Tag: SF/F

Review – To Be Taught, if Fortunate

Posted September 2, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky ChambersTo Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers

This novella is a stand-alone which explores many of the same themes as Chambers’ award-winning Wayfarers books: there’s a deeper focus on science, but there are also the same themes of family, friendship, what’s worth it in life. It follows the fortunes of a small crew who are surveying planets far, far from Earth, investigating all manner of things — including life. It’s an optimistic view of the universe in terms of biology: there’s some form of life everywhere the crew go. Throughout, it’s clear that what they’re doing is not necessary — this isn’t about terraforming, finding somewhere new for people to live, finding resources… it’s about discovery, the joy and wonder of it.

It’s not much of a story, really. There’s a fair bit of explanation about why the scientific things are significant, and there’s a dryness to the tone in a lot of places because of the format (a report back to Earth). There is a payoff, but it definitely wasn’t as emotional as the Wayfarers books, and I didn’t feel particularly close to the characters. In fact, I’ve mostly forgotten their names already, though I do remember some things about them and how they reacted to the events — I’m not saying this is a dead loss, at all.

It’s a good short read, with a theme I can get behind — the importance of discovery for discovery’s sake — but I hoped for more, I think is my conclusion.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Blue Salt Road

Posted September 1, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

The Blue Salt Road, Joanne Harris

The Blue Salt Road is a take on the myths of selkies: seal-people who can shed their sealskin and become humans, and can be trapped on land by the theft of their skins. This is mostly told in a stripped back, fairytale sort of register; you’re told how characters feel, but there is a lot of telling (and intentionally so: that isn’t a criticism, because that style is deliberate). For the most part, it’s a straight retelling: a girl lures a selkie from the sea and loves him, and then hides his sealskin to keep him on land with her.

What Harris adds to the tale is a little more psychology — examination of the girl’s reasons, of the selkie’s feelings, of how he tries to fit in with the human world he’s been pulled into… and examination of the grief and loss and betrayal inherent in the story.

For all that the shape of the story is pretty traditional, I found the ending a surprise — and in a good way. I’m not sure I believe that the selkie will be happy with the final shape of his life, and there’s still a lot of grief and betrayal… but there’s also a very human and real determination to make something of it. Nobody dies of pure grief here, as in a fairytale: instead, people must carry on.

I enjoyed this a lot, and thought it did quite a bit with the story while keeping a fairytale-style narration.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Turning Darkness into Light

Posted August 31, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Turning Darkness into Light, Marie Brennan

Received to review via Netgalley

I wanted to get this reviewed before it came out, but I also didn’t want to do it a disservice and rush it. To be quite honest with you, I basked in having this world to dive into anew, after some time has passed in that world; I adore what Brennan does in the Lady Trent books with showing scientific progress and academic endeavour, and I had the same feeling here. Being both a biology graduate and a literature postgraduate (and one who focused on languages and translation fairly heavily for a while), this world has now reflected so much of my experience it makes me quite squeeful. I know Audrey is much better at translating Draconaean than I ever was at Anglo-Saxon or Old Icelandic, but some of the struggles in reading are similar — and the process of academic review and piecing things together across texts is even more familiar.

(I mean, nor am I as experienced and high level a biologist as Lady Trent is a naturalist; still, there are commonalities, and Isabella and Audrey’s struggle for status is still relevant for female-bodied folks in STEM today, soooo…)

The thing is, in conclusion, that Brennan is just so clever in the way she puts together the work. The way she invents these ancient texts: the structures of them, the lacunae, the difficulty in understanding things that rely on context. The way she understands the process is so clear — which makes sense, given her background in anthropology, but that doesn’t always mean one will be good at writing it. Brennan is.

And that only touches on half the book! There’s also an exploration of what it might be like to be the granddaughter of someone like Isabella, explorations of the developments in Draconaean civilisation since she found the Sanctuary… and delightful bits like Audrey causing a riot (of course) and Isabella dismissing someone as a potential partner for Audrey because he’s not a sound scholar, and all the politics which Audrey manages to entangle herself in… It all comes together very satisfyingly.

Perhaps my only criticism is that Audrey is very like Isabella; their voices are similar, and you can be pretty sure that whatever Isabella would have done in a situation, Audrey will do as well. Obviously, there’s reasons for that, and good ones, but it makes the book feel less its own thing and more like it’s more of the same. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I hope if we see more of Audrey, she does more forging of her own way. (I absolutely want to see more of Audrey.)

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Posted August 28, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the last of these books, Lady Trent’s last memoir, and it’s a doozy. It delivers on tiny promises made throughout the other books, drawing everything together so it all makes a new kind of sense. I’m a bit baffled by people who think that the plot twist in this book comes out of nowhere and is not in keeping with what has happened before — we’ve been getting clues about this, hints about the importance of the Draconaeans to Isabella’s story even though she’s not all that interested in them. In some ways, I’m surprised I didn’t see this coming more. It fits exactly with what came before.

So what happens in this final novel? Isabella is told of the body of a new sort of dragon, found preserved in ice somewhere entirely unexpected. Naturally, Isabella has to embark on a hare-brained quest to find the body and record the new information it might bring, and Suhail and Tom are along for the ride. Of course they are.

And of course things don’t go entirely to plan. I fear to say too much even at this point, to avoid spoiling the surprise too much for anyone who still wants to experience it anew. Suffice it to say that this turn in Lady Trent’s career is great, and makes perfect sense.

And I cannot wait for the book following her granddaughter. In fact, I’m going to pick that up right now.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Late Eclipses

Posted August 27, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuireLate Eclipses, Seanan McGuire

In Late Eclipses, there’s a poisoner on the loose, and there’s little doubt in Toby’s mind that it’s someone from her past — Oleander de Merelands, of course. Throughout the book she leads Toby a merry dance, poisoning her allies and friends, and setting her up to look like the bad guy. Obviously some people are eager to seize on that and chase Toby down as a murderer, while others (the usual suspects) are arrayed beside her and behind her, ready to protect her and commit acts of courage and stupidity to keep her safe.

My main problem with this book was that it felt drawn out painfully by the fact that someone kept hitting Toby with the idiot stick. Things that are obvious to the reader are far from obvious to Toby. I can’t believe someone so trusted by her liege, someone who is an investigator no less, would keep making stupid mistakes like this. It’s not even a matter of trusting the wrong people this time — Toby just puts her head down and starts bulling through the obstacles, instead of using her head the less painful way.

There are some great moments — many of them involving Tybalt — and some payoff from hints we’ve been hearing all along. Amandine makes an appearance, remarkably sane for her. It’s fun, I just feel like about 80 pages could’ve been cut by letting Toby use her brain instead of her skull.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Perihelion Summer

Posted August 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Perihelion Summer by Greg EganPerihelion Summer, Greg Egan

Received to review via Netgalley

Perihelion Summer is a what-if story. What if a pair of black holes passed by the solar system, dragging the planets from their established orbits? What would happen on a warmer Earth, with bigger seasonal variations — variations big enough to make parts of the Earth uninhabitable at certain times of year? The novella follows a group of characters who are all kind of blind, including the protagonist whose name I kept forgetting as soon as I learned it. It’s more of an opportunity to play out the what-if than it is to do any kind of introspection. What if there was a group of people on a floating fish breeding factory in the middle of the ocean? What if they worked as part of a flotilla to move people around the world in these circumstances?

If hard SF is your thing, then this might be more your speed: while I can enjoy an idea-based story, I normally require some relateable characters, and to feel like there’s something I care about at stake. I didn’t feel any emotional connection to any of the characters or situations; I was reading to be finished, I’m afraid. That’s not as bad in a novella as it might be in a novel, but still. Not really one for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Cruel Prince

Posted August 20, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Cruel Prince by Holly BlackThe Cruel Prince, Holly Black

The Cruel Prince turned out not to be my thing. It just felt so immediately typical — the cruel and fascinating Fae with their fairy fruit and their grudge against mortals, the human girls in love with the world of Faerie. The human girl determined to prove herself by fighting, the betrayals and backstabbing, the evil and beautiful boy who turns out to have been abused, etc, etc, etc… it just all kind of felt familiar and I wasn’t getting into it. I’ve heard that the ending is very worth it, but I didn’t get there, so I couldn’t say.

Mostly, I just feel like if I’m dragging through a book at 50 pages a day and only that much because I feel I have to, even though it’s not all that dense or anything, then it’s time to give it up. So I did.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – This Is How You Lose The Time War

Posted August 16, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

This Is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

I’ve been curious about this book for a while, so I dug into it right away when my pre-order arrived! I’ve only read short stories by Amal El-Mohtar, as far as I recall, and only one of Max Gladstone’s novels, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. It’s a rather lyrical and poetic book, following the correspondence of two enemy agents as they follow each other up and down time, through alternative worlds and different histories, and as they fall in love.

To be quite honest, I didn’t fall in love with it. I appreciated the lyricism, and I also definitely appreciate that these two agents are definitely presented as female. I found it enjoyable to read. But it didn’t really get claws into me; I didn’t feel like I’d mind terribly much if I never finished it. I couldn’t say what it could have done better to make me love it; I’m not sure there is anything specific. It felt too clever by half, really, and then the emotional undercurrents missed me while I was watching the cleverness from a cynical distance.

Definitely an interesting endeavour, and worth a read, but not something I could love.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Exit Strategy

Posted August 15, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Exit Strategy by Martha WellsExit Strategy, Martha Wells

Exit Strategy wraps up the novella series by bringing Murderbot full circle: back to Dr Mensah and her team, the people it helped in the first book. Second-guessing itself, hating the idea of becoming a pet bot, but nonetheless needing to help the person who is (nominally, at least!) its owner, Murderbot finds that Dr Mensah is probably a hostage and goes ahead with doing what it does best. Planning, worrying extensively, and then throwing itself headlong into trouble.

If I didn’t know there was a novel coming as  a follow-up, I’d be really mad about this final book, honestly. The second and third books gave us some development for Murderbot, of course, but they also gave us characters I’d really like to see again. Particularly ART, though I’d like to know what became of everyone else as well. It’s not that this book doesn’t give a kind of closure, because it does, but it doesn’t wrap things up in the kind of everything-converges-and-everybody-meets ending I guess I was hoping for.

It’s enjoyable, and Murderbot remains a delight. But I want more!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In the Labyrinth of Drakes

Posted August 14, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of In The Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie BrennanIn the Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is so full of squee. That’s a technical term.

In this book, Tom and Isabella are shipped out to Akhia to work on a breeding program for dragons, in order to supply the army of Scirland with dragonbone for caeligers equivalent to those made by other world powers. So there’s one thread of plot whereby Isabella investigates the breeding of dragons, including a trip into the desert to find where they actually breed, and perhaps even witness a hatching.

Of course, we’re in Akhia, so there’s another thread to the plot as well: Isabella re-encounters Suhail, though his family disapprove very much of his association with her. Nonetheless, they find ways to speak to each other, and Suhail eventually accompanies her on her journey to the Labyrinth of Drakes, an area in the desert full of Draconaean remains and potentially untouched sites to delight the heart of any archaeologist.

There’s the personal plot, in which we finally discover who will turn out to be Isabella’s second husband (a fact which is a bit of a tease through the previous books, but obvious in retrospect), and then this intertwines with Isabella’s journey of scientific discovery and Suhail’s archaelogical pursuits. Overall, it’s very satisfying and not a bit wasted.

Rating: 5/5

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