposition aside, I was also put off by the fact that at first, the robots were pretty much ungendered. Brittle didn’t seem to have a gender identity, and certainly there was nothing in the story to indicate one way or the other. (At least to a casual reader, and I’m not going back in to check.) Then all of a sudden, 20% of the way through, it turns out that robots do have gender identities, or at least there’s enough there that other robots still bother with gendered pronouns and distinctions between hes and hers.

That’s probably a very personal gripe, and it may not even have crossed the author’s mind — female robot, why not? But I just have to ask why, why would a robot cling to an outdated, human idea of gender in a post-human world?

Maybe that gets addressed later on, but I don’t have the patience to wait for it.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Loveless Princess

Posted 29 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Loveless Princess by Lilian BodleyThe Loveless Princess, Lilian Bodley

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd May 2017

There was a lot of potential for this to go really wrong, since it features an aromantic and asexual character in a typically heavily romance-is-your-happy-ever-after world. Princess Anette has to get married, and she’s not interested in the idea at all. It’s not the prince in particular: it’s the idea in general. She’s not interested in sex or romance at all; she doesn’t feel a lack of it in her life, she doesn’t even really feel curious about it.

But she has to get married all the same, to the son of Briar Rose, and everyone around her assures her that it’ll happen. She’ll find her happy ending with the prince.

Well, eventually she does, but not in the simple way they expect. Fortunately, she remains true to her stated identity throughout, without wavering; in that sense, the author deals with having an aro-ace character perfectly. And the setting is kind of cool, with various other fairytales popping their heads up to say hello — people are descending from a princess who could feel a pea through a hundred mattresses, witches can make jewels come out of your mouth whenever you speak, and three old spinning women have attended quite some weddings in their time as honoured guests. I liked all those references, and the way the story follows the logic of fairytales.

At times it does feel a little simplistic, but it takes a lot of work and space to build something really solid onto the fairytale base, and perhaps it’s wrong to expect it. The one thing that does feel wrong to me is that the antagonist is also aro-ace, and it motivates him to be a real ass to everyone. I get that bitterness and loneliness can really mess you up, but ugh.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Passion Play

Posted 27 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Passion Play, by Sean StewartPassion Play, Sean Stewart

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 14th June 2017

I wasn’t sure where this one was going, but it ended up darker than I expected. I kept waiting for something to happen, and then it got all messed around — saying it got turned on its head wouldn’t quite be true, because it made perfect sense and it was coming all along, but I wasn’t quite expecting that. It’s a powerful story, and that ending has a heck of a sting in the tail.

The whole Christian fundamentalist running the USA thing is, well, kind of close to home with someone like Mike Pence as the VP. But this is mostly not about that world; that’s just the backdrop. It’s about living in that world, and making your way if you happen to be an empath, or ‘shaper’. Diane, the main character, uses her skills to chase down criminals and bring them to justice, but she’s starting to burn out.

I don’t want to say too much about this, because it’s a mystery story and it works very well at getting under the skin, for my money. Definitely worth picking up.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 27 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 26 Comments

Hi everyone! I’m back in the UK for a while, for my exams and the election and so on. I’m missing my bunnies, but I did have a lot of great books waiting for me here!

But here, have a picture of Breakfast meeting Captain America, first…

Right, now I feel better.

Received to review:

Cover of Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

I really need to read something by Gail Z. Martin. I’ve had a couple of her books on my list for a while. Oops.

Fiction books bought:

Cover of City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett Cover of False Hearts by Laura Lam Cover of The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury

Cover of A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas Cover of Caraval by Stephanie Garber Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve had my eye on… pretty much all of these for quite a while now. I’m still not sure about The Hate U Give — people love it so much, and recommend it a lot, but I’m not sure if it’s my thing. Still, gonna give it a try.

Non-fiction books bought:

Cover of Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould Cover of Bones of Contention by Paul Chambers Cover of Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka Cover of How To Find A Habitable Planet by James Kasting

Cover of The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner Cover of One Renegade Cell by Robert Weinberg Cover of Life on the Edge by Joe Al-Khalili and Johnjoe MacFadden Cover of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall

Quite the stack, I know! Some of these I’ve been meaning to read for ages, especially Gould’s book. I loved the exhibit on the Burgess Shale at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, but only just got round to picking up a copy of this book to go with the experience.

So yeah, plenty to keep me busy!

Books finished this week:

Cover of A New History of Life by Peter Ward Cover of The Emerald Planet by David Beerling Cover of How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis Wolpert Cover of The Worm at the Core Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey Cover of The Deeper Genome by John Parrington Cover of One Renegade Cell by Robert Weinberg Cover of The Ghost Line Cover of Raisins and Almonds by Kerry Greenwood

Sneak peek at ratings:
Five stars: The Emerald Planet and The Worm at the Core.
Four stars: Waking Gods, River of Teeth,  The Deeper Genome, One Renegade Cell,  The Ghost Line and Raisins and Almonds.
Three stars: A New History of Life and How We Live & Why We Die.

Reviews posted this week:

Being Human, by New Scientist. As with the other New Scientist collections, this is good if the topic interests you, and less so if it doesn’t. It does interest me! 4/5 stars
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. Funny, but with some interesting serious touches too. I want more of the Murderbot. 4/5 stars
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, by Svante Pääbo. The science is fascinating, but I wasn’t always so sure about the personal details! It’s not so much about Neanderthals at all, really; just the process of extracting their genomes. 4/5 stars
The Builders, by Daniel Polansky. Redwall, but very red in tooth and claw. And other implements of destruction. 3/5 stars
The Vital Question, by Nick Lane. This is a wide-ranging book, almost impossible to summarise, but well worth reading on symbiosis, evolution, the origin of life… 4/5 stars
Sunbolt, by Intisar Khanani. Fun worldbuilding, and I definitely want to read more. ASAP. 4/5 stars
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey. Hippos! A caper! A hero called Hero! I really enjoyed it. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR. What it says on the tin.
WWW Wednesday. The usual Wednesday update.

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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 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 – 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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