I read and enjoyed Autonomous – see my review. So when I saw this offering pop up on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was glad to get a copy.
BLURB: Destry is a top network analyst with the Environmental Rescue Team, an ancient organization devoted to preventing ecosystem collapse. On the planet Sask-E, her mission is to terraform an Earthlike world, with the help of her taciturn moose, Whistle. But then she discovers a city that isn’t supposed to exist, hidden inside a massive volcano. Torn between loyalty to the ERT and the truth of the planet’s history, Destry makes a decision that echoes down the generations.
Centuries later, Destry’s protege, Misha, is building a planetwide transit system when his worldview is turned upside-down by Sulfur, a brilliant engineer from the volcano city. Together, they uncover a dark secret about the real estate company that’s buying up huge swaths of the planet―a secret that could destroy the lives of everyone who isn’t Homo sapiens. Working with a team of robots, naked mole rats, and a very angry cyborg cow, they quietly sow seeds of subversion. But when they’re threatened with violent diaspora, Misha and Sulfur’s very unusual child faces a stark choice: deploy a planet-altering weapon, or watch their people lose everything they’ve built on Sask-E.
REVIEW: In common with many sci fi authors, Newitz is highly critical of the capitalist economic model. It’s a system that Newitz roundly critiques in both Autonomous and The Terraformers. In this far, far future adventure – Ronnie has helped design a pristine planet to resemble Earth before Humanity came along and spoilt it. And now she needs it to make a profit… Of course, she hasn’t got her own hands dirty – carefully designed workers with all sorts of modifications have been the ones toiling away to ensure the planet’s eco-system keeps ticking over as perfectly as possible. Destry is one such worker and in the opening section of the book, is a main protagonist.
I loved the modified, cyborg animals, particularly Moose, who is Destry’s Mount and can carry her anywhere she needs to go, because Moose can also fly. However, he has a limiter on his brain so that he can only speak using single-syllable words. Though at least he can express himself about a wide range of subjects – Blessed models are built with a limiter in their brains so they can only talk about their work, even though they have the intellect to understand and have opinions on so much more.
Essentially, this is a story about a class struggle that spans centuries, set upon a beautiful world that is in the process of being settled with the aim of making the corporation owning the land the maximum amount of money. And although that might sound like a bleak premise, the book isn’t. Newitz has given us a beautiful world which she depicts with great vividness with all sorts of quirky creatures peopling it. Along with dear old Moose, I also rather fell in love with Scrubjay, a flying, talking train. Yep – I know it sounds like a bonkers episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, but I was able to suspend my disbelief sufficiently to get thoroughly caught up in the story. In amongst the anger at the exploitation and inevitable rebellion and bloodshed, there are lovely moments of working together, companionship, love affairs and the sharing of food.
I came away from reading this one with a smile on my face – and a sense that being alive, with friends and family to love and share food with, living on a planet where there is so much beauty, in a body that is my very own – makes me very fortunate. Highly recommended for fans of sci fi colony adventures with a strong environmental message. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Terraformers from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
That eye-catching cover snagged my attention and I thought the premise looked intriguing – though I have tweaked and shortened the rather chatty blurb.
BLURB: Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. In the ten years she’s been rescuing imperilled field agents for the Syntex Corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.
She’s got twelve months left on the clock before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, and she’s hell-bent on using that time to cement her legacy. Sil’s going to be the only Mindwalker to ever pitch a perfect game—even despite the debilitating glitches she’s experiencing. But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced into a situation that for all her tactical knowhow and experience – came as a complete and very unpleasant surprise…
REVIEW: I really liked the premise that Sil’s impressive additions come at a huge cost. It made sense to me that a child’s brain, with its inherent plasticity, would be ideal to work on. And the fact that Syntex has managed to find a way around the law so their representatives can persuade suitable eight-year-olds to sign all the permissions necessary to be turned into a super-agent also rings true. As for Sil – I found her grim acceptance of her impending death at the ripe old age of nineteen both poignant and gutsy.
This is aimed at the YA market, so the narration is in first person and the overall story arc follows a familiar route. That said, Sil isn’t as emotional or self-absorbed as YA heroines often are. And while I wasn’t particularly invested in the inevitable romance, as it wasn’t the aspect of the book that really interested me, it was well handled and I believed in the ups and downs of the relationship between two wary, battle-scarred young people.
What did drive me to keep turning the pages in this well-paced, enjoyable science fiction adventure, was Sil’s ongoing battle to stay ahead of those who wanted to get hold of her and shut her down. And while I did see the final twist coming before it finally dropped – there were ramifications that still managed to surprise me and raise the stakes still higher. All in all, this is an engrossing read about a post-apocalyptic future that is frightening and plausible, which I found hard to put down. Recommended for fans of dystopian near-future adventures featuring a likeable heroine. While I obtained an arc of Mindwalkers from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
It’s been a rather torrid fortnight… Firstly, the good stuff. The celebration meal with my parents was wonderful – it was lovely to see them again. And the pics above are of us with them. My lovely parents are in the middle, the boys are on either side of them in the left photo, while in the right photo my sister is on the left and I’m on the right. It helped that the weather was warm, if a tad cloudy and the food at the Arun View was great. We are now in the tail-end of half term week, which has been a welcome break in amongst the daily routine of school runs and pickups from the station for college. We managed to spend a lovely afternoon at the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust during another amazingly warm October afternoon. And those are the pics below…
But in amongst all of that, my sister needed to go to A & E with terrifically high blood pressure – I’ve never seen a machine flash red warning lights and bleep before… We got to the hospital at 4 pm and finally returned home at 3 am, so it was a real marathon. She was actually seen really quickly, but needed blood tests, a thorough examination and then a brain scan to check for microbleeds. And of course we had to wait for the results. I cannot praise the staff highly enough. Everyone was professional, unfailingly patient and kind. There was also a great vibe amongst the people in our corner of the waiting room, where people were also patient and good humoured, despite a number being in pain and worried about their condition. I felt proud of being a Brit and deeply grateful for our hard-pressed NHS. It turns out my sister is suffering from severe stress and has since seen a doctor and is signed off work for a fortnight – I’m not surprised. Her pharmacy is hugely busy and they have lost 2 part-time and one full-time staff member and only replaced the full-timer. I am shocked at the level of abuse she has to endure on a daily basis by people waiting for prescriptions and underwhelmed by the support she gets from the management. Small wonder that she is ill, having worked flat out through the pandemic and still finding there is no let-up.
Unfortunately, I spent the next two days in bed with exhaustion. I was back on my feet just in time for my covid booster jab, which once more floored me… And Himself was also feeling dreadful with the effects of the jab – fortunately he was on a long weekend, otherwise he would have had to go sick. The good news is that apparently, the fact we felt so ill means that we will have produced a nice lot of antibodies to that strain of covid, which should provide good protection if we fall ill with it.
Poor Oscar has been nursing a shoulder strain, so wasn’t able to go the gym for the last fortnight, which he really missed. But this week he was able to resume his training schedule and also went back to football practice, which he is also enjoying. And Ethan managed to hand in his college assignment for the term with no problems and has been busy revising for his Maths exams, which he goes back to this coming week as he starts his second term at college.
This last week I read:-
Mindwalker by Kate Dylan Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. In the ten years she’s been rescuing imperilled field agents for the Syntex Corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.
She’s got twelve months left on the clock before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, and she’s hell-bent on using that time to cement her legacy. Sil’s going to be the only Mindwalker to ever pitch a perfect game—even despite the debilitating glitches she’s experiencing. But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced to flee the very company she once called home. Desperate to prove she’s no traitor, Sil infiltrates the Analog Army, an activist faction working to bring Syntex down. Her plan is to win back her employer’s trust by destroying the group from within. Instead, she and the Army’s reckless leader, Ryder, uncover a horrifying truth that threatens to undo all the good Sil’s ever done. With her tech rapidly degrading and her new ally keeping dangerous secrets of his own, Sil must find a way to stop Syntex in order to save her friends, her reputation—and maybe even herself. I really liked the sound of Sil having to race against her upcoming death at the ripe old age of 19. The whole cybertech part of the book was well handled and I really bonded with the gutsy protagonist. Being a YA read meant the emotion and romance featured heavily, but it certainly didn’t overshadow the main narrative arc. Enjoyable read. 8/10
The Deep End – Book 1 of The Country Club Murders series by Julie Mulhern Swimming into the lifeless body of her husband’s mistress tends to ruin a woman’s day, but becoming a murder suspect can ruin her whole life.
It’s 1974 and Ellison Russell’s life revolves around her daughter and her art. She’s long since stopped caring about her cheating husband, Henry, and the women with whom he entertains himself. That is, until she becomes a suspect in Madeline Harper’s death. The murder forces Ellison to confront her husband’s proclivities and his crimes—kinky sex, petty cruelties and blackmail.
As the body count approaches par on the seventh hole, Ellison knows she has to catch a killer. But with an interfering mother, an adoring father, a teenage daughter, and a cadre of well-meaning friends demanding her attention, can Ellison find the killer before he finds her? Laura at Through Raspberry Colored Glasses was talking about this series and I liked the sound of it sufficiently to look out the first book. And then, because I was in the mood, I then read it and thoroughly enjoyed the 1970’s vibe and lovely dry humour. The plotting was also nicely twisty, with a satisfyingly long list of possible suspects – no wonder the series is still going strong with such a successful start. 9/10
The Green Man’s Gift – Book 5 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna A teenage boy has turned up in Snowdonia, barely conscious and babbling about beautiful women and fairy feasts. The authorities blame magic mushrooms. The wise women say different and they want dryad’s son, Daniel Mackmain, to investigate. He needs to watch his step in the mountains. Those who live in the hollow hills mask their secrets and intentions with sly half-truths.
Far from the woods he knows, Dan needs help from the allies he has made in past adventures. But he’s a loner at heart. As the true power of his adversary becomes clear, he must decide if he’s willing to see those he cares for put themselves in danger. Himself saw this one and immediately bought it – quite right too. This series is one of our favourites and this particular adventure, set in the Welsh hills, didn’t disappoint. As ever, McKenna’s strong descriptive writing, clever pacing and charismatic and entirely believable protagonist meant the pages simply turned themselves until I reached the end with that familiar sense of happiness and sorrow that only comes when completing a thumping good read. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK – Chosen For Power – Book 4 of the Dragon’s Gate series by Lindsay Buroker – REREAD Jak and his allies venture through the portal in search of the longevity plant their king demands, but all Jak wants is to find the elder dragons. Some say they’re extinct. Some say they’re in hiding.
If he can’t locate them, there won’t be anyone to teach his hatchling how to fly. Or to protect the dragon eggs preserved within a glacier on another world. Or to help him free his people from the tyrannical rule of the wizards. Jak has no choice. He must find the dragons. But some ancient secrets were buried for a reason. What he discovers may jeopardize not only Jak and his allies—the survival of the entire species of dragons may be at stake. I decided to reread this slice of this entertaining epic fantasy adventure as I’ve recently got hold of the next audiobook in the series and I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss any of the plot points. It was a solid pleasure to follow Jak and his intrepid mother again as they once more are forced to risk their lives to follow King Uthari’s whims. I’m loving this adventure, which confirms Buroker as one of my all-time favourite authors. 9/10
Blood Will Tell – Book 6 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow At the request of her grandmother, a matriarch of her Aleut clan, Kate Shugak travels to Anchorage to investigate the mysterious deaths of several Council members just before a crucial meeting to determine the fate of some disputed tribal lands.
I completed Breakup before realising that I’d somehow missed reading this one in the right order. As ever, the politics raging over the beautiful, fragile Alaskan eco-system is brilliantly depicted without turning into a moralistic rant. Shugak is a riveting heroine and I found the ending of this one immensely powerful and moving. 10/10
The gorgeous spacescape adorning the cover first snagged my attention when browsing – and for a change I also clocked the fact that this was the second book in the series. So before requesting it, I got hold of The Cruel Stars, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So when I was approved for a copy of The Shattered Skies, I was genuinely pleased – and reread The Cruel Stars just before tucking into this military space opera adventure.
BLURB: The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…
REVIEW: The first book is full of action right from the start, as the Sturm’s horrific weapon incapacitates all the crucial personnel holding power throughout the galaxy by dint of a terrifying attack that scrambles their brains. However in The Shattered Skies that impetus takes a while to get going. But it was a pleasure to get reacquainted with Commander Lucinda Hardy, who finds herself captaining the only surviving warship that can hold its own against the Sturm; Booker3, a super-soldier slated for total deletion before the hammer falls; Princess Alessia, the 12-year-old sole survivor of the most powerful ruling house throughout the system; Sephina L’trel, outlaw and smuggler with a small crew of misfits who have slipped through the cracks; and finally an elderly living legend – former war hero Admiral Frazer McLennan, who has been studying the crash site of the Sturm’s dreadnought to glean whatever information he can about their society. He is accompanied by an A.I. who looks after McLennan’s needs, while the two of them spend their time exchanging insults.
Inevitably in a cast of five protagonists, I had favourites. During The Cruel Stars, it was poor little Alessia’s plight that snagged my attention. Birmingham’s riveting depiction of her kidnap by the Sturm was the highlight of the book for me, as it was written with power and emotion without sliding into sentimentality. My least favourite character was Frazer McLennan and his Intellect, whose constant bickering became a tad tiresome. I was pleased to see that Birmingham was smart enough in The Shattered Skies to have Lucinda Hardy also find these exchanges annoying, too.
While it’s always better to read the first book in a series, particularly as The Cruel Skies is a cracking adventure from start to finish, Birmingham makes sure readers who haven’t had the pleasure won’t flounder too much. But once The Shattered Skies hit its stride, once again I was swept up in the conflict, though there were times when I felt the pacing could have been tightened up. The battles are vividly depicted with plenty of action and tension, so that I could easily visualise who was doing what to whom. Deaths are given plenty of emotional heft and matter to the protagonists, making me care, too – something that doesn’t always happen in this genre.
In this book, there is also the addition of an intriguing antagonist emerging from the ranks of the Sturm who is on the trail of our plucky freedom fighters. He is suitably menacing without sliding into the cliché of a pantomime villain. I liked the fact that he absolutely believes in the rightness of his cause and that we are given clear evidence to back up his point of view. Birmingham’s multi-layered society with its various factions convinced me and provided a strong backdrop for the unfolding story. I’m very much looking forward to reading the final book in this series and recommend this series to military sci fi fans looking for vivid, convincing characters and a high-stakes space war. While I obtained an arc of The Shattered Skies from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
November was defined chiefly by the second lockdown in the UK, and although it wasn’t as strict as the first one, it did bring my social life to an abrupt halt again. So other than seeing the grandchildren when necessary (we are part of our daughter’s support cluster as she is a single-parent family) and shopping when Himself wasn’t able to fulfil the brief, I hunkered down at home, busy writing and reading. Other than teaching Tim, which I did resume after a long, serious discussion weighing the pros and cons with his mother…
Reading I read twelve books in November, which isn’t a particularly large number – but that’s okay. More importantly, once again it’s been a great reading month qualitywise – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. Because this was #Sci Fi Month 2020, which was once again organised by Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place and was a huge success.
My Outstanding Book of the Month was Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett.
My reads during November were:
Dead Lies Dreaming – a Laundry Files novel by Charles Stross. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Wintersmith – Book 35 of the Discworld novels & Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – Outstanding Audiobook of the month. Review to follow.
Architects of Memory – Book 1 of The Memory War series by Karen Osborne. Review to follow.
The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas. See my review.
Aftermath – Book 5 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre. Review to follow.
Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. See my review.
Lifelode by Jo Walton. Review to follow.
The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. See my review.
Writing and Editing Halfway through the month, I finally completed the manuscript for Picky Eaters 2 – which initially was going to be a novella – only to discover that it was a monster of over 117,000 words! I will be writing about all this in more detail in a separate post later in the month – but basically that was just nonsense. I’m not in the mood right now to read anything of that length – so why would I expect my readers to do so, either? Particularly as the whole point of this series is to provide some escapist fun. So I rolled up my sleeves and dived in. It took nearly a week of hard work and rewriting – but I now have a version of Picky Eaters 2, renamed Flame and Blame, that I’m happy with at just under 73,000 words. The great news is that I also have just under 50,000 words of the next novel in the trilogy, which will be called Trouble With Dwarves.
Overall, I wrote just over 61,300 words in November, with just under 20,000 on the blog, and just under 40,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just under 477,000 words. I’m very happy with that – the increased in the speed of my writing since I returned from Bexhill has been a gamechanger and should mean that next year will be far more productive.
Blogging Blogging revolved around Sci Fi Month, which was a joy. I added far too many books to my towering TBR and was able to swing by and chat to some other blogs I don’t regularly visit. Though as I battled with teasing apart my manuscript during the second half of the month, I’m afraid my visiting once more suffered. Sorry about that! In the meantime, I hope everyone is able to stay safe. Take care.x
Whatever else it’s been, 2020 has been a marvellous year for science fiction reads, particularly space opera. So what am I looking forward to reading in 2021? I’ve determined to become more disciplined and complete series that I’ve started, thoroughly enjoyed – and then dropped again because the new shiny drew me away… This is the final post that I’m linking to #Sci Fi Month 2020. So in no particular order:
Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky Anyone who has been on this site for a while knows I’m a huge fan of his writing – and I was delighted to learn that this sequel to the thought-provoking novella Dogs of War – see my review – is due out in early January 2021.
The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky The Expert System’s Brother is one of those books that hasn’t left me alone since I read it – see my review. So I was so excited to learn that we have now the opportunity to follow what happened next to poor old Handry after his previous adventures.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear I was blown away by Ancestral Night – see my review – and am thoroughly enjoying Machine, so got hold of Hammered – see my review – for more Elizabeth Bear goodness. And I want to continue with this series, seeing as I had such fun with the first book.
A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine After the acclaimed A Memory Called Empire – see my review – I’m sure I won’t be the only desperate to get my hands on this sequel. And the good news is that we won’t have all that long to wait…
Endgame – Book 6 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre I started this series far too long ago and have loved the progression of Jax. So one of my Christmas presents from me to me, will be a copy of this one, seeing how much I enjoyed Grimspace, Killbox and Aftermath – review to follow.
Network Effect – Book 5 of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells I loved All Systems Red – see my review – but given that the novellas aren’t all that long and I read quite fast, I simply couldn’t justify the expense of following the rest of the novella series. The first novel, however, is a different proposition and I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one next year.
By Other Means – Book 5 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie I’ve loved following super-soldier Sorilla Aida on her adventures in On Silver Wings, Valkyrie Rising, Valkyrie Burning and The Valhalla Call. But, again, this is a series that has simply taken too long to catch up. So I’ll be tucking into this one sometime in January or February.
Driving the Deep – Book 2 of the Finder series by Suzanne Palmer I loved listening to Finder earlier this year – see my review. So I have decided to treat myself to the audio version of this one, so I have another space opera action adventure to keep me company while cleaning the house.
Lines of Departure – Book 2 of the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos I loved the first book, Terms of Enlistment – see my review – and fully intended to tuck into the second book , which I have on my TBR, much sooner. As it is, better late than never. So this is another offering I intend to read in the early part of 2021…
Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat, bouncy vibe of young Ara has she faces off the creepy alien shadows and a nasty crime synicate in Navigating the Stars and Chasing the Shadows – review to follow. So I’m keen to see how this all plays out in the final book of the series.
Fleet of Knives – Book 2 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Embers of War – see my mini-review. The sentient ship Trouble Dog rather stole the show for me and I’m only too happy to read more about his ongoing adventures.
And there you have it – 12 science fiction reads I have lined up to get me through the miserable months of January, February and March, in amongst my fantasy and crime reads. Are there any books here that you are intending to also read? Or others you would like to recommend? I’ve loved taking part in #Sci Fi Month 2020 – it’s been a joy to browse through the master schedule and make a note of books I want to get hold of. But I am trying very hard to be adult about this – and work on completing more series that I have already started. Wish me luck!
I have been enjoying the adventures of Alisa and the disparate collection of people she has accumulated during her search for her daughter. Filled with action and excitement, I’ve been impressed at the variety of scenarios Buroker has managed to provide to prevent this series becoming remotely repetitive. See my reviews of Star Normad, Honor’s Flight and Cleon Moon. So where would this penultimate book take us? I have linked this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
BLURB: After failing to catch up with her daughter Jelena so many times, Alisa’s optimism is battered, but her determination has never waned. She, Leonidas, and their eclectic crew are hunting down a Starseer research station in the heart of the Kir Asteroid belt—Jelena’s supposed location. Alisa vows that she will find her daughter if she has to search a million asteroids to do so. But Jelena and her close friend, Prince Thorian, have attracted the interest of many factions, and the Star Nomad isn’t the only ship on the hunt…
REVIEW: My ongoing criticism of this series has been that Alisa’s search for her daughter has seemed somewhat leisurely, missing the edge of desperation that I felt should have been there. It has been a minor niggle, rather than a major grumble – but this book fixed that issue, as Alisa confronts her guilt for leaving her family in the first place to join the Alliance as a pilot. Those creepy Starseers, who can see into people’s minds, are no less threatening this time around and the pace and action scenes acquired extra energy as this book.
There is also progress in the relationship between Alisa and her cyborg hunk, Leonidas, which has been stalled by a major impediment that prevented them getting any closer. I was pleased to see Alisa conflicted between her sense of responsibility towards her young daughter – feeling guilty that in amongst all of that, she has also been pursuing her own happiness. Yep – welcome to the world of motherhood! I am conscious that I have been giving the impression that this book has been mired in some fairly angsty topics, which is the case. But that hasn’t prevented large dollops of humour surfacing, as Alisa tends to inappropriate drollery when things get difficult or dangerous. And once again, there have been difficulties and danger in spades, which didn’t stop me sniggering at the interchanges between Alisa and her spiky engineer Mica, who keeps threatening to leave – but somehow doesn’t quite get around to it.
Throughout this book is a sense that everything is winding up towards the final denouement – and like all thoroughly enjoyable series, that leaves me feeling quite torn. On one hand, I’m looking forward to Alisa getting back her daughter and perhaps a bit of respite from all the ongoing problems besetting her – on the other hand, I’m not looking forward coming to the end of spending time alongside an entertaining cast of characters who have provided a lot of escapist pleasure over the last two years. Highly recommended – but do read the other books first, or you’ll miss out on far too much of the story. 9/10
I was blown away by Ancestral Night – see my review – and then realised that was the first book I’d read by this remarkable author. I clearly needed to fix that one, so I was delighted when I discovered this series available. I have linked this review with #Sci Fi Month.
BLURB: Jenny Casey is a former Canadian special forces warrior living on the hellish streets of Hartford, Connecticut, in the year 2062. Her artificially reconstructed body is failing her, but a government scientist from her old life thinks she is perfect for his high-stakes project. Suddenly Jenny is a pawn in a battle being waged on the Internet, the streets, and in the complex wirings of her man-made nervous system. And she needs to gain control of the game before a brave new future spins completely out of control.
REVIEW: There is so much to love about this book, starting with the heroine. I love the fact that we jumped into her life after she’d already endured a lifechanging series of events that had left her physically and emotionally compromised. I love that she turns fifty in the middle of the novel – how cool to have a major middle-aged female protagonist in a science fiction cyberpunk thriller!
This near-future dystopian view of Earth has climate change having redistributed the political power dynamic and you won’t be surprised to learn that government departments are every bit as ruthlessly determined to get hold of the latest tech to give their struggling countries some advantage. Jenny is a casualty of a previous entanglement and has been living with the consequences, ever since. Facing premature death from a systemic failure in her cybernetic implants, she is determined to end it herself before she is left a drooling dementia patient. But that is before people from her old life crash back into her current existence. Bear’s writing style grabs my head and heart and won’t let go until the end. I’m aware that there are places where the pacing could be tighter, but I didn’t care. I am pulled into this world of shifting loyalties, where old fury and hurt is hauled into the light and re-examined in the light of new priorities.
For me, the triumph of Bear’s writing is that in a sub-genre exploring the interface between Man and machine, it’s the humanity of her characters that leaps off the page, in all their complexity and differing needs. It’s one heck of a trick to pull off and while this isn’t a flawless book, it is a glorious read. Highly recommended for fans of intelligently written near-future sci fi adventures. 9/10
Record of a Spaceborn Few – Book 3 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
BLURB: Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat. Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened. Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it. Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong. When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?
I did find the accent of the narrator just a bit difficult to get to grips with at the beginning. But I love the different narratives as we go on learning about the daily lives of people still living on the generational ships. In multiple viewpoints we get to discover yet another pocket of the highly detailed world she has created, where humanity is now out among the stars, after having destroyed Earth.
While I’m aware there has been some criticism over the lack of a plot, I found the unfolding stories of each of the main protagonists was sufficiently engrossing to hold me to the end – and there were a couple of shocks along the way, too. The ending was beautiful – very poignant and left me with a lump in my throat. Highly recommended for those who enjoy reading and/or listening to stories of everyday happenings, rather than large conflicts.
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
BLURB: With the man who kidnapped her daughter imprisoned aboard her ship, Captain Alisa Marchenko is closer than ever to reuniting her family. But her new guest has been in a coma for weeks, with the secret to her daughter’s location locked away in his mind. She must find a way to sneak him into a state-of-the-art hospital on Arkadius, a planet in the heart of Alliance territory. Not an easy task when she and the cyborg Leonidas, her most trusted ally, are wanted by the Alliance army.
As if that mission weren’t daunting enough, the Staff of Lore has appeared on the planet. As has the man who stole it: Alisa’s father.
I enjoyed jumping back aboard the Nomad for another action-packed adventure with Captain Alisa Marchenko and her quirky crew. Though the ship seems to be filling up with all sorts of unexpected passengers in this eventful instalment of the series…
Still trying to track down her missing daughter, Alisa is yet again diverted up another cul-de-sac. The romance with Leonidas does seem to provide rather too much distraction from her main aim of tracking down the missing child. That said, as ever the action is well depicted, the characters are nicely snarky and convincing, with some enjoyable layers and there are moments of real tension and danger that makes this yet another successful page-turner. I’m glad to have got back in touch with the series and it won’t be too long before I’ll be tracking down the next book.
Skyward – Book 1 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father’s—a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa the daughter of a coward, her chances of attending Flight School slim to none.
I really enjoyed this action-packed adventure, featuring a gutsy teen brought up on tales of derring-do by her grandmother while having to daily face the disgrace of her father’s supposed cowardice. I felt she was both sympathetic and plausible, which isn’t as easy to achieve as Sanderson makes it look. While the initial premise wasn’t particularly original, Sanderson throws in sufficient twists so that I couldn’t predict exactly what would happen next, so this became a real page-turner I could get lost in. The beautiful drawings of the space fighters were a bonus that I’m sure would have been easier to appreciate on a newer, spiffier Kindle.
I really liked how the puzzle of exactly why a human enclave ended up on this shattered world was addressed and unravelled, alongside Spensa’s adventures. I’m delighted to have acquired the Audible version of the sequel, which I’m looking forward to tucking into very shortly.
I liked the look of the cover and the premise intrigued me, so I was delighted to read and review this one…
BLURB: A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work. On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.
This was an interesting read. There was a lot about this book that was very familiar – the dystopian neo-future world, where large corporate firms, in this case, drug companies, were producing all sorts of drugs which were less about healing and more about extracting the maximum amount of efficiency from workers. Capitalism is red in tooth and claw, throwing away people when they no longer serve the bottom line, as in the profit margin. Slavery has become acceptable, both of cyborgs and by extension, humans, although they are known as indentured.
Jack, a former research scientist, who has crossed to many lines to be regarded as a legal citizen, now produces bootleg drugs for those who cannot afford the real thing. But when one of those drugs proves to be lethal, she finds that she has drawn down unwelcome attention. The team sent out to reel her in and put a stop to her activities is a partnership between experienced Elias and Paladin, a newly built military-grade cyborg which contains a human brain. However, his memory has been compromised and he is having to learn the craft of interacting with humans and putting the skills he’s learnt in a training programme to use in the field.
It took me a while to warm to this one. The characters are not innately likeable or easy to get to know. However, as we gradually learn more about Jack and her past, I became far more sympathetic to her stance. The interesting aspect of this book is the attitude to sex. It isn’t unusual for there to be a protagonist with a casual attitude towards sex, which Jack certainly demonstrates in her relationship with Threezed. However, it isn’t an equal relationship and although it is the young runaway who instigates sex, Newitz makes it clear that because the power relationship between the two characters is so unequal, the sexual relationship is almost inevitably abusive – something Jack would not perceive to be the case. The relationship between the experienced, not-quite-burnt-out human field agent and the raw, newbie cyborg is also an uncomfortable one. Paladin picks up the fact that Elias finds him physically attractive, despite struggling with the fact that he is defined as male. So Paladin decides to reinvent herself as female, in order to please him. It’s taken me a while to work out my thoughts on this interesting book.
Overall, it is an examination of power relationships. Not just those that go to make a dystopian society where selling children for sex and working people to death is the ultimate consequence of using profit margins and market forces to run society – but how such inequalities play out on a personal level. I enjoyed the world building and tech in this near-future world which I thought worked well. However, the pacing was a bit lumpy in places, particularly at the beginning. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one and recommend it to fans of dystopian near-future adventures. 8/10