Tag Archives: A.I.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Seven Mercies – Book 2 of the Seven Devils duology by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #SevenMerciesbookreview

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I absolutely loved the first book in this dystopian space opera adventure, where a brave band of women from all walks of life attempt to overthrow a thoroughly horrible regime – see my review of Seven Devils. Would I enjoy this concluding slice of the story?

TRUNCATED BLURB: After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts.

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences that forces the seven devils to act. Because if they don’t – there won’t be anything left to fight for…

REVIEW: My advice is not to read the blurb, as it’s far too chatty. I was very glad that I hadn’t, because when the hammer fell I was both surprised and horrified at the enormity of the game-changing twist that forces the devils back into the fray.

What sucked me into the first book is the energetic writing and gung-ho heedlessness that most of women displayed in the face of danger. At the start of Seven Mercies, however, the rebel group are reeling. They have suffered a terrible betrayal that has struck at the very heart of their resistance movement, and they are all counting the cost. The fallout from this catastrophic reverse makes for grim reading, given that it put the eek! in bleak. Now my inability to cope with well written devastation that spans a galaxy is far more down to me and my ongoing battle with Long Covid, rather than any failure of the writing. But do be aware – the dynamic energy that was the hallmark of Seven Devils doesn’t really get going until about 40% of the way through Seven Mercies.

Inevitably, in an ensemble narrative, there are favourites. There was no one I disliked, other than the truly odious villain, Damocles – and even he is also pitiable at times, having also been on the receiving end of his father’s ruthless cruelty. But the highlights for me were the toxic and layered relationship between Eris and her psychotic brother, Damocles, which was powerfully portrayed with surprising depth, given how much is going on throughout this book. And Ariadne’s poignant story – the young girl’s desperate loneliness as she tends to the powerful A.I., Oracle, is also beautifully conveyed, especially at a key moment in the narrative that nicely heightens the tension.

In the meantime we go on learning more about each woman and her backstory, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen this book promoted as a Feminist space opera adventure – and it’s a label I find a bit misleading. It actually features a group of desperate rebels who decide to use their skills and influence to oppose a shockingly brutal regime – who just happen to all be women. They aren’t proposing Feminist principles, or trying to change the society to be more mindful of women’s needs because the Tholosian rulers treat everyone – men, women and children – as if none of them matter.

Overall, this is a powerful and effective conclusion to the story and certainly a must-read if you enjoyed Seven Devils and your jaw dropped in disbelief at that shocking ending. The ebook arc copy of Seven Mercies was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars series by John Birmingham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShatteredSkiesbookreview

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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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Fall of Koli – Book 3 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheFallofKolibookreview

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This is the third book in this wonderful post-apocalyptic series, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed to date – read my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli. Would I enjoy it as much as the other two?

BLURB: Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he’d be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.

Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they’ve been following – the mysterious “Sword of Albion” – there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something. Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

REVIEW: Essentially this is a single story with an overarching narrative that stretches across the three books, so if you’ve picked this one up without reading the first two – then whatever you do go back to The Book of Koli and start there. Even if you manage to figure out what is going on, you will have missed far too much of the backstory to fully appreciate the overall narrative.

It was lovely touching base with Koli again – and in particular his special companion, Monono, who I’ve taken a real shine to. Yes… I know – a metal gismo that lives in Koli’s pocket, but she is one of my favourite characters. As for the other two companions who accompany Koli on his travels, this time around, we get to see very little of Ursula, the healer. I was a bit sorry about that – but I appreciate there was only so much space for the story. On the plus side, I thoroughly enjoyed watching events move on in Mythen Rood, the village where Koli grew up, which is the other narrative timeline featuring young Spinner that progresses alongside Koli’s adventures as he, Cup and Ursula finally encounter the Sword of Albion.

I loved the tension that Carey manages to engender as their initial rescue gradually turns into something else. And I’ve always been a sucker for plotlines where first we think one thing is happening – only to discover further along that it’s something else quite different. Carey sustains the intensity, while delivering several surprises along the way. I very much appreciated a greater insight into the capabilities of the tech that the fallen civilisation had possessed. As well as learning exactly how it toppled and why. Overall, this is extremely well handled. The antagonists were satisfyingly unpleasant and I also enjoyed the tormented, morally ambivalent character who’d been so badly twisted by his treatment – his was a heartbreaking tale, for he never stood a chance.

As for the final climactic denouement, it was so packed full of action and danger, I couldn’t put the book down until I found out what happened. And as for that ending… oh my word. Yes, it works really well with everyone’s plotline satisfactorily wrapped up. I came to the end of this one with a real sense of regret – the Rampart trilogy is now my favourite post-apocalyptic series. It would make a cracking TV series… Highly recommended for fans who enjoy engrossing post-apocalyptic adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Fall of Koli from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Two SCI FI Mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear #BrainfluffSCIFImini-reviews #TheLastAstronautmini-review #Scardownmini-review

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The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

BLURB: Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.

Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.
She’s wrong.

A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.
Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.

I’m generally not a huge fan of space horror, as it’s often done badly, with scant respect for the actual science part of the fiction. This time, however, Wellington nails it. He has worked hard on his alien, so that the tension-filled build up is worth the wait. I found it hard to put this one down as the situation slithers out of control. And that ending is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended for fans of first contact adventures.
9/10

Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear

BLURB: The year is 2062, and after years on the run, Jenny Casey is back in the Canadian armed forces. Those who were once her enemies are now her allies, and at fifty, she’s been handpicked for the most important mission of her life–a mission for which her artificially reconstructed body is perfectly suited. With the earth capable of sustaining life for just another century, Jenny–as pilot of the starship Montreal–must discover brave new worlds. And with time running out, she must succeed where others have failed.

Now Jenny is caught in a desperate battle where old resentments become bitter betrayals and justice takes the cruelest forms of vengeance. With the help of a brilliant AI, an ex—crime lord, and the man she loves, Jenny may just get her chance to save the world. If it doesn’t come to an end first…

I loved the first book, – see my review of Hammered – but found it more of a struggle to get into this one. But I’m also aware that when reading this, I was extremely stressed, so that could have had a bearing on my ability to focus. However, I do think the crucial bonding moment with the main protagonist should have been differently handled. The first two opening scenes ought to have been the other way around. Or merged, so that if – like me – your memory is currently operating at the level of a concussed goldfish, enough of the ongoing story is fed into that initial scene so the reader isn’t scrabbling to make sense of what is going on, instead of relaxing into the strong, engrossing writing. Once I recalled the story and characters, I enjoyed the ongoing adventure and look forward to continuing with this series. If you pick this one up before reading Hammered – whatever you do, go back and find it. Bear’s fast-paced, immersive style doesn’t hang around for the bemused or floundering.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Chaos Vector – Book 2 of The Protectorate series by Megan E. O’Keefe #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ChaosVectorbookreview

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I put this one down with very mixed feelings. The opening sequence of Velocity Weapon has to be one of the best opening scenes I’ve read in space opera for years. I was blown away by it – unfortunately, I didn’t find the rest of the book quite matched up to that promise. Would Chaos Vector manage to fulfil that flash of awesomeness?

BLURB: Sanda and Tomas are fleeing for their lives after letting the most dangerous smartship in the universe run free. Now, unsure of who to trust, Sanda knows only one thing for certain — to be able to save herself from becoming a pawn of greater powers, she needs to discover the secret of the coordinates hidden in her skull….

REVIEW: The rest of the blurb is a bit too chatty for my taste, so I’m leaving it there. Ironically, while the beginning of the first book was the high point for me, I was badly struggling for the first 20% of this one to really care all that much. I’m not a fan of pages of info-dumping – and that’s what we got, as the author went into lots of detail about the world, leaving the characters waving in the wind in the process.

There were times when O’Keefe seemed a tad overwhelmed by the scope and scale of her world and range of her characters. Fortunately, we had Sanda and Biran, and once the story got going, these two main characters with their attendant plotlines pulled the book back on track. But I thought Jules was something of a cliché, and that the book suffered because we didn’t see anything like enough of Tomas. Given what a vital role he played in the first book, we got far too little of him in this one – especially as there was a plot twist involving him that I found plain irritating, as I immediately realised how it was going to play out.

Despite these hiccups, the story was an entertaining read with plenty going on and a detailed, nuanced world, whose murky history is coming back to bite the Protectorate in the bottom. Some of the flashbacks were unnecessary – the information we needed could have been depicted within the narrative timeframe without breaking the flow of the story. But I did enjoy the politicking among the Keepers and I love Sanda’s character. This one finished on something of a cliffhanger, so I’m hoping we won’t be waiting too long for the next book in the series. Recommended for fans of epic space opera with plenty going on. While I obtained an arc of Chaos Vector from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson #BrainfluffNetgalleybookreview #SetMyHeartToFivebookreview

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I was rather taken by both the quirky cover and the even more quirky blurb at a time when reading about anything remotely similar to what is going on around us was unbearable. So I was really pleased to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: 10/10 Jared does not have friends.
Because friends are a function of feelings.
Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about.
But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.

REVIEW: The blurb rambles on for a bit longer – but to be honest, I don’t think it is particularly helpful as it manages to omit the bit that is important. Jared is a bot, built and designed to be a dentist – a job the humans in our future society don’t particularly want to do. This is set in the near future, where bot labour does most of the dangerous, difficult tasks. But most bots are encased within fast-growing human bodies and able to communicate fluently and reasonably naturally. The big difference is that they don’t have any feelings – don’t experience boredom, loneliness or unhappiness, or love, friendship and delight. As they are programmed to put human lives above their own, they are ideal as construction workers, firefighters and… dentists. While humans concentrate on creative and artistic pursuits, rather than the soul-sapping jobs they used to do.
Except that Jared starts to feel emotions… The story is told in first-person viewpoint and I absolutely loved the quirky voice of the bot, which I found absolutely enchanting. Though I’m aware it is something of a risk, because if that highly individual voice annoys a prospective reader, it would be impossible to get through this one. As it happens, I fell in love with it.

Naturally, Jared finds the world around him becomes quite a different place, as he learns to navigate the odd sensations assailing him, using the Feelings Wheel that Dr Glundenstein, his sympathetic human friend and neighbour gives him. Dr Glundenstein advises him to go the movies and watch films – not the modern rubbish which is all about killer bots on the rampage – but older films which get shown in small, shabby little cinemas. One of the ongoing delights is trying to identify classic films from Jared’s quirky descriptions throughout this story. As I cared about Jared, I quickly became invested in his story.

It won’t be a huge surprise that this book is actually an exploration of what makes us human, as well as what happens when we start to regard other folks living among us as less than human. While this is an oft-trodden favourite science fiction trope, I thought this particular take on the whole subject interesting and immersive. And while I was grinning through a lot of the book – there were also moments of great tenderness and sadness, with moments of lovely poetic beauty. All in all, this is a real gem and one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Highly recommended for fans of well-told A.I. tales. The ebook arc copy of Set My Heart to Five was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10