Category: Reviews

Review – Network Effect

Posted November 30, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Network Effect by Martha WellsNetwork Effect, Martha Wells

I didn’t read this that long ago, but I still needed the reread, oof! There’s a lot going on — especially in the last 70 pages or so, and a good number of things I somehow hadn’t properly logged to long-term memory. It’s one of those books where even explaining the setup is kind of a spoiler for people who are only partway through the series, because so much has happened to bring us here… but suffice it to say that I love the meeting of old friends, the meeting of new ones about whom we didn’t know very much yet, and especially all the dialogue between Murderbot and the bot transport.

I still found that things are a bit slower and easier to follow going in — though I wouldn’t call it slow, there is a certain amount of waiting for things to happen, and quite a bit of trying to go off, find a quiet corner, and Have An Emotion — and then move at blurry, dizzying speed after a certain point. I think I’m up to speed on everything this time, but I wouldn’t want to be quizzed on it.

Honestly, poor Murderbot doesn’t nearly get enough time to just watch media, in this one. It does get in a couple of episodes of Sanctuary Moon and Worldhoppers, but c’mon. A Murderbot needs some more time to unwind.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Winter Garden Mystery

Posted November 28, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola DunnThe Winter Garden Mystery, Carola Dunn

I started this right after Death at Wentwater Court, since I was in the mood for a bit more time spent with Daisy. In this one, she calls in Alec to help when the local police wrongfully (in her view) accuse someone of murder. She’s present at the discovery of the victim, and quickly forms her own opinions about who did it — or at least, in typical Daisy-fashion, who didn’t.

I enjoy this one a lot. There are a number of supporting characters that feel like friends very quickly (Ben Goodman, Bobbie Parslow), and references to rather sweet familial and romantic relationships. There are a few villains, of course, and Lady Valeria in particular is really well drawn — her overbearingness, her attitudes, her self-importance. And then there’s Alec, wholly unprofessional in his dealings with Daisy, of course, but caring for the truth and trusting in her judgement (even as he complains that others do that too much!).

The formula’s still reasonably fresh at this point, and the cast of characters enjoyable, so all in all I had fun. I loathe the attempt to render the Welsh accent phonetically, though.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Diagnosis

Posted November 28, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Diagnosis by Lisa SandersDiagnosis: Solving the Most Baffling Medical Mysteries, Lisa Sanders

Each chapter of this book is a little précis of a case, with the key details you need for figuring out what exactly happened, should you have the knowledge and experience — and of course some flavour text, because where would we be without knowing that a young girl was an athlete, or a straight-A student, etc, etc? The stories are pretty short, each illustrating a medical mystery (to one degree or another — some of these I guessed, and others I’d have no idea about).

It’s very light, of course, but for a layperson it’s perfect, and illustrates some of the weirdnesses of bodies and diseases. I found that it actually made me a little anxious, partly because of the trappings of characterisation and life situations that were given for flavour — it makes it all too easy for me to imagine the same situation happening to me and my loved ones. Nonetheless, I powered through, and thought it was pretty interesting and well-written for what it is.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death at Wentwater Court

Posted November 27, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover Death at Wentwater Court by Carola DunnDeath at Wentwater Court, Carola Dunn

It’s been a while since I read any of the Daisy Dalrymple books, and I was looking for something light and easy, so I decided to start over and reread the first book. As I recall, I got pretty frustrated with the series and the way Daisy constantly stumbles over bodies… but in this book, of course, the habit hasn’t developed yet and you just get to enjoy warm, friendly, clever Daisy — and the beginnings of her friendship with Alec, of course.

In addition, Dunn makes the supporting characters appealing (for the most part, with one or two villains to be the victim and suspects, as you’d expect from a cosy mystery), and you really do want things to turn out well. Daisy really does act like a bit of an idiot at the end, thinking she’s being very clever but actually causing massive problems for poor Alec. It does work out very neatly, but that’s reliant on luck.

Still, it’s fun, and I look forward to rereading more of the series.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Exit Strategy

Posted November 16, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Exit Strategy by Martha WellsExit Strategy, Martha Wells

This is, really, what the three previous novellas have been building up to, so it’s suitably epic. I’ll try not to say too much, given that spoilers for this book kind of spoiler the others as well, but suffice it to say that Murderbot returns to help out their humans (mostly meaning Dr Mensah, but also her team), gets shot at a lot, has emotions a lot, and tries not to get hugged or anything truly dangerous like that.

It’s obvious that something like this was coming from the build-up, at least in terms of the reunion, but it’s satisfying all the same to watch it happen. Murderbot is still Murderbot, but it has done a bit of growing and a bit of soul-searching. It might not know what it wants in the long term, but in the short term it has some pretty ironclad priorities. It might complain about its own competence constantly, but it gets the job done.

It’s surprising to me how satisfying I found this series as a set of novellas; normally I find novellas a bit frustrating, with a few exceptions, but I think Martha Wells planned things out well here and made the novella structure work. I’m glad that Network Effect is up next, though: I’d like to spend a bit more time with Murderbot.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Breaking the Chains of Gravity

Posted November 15, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Breaking The Chains of Gravity by Amy Shira TeitelBreaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before NASA, Amy Shira Teitel

The problem with the early history of missiles, which came to enable space exploration, is apparently that it’s mostly about Nazis. Wernher von Braun ends up being the main focus of the narrative because he was deeply involved in rocketry all along, and unfortunately the author takes a tone that sees him as a visionary, nobly defending his precious and important project…….. by becoming a Nazi, accepting slave labour to assist in building it, and — she doesn’t mention this, somehow, mysteriously — being accused along the way of actively helping to torture prisoners.

Many ordinary people got caught up in the Nazi party, but most of them wouldn’t try to defend themselves by claiming their project was too important to abandon. Hiding behind the importance of his project is what skeeves me out more than anything with von Braun — and what skeeves me out with Amy Shira Teitel is how little she bothers to grapple with that fact. You’re writing about a Nazi, and that requires careful handling, and for the love of God you should not be suggesting that the ends (protection of the missile programme) might justify the means (the brutal use and torture of prisoners), even inadvertently. You should be so careful about that that the accusation could never arise.

Amy Shira Teitel… was not. Her enthusiasm for rocketry is clear, but her judgement is sorely in question. In addition, because I could not possibly care less about fucking Nazis, I found a lot of the book difficult to read and frankly tedious. Oh! It’s another explanation of how clever von Braun is and how carefully he protected his team of scientists from dying in the war! What a shame he couldn’t do anything about the torture and deaths that facilitated his programme.

Uggghhh.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Rogue Protocol

Posted November 15, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha WellsRogue Protocol, Martha Wells

This might be my least favourite of the series, just because I find Miki annoying (as Murderbot does!) and the ending rather sad and… it kind of drifts off: it sets up for the next book, of course, and moves onto that pretty seamlessly, and that makes sense, but for me this feels a little like filler at times.

Which is not to say it’s not still fun: watching Murderbot crankily care about humans and pretend not to, and watching it react to Don Abene’s pet bot is a whole series of character moments. It still features Murderbot doing what Murderbot does best. But… I miss ART, and Ratthi, and the other characters that are more central (if not in terms of the plot, in terms of how much Murderbot cares).

So yeah, not a favourite, but don’t let that put you off — it’s still fun, and still important.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – These Names Make Clues

Posted November 10, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of These Names Make Clues by E.C.R. LoracThese Names Make Clues, E.C.R. Lorac

In some ways, this doesn’t really feel like one of Lorac’s books. It’s not quite a John Dickson Carr, but there’s something overly convoluted about it, and a bit less of the good-heartedness I think of when I think about Lorac. Her characterisation of Macdonald feels slightly different — he’s still a solid, good man, but he feels more stereotypical as a Scotsman, and it just… feels very typically of that era.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, because I enjoy books of that era — that’s how I even discovered E.C.R. Lorac in the first place, of course. But it feels like she hasn’t quite found her voice, maybe, in this one… and I’m not too surprised that this is one which seems to no longer be available anywhere, even second hand, as Martin Edwards says in the introduction.

It remains an enjoyable little puzzle, though it withholds some key information to make the puzzle difficult to solve. I do not have a mind for anagrams, but even if I did, I don’t think you get all the information you need about a particular character in order to figure out whodunnit and why.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Spitting Blood

Posted November 9, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spitting Blood by Helen BynumSpitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis, Helen Bynum

I was enthusiastic for this book, because I’m enthusiastic about tuberculosis, but my actual research for my dissertation only extended to the current state of affairs in the UK (with a sprinkling of context from other countries that helped explain patterns of prevalence). Unfortunately, it’s very dry, and kinda lacking in real… judgements about the narrative. Like it’ll discuss a particular type of treatment, but only historically, without reference to whether it actually worked, what the off-target effects might be, why it might work on the occasions that it did actually work.

It does have some scientific detail, but it’s more along the lines of why people thought x and y. As the narrative gets toward the present day, there are some more details — and some I didn’t know, like the fact that the need for multi-drug regimens was known pretty early on. I thought the reason resistance arose was because monotherapy was used exclusively until quite recently, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

(Part of the complication is that TB is just really very tricky, without any need for monotherapies giving it the chance to mutate. It has great efflux systems to pump most types of antibiotics out of the cell, it gets inside your macrophages and then makes the phagosome unable to fuse with the lysosome so it can sit pretty inside your cells, and it has a whole bunch of potential mutations that allow it to neutralise the main antibiotics in some way or another. This info isn’t in the book, this is from my dissertation, though.)

Anyway, it filled in some of the background knowledge I lacked, but it was dry and lacked urgency. I found Kathryn Lougheed’s Catching Breath far better back when I first read it, when it was the book that got me interested in TB to begin with!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Artificial Condition

Posted November 8, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha WellsArtificial Condition, Martha Wells

Aaaand straight on to my possible favourite book of the series: Artificial Condition. Featuring ART, the Asshole Research Transport, who is way smarter than Murderbot, loves its crew, and manages Murderbot brilliantly to help it do things that it doesn’t want to do (but which are good for it — like posing as a Security Consultant, and appearing more human).

Honestly, the plot of this book doesn’t particularly rise above the others: it’s the fact that ART is a key character that makes it the best. The relationship between ART and Murderbot is great, and I love them sitting down together to watch media. It feels weird that ART actually only has a place in the second book, because like Dr Mensah, it takes up a big part of Murderbot’s development.

So, yep, onwards, onwards!

Rating: 4/5

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