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!
Here are two mini-reviews of two enjoyable space opera adventures I read earlier in the year – I’ve linked this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
Embers of War – Book 1 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell BLURB: The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress. But, stripped of her weaponry and emptied of her officers, she struggles in the new role she’s chosen for herself. When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, an ex-captain of a medical frigate who once fought against Trouble Dog, are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can.
Meanwhile, light years away, intelligence officer Ashton Childe is tasked with locating and saving the poet, Ona Sudak, who was aboard the missing ship, whatever the cost. In order to do this, he must reach out to the only person he considers a friend, even if he’s not sure she can be trusted. What Childe doesn’t know is that Sudak is not the person she appears to be. Quickly, what appears to be a straightforward rescue mission turns into something far more dangerous, as Trouble Dog, Konstanz and Childe, find themselves at the centre of a potential new conflict that could engulf not just mankind but the entire galaxy. If she is to survive and save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight.
This was great fun. I have previously enjoyed Powell’s quirky humour – see my reviews of Ack-Ack Macaque and Hive Monkey. I loved the name Trouble Dog for starters – and the fact this sentient ship is part of the Carnivore class. While Konstanz is a feisty heroine who tries her best when captaining Trouble Dog, I was intrigued that during the amazing space battles, it was Trouble Dog who took the initiative. In fact, I thought Trouble Dog took centre stage during this adventure, which I absolutely loved. Small wonder that this book has proved to be so popular – highly recommended for fans of entertaining space opera. 9/10
Ribbonworld – Book 1 of the Balcom Dynasty series by Richard Dee BLURB: Miles Goram has a problem. All the down-on-his-luck journalist planned on doing was writing a hotel review and now there’s a body in his bathroom. Far from home on a strange planet, Miles must deal with the fact that somebody wants him dead. Welcome to Reevis, a planet without days or nights where life is only possible under a vast pressure dome. It is on this airless wasteland that Miles finds himself caught up in a mystery involving a huge interplanetary corporation, a powerful man and his ambitious PA, and a beautiful young heiress who has been missing for years.
Crossing the galaxy in search of answers, Miles begins to uncover a web of deceit that stretches further than anyone could have imagined. With his life becoming at greater and greater risk, he realises that there is no one he can trust. Will he discover the truth and finally come to terms with his past? And, if he does, will it be enough to save his future…?
A thoroughly entertaining space adventure with a sympathetic protagonist and a large corporation up to no good. So far, so enjoyable and very familiar – this is a dynamic that regularly plays out in space opera. What makes this one stand out from the crowd is that ribbonworld Reevis… The fabulous descriptions of the human habitation perched in the narrow strip between freezing cold and volcanically hot were riveting and added an exciting dimension that Dee uses to the full extent in the action sequences. Highly recommended for fans of space opera who enjoy excellent worldbuilding. 8/10
NOVELLA To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
BLURB: In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves. Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does. Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.
It takes skill to nail the characterisation and pacing in a novella, because there is nowhere to hide and it is a measure of Chambers’ technical ability that she nails it. I loved this one and was very moved by the ending, which left me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Whatever you do, please read the Afterword, where you will learn where that strikingly odd title comes from. See my reviews of A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit 9/10
MINI-REVIEW of AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series byBrandon Sanderson
BLURB: All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. The rumours of his cowardice are true – he deserted his flight during battle against the Krell. Worse, though, he turned against his team and attacked them. Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars – and it was terrifying. What she learned turned her world upside down. Everything Spensa’s been taught is a lie. But Spensa also learned a few things about herself – and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.
Spensa is a lovely protagonist – full of enthusiasm and determination to save her people. I love the premise that it is humanity, with its bloody history, who are regarded as a major threat to the rest of the Superiority, so are locked away and reviled. Spensa’s desperate mission reveals some really nifty plot twists that worked beautifully. Sophie Aldred’s excellent narration aided the story – I particularly like her characterisations of dear M-Bot, the intelligent ship and the delightfully smarmy Winzek. Overall, a wonderfully crafted sequel to Skyward – and my main grizzle is the cliffhanger ending, with the prospect of having to wait far too long to discover what happens next. 9/10
Anndddd… just a quick reminder that RUNNING OUT OF SPACE is still FREE! Click on the cover below, or on the sidebar to be taken to your nearest Amazon store to claim your copy…
Lizzy Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…
Lizzy and her friends weren’t looking for trouble – all they’d wanted was to prove that fertile English girls could handle themselves when on shore leave without being accompanied by a sour-faced chaperone and armed guard. Looking back, maybe taking a jaunt off-limits on Space Station Hawking wasn’t the best idea – but no one could have foreseen the outcome. Or that the consequences of that single expedition would change the lives of all four girls, as well as that of the stranger who stepped in to save them.
Now Lizzy has more excitement and danger than she can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.
‘Running Out of Space is an excellent novel, with enough pace and plot to keep you reading, and enough subtext to keep you wondering.’ Mrs Vivienne Tuffnell – 5 stars
I was lucky enough to be approved for the second book in this space opera adventure, Chaos Vector, so wanted to get hold of this one in order to fully understand the story.
BLURB: Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens to find the unthinkable has happened…
REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the blurb to avoid a major spoiler that would ruin that amazing opening scene – and my firm advice is to avoid the wretched blurb before tucking into this one. That opening scene is one of the best I read in a long time and blew me away. I loved the situation Sanda finds herself in and was riveted by the ongoing dilemma and how it was going to play out.
However, that isn’t the only major plotline in this book. While I also enjoyed Biran’s storyline, there was another ongoing narrative which I struggled not to skim. It was about a scrappy girl from a poor background who pulls a job which goes badly, which simply couldn’t compete, when compared with the events facing Sanda and Biran, whose unfolding stories just went on getting ever better.
And then, Sanda’s storyline also became a bit more ordinary, turning more into a typical action-packed space opera adventure, rather than the fantastic tension-filled tightrope I’d inhaled in the earlier part of the book. That said, I don’t want anyone to think this is a bad or disappointing story. It is well crafted, with strong characters, vivid backdrop and convincing world. The problem was – it didn’t quite fulfil the promise of that amazing opening, howeverI am certainly looking forward to Chaos Vector with great anticipation. Recommended for fans of well-told space opera adventure. 8/10
I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…
Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge. I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.
Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.
Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom? This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war. A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.
Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. I love a great school story and have read one book from another cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.
Biggest Disappointment Q by Christina Dalcher Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back. Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.
Biggest Surprise You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far). Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.
Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother. This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.
Favourite New Author Marilyn Messik I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series!This is my review of Relatively Strange.
Newest Fictional Crush Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…
Newest Favourite Character Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.
Book That Made You Cry The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.
Book That Made You Happy The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
A book of hope for uncertain times. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.
The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too. A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.
Favourite Book to Film adaptation Sanditon by Jane Austen Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…
Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year Underland by Robert MacFarlane In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.” This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?
What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year? As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…