Tag Archives: space opera

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

Review of NETGALLEY arc Terra – Book 1 of the Terra series by Mitch Benn #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Terrabookreview

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I can’t lie – it was the cover of this one that first drew me – isn’t it lovely? And then I read the blurb and the opening chapter, given this offering was published last November – and I was hooked. Yes – I know it’s a children’s book, but so many books written for them are far too good just to be left to the youngsters in our lives…

BLURB: Abducted from Earth as a baby by a well-meaning alien, Terra has grown up far across the galaxy on planet Fnrr. Terra has always known she was different. Her skin isn’t grey. Her eyes are a weird blue colour. She has … ears. And now Terra is starting high school. A daunting prospect, even without being the only human in class.

There’s lots to like about life on Fnrr. Society is ordered and peaceful; founded on reason, logic and the pursuit of knowledge. However, its inhabitants are blissfully unaware of the impending invasion that could destroy their way of life forever …

REVIEW: I enjoyed Benn’s writing style, which is direct and confiding with slices of omniscient viewpoint, which tends to happen in children’s fiction. But it is also shot through with a wry humour, which is handy in diffusing the horror of some of the more shocking scenes in this book. This is far from being a cosy read – it deals very directly with prejudice on all sorts of levels, guilt, regret and loss. And it doesn’t necessarily offer any comforting answers, which is fine by me. I think that fiction is very good at demonstrating that the world is frequently a violent, messy, unjust place to be – and maybe offering some coping strategies, or clear warnings. That goes for adults as well as children.

What caught me was the poignant passage about Mr and Mrs Bradbury right at the start of this book, which contrasted starkly with Lbbp’s take on what is going on, and leads to him taking the baby home with him. It isn’t a long book and the pace motors along at a good clip, which is what you want for younger readers. If I have any grizzles, I felt Terra was just a bit too calm and up together, given that she is always the exception and oddity – but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. There were moments when I sniggered aloud – particularly at the reaction of the human scientists when they realise there is actually a spaceship headed their way.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining science fiction adventure aimed at pre-teens, though this granny also found it great fun. While I obtained an arc of Terra from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #Machinebookreview

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I read the audiobook of Ancestral Night last year and absolutely loved it, and thoroughly enjoyed Hammered – Book 1 of the Wetwired series. So when I saw this sequel was now available in the White Space series, it was a no-brainer that I’d treat myself to it…

BLURB: Meet Doctor Jens. She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee. But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away. Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.

REVIEW: Another twisty mystery that starts in deep space. This time, however, the crew are expecting trouble, because Dr. Jens is a search and rescue specialist on the ambulance ship I Race to Seek the Living. She starts the story by getting ready to jump out of the ship, to gain entry into a lost generational ship from Earth. I loved her feisty, can-do attitude, and the fact that she suffers from chronic pain and is a lesbian. However, it’s just as well I strongly bonded with the main protagonist, because – like Haimey in Ancestral Night – she does do a lot of musing about life in general throughout all the action. For the first two-thirds of the story, I didn’t think this was a particular problem, but when the action started picking up, I do think we could have done without some of Dr Jens’ monologues, especially as towards the end of the book she frequently wasn’t saying anything new.

There are also some lovely shafts of humour – banter between the crew and also some of the moments between aliens that I thoroughly appreciated. Jens also has a nice way of describing the characters around her that were often amusing. It didn’t hurt that the narration by Adjoa Andoh was masterfully done. Her range of voices and accents were brilliant and she brought all the characters to life in a way that meant I wasn’t as troubled by the leisurely pacing as I think I would have been if I’d been reading the ebook. As for the mystery – the initial puzzle was utterly gripping and held me, so that once we got back to Core Central – the huge hospital that attends to every species’ needs, so they receive the very best medical care, I wasn’t quite as invested in the direction that the story then took. But, given Jens’ passion and commitment to her beloved hospital, I grew to care about that, too.

Overall, however, I love the world, the detail of Bear’s backdrop – listening to this one as I cleaned, there wasn’t any stage when I didn’t have a clear visual picture of what was going on. I also knew exactly what Jens was thinking, feeling and whether she was in pain, or not. So the worldbuilding and characterisation were brilliantly realised.

If you like your space opera full of details about everyday life and anecdotes on the philosophy, the history and the societal structure of the worldbuilding through the viewpoint of a singular main protagonist, then track down this series. No one else writes quite like Bear – and while she isn’t for everyone – her immersive, highly detailed world has stayed with me and I want to return. I particularly recommend the audio version – the narration is excellent.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WintersOrbitbookreview

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Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy gave this one a mention – and when I saw the cover and read the premise, I immediately requested it. And I’m so very glad I did…

BLURB: Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control. But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

REVIEW: Well, this is great fun! I was immediately drawn into the story by the immersive writing, and my sympathy for happy-go-lucky Kiem went up several notches at his evident horror in being married off to someone so recently bereaved. Jainan, the Thean representative is far more difficult to get to know, but again, is likeable and sympathetic. Given the romance strand in this story runs alongside the wider ramifications of what will happen if the coming Treaty isn’t successfully ratified, it is very important that we bond with the two main protagonists.

I’ve read several other reviews that regard this story as mostly about the romance, with the rest of the storyline dealing with the tangle over the Treaty and growing suspicions regarding Taam’s death providing a convenient backdrop. I disagree. While I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding romance, which is of the slow-burn variety fraught with misunderstandings all around, my attention was mostly drawn to the political situation developing within the Court. If it was written merely as a cardboard setting for the romance, I would have spotted it in a heartbeat and while I wouldn’t have necessarily DNF’d the book – the overall dynamic between them worked far too well for that – I certainly wouldn’t be giving it a nine.

I was impressed at the depth of the worldbuilding and how much I enjoyed the dynamic of the Iskat Empire, though in control of a solar system of seven planets, needing wider protection from bigger, more rapacious neighbours. I also liked the plurality on display – some Theans want to break away from Iskat, while others are clearly loyal to the Empire, such as Jainan, and within the Court there are also a number of factions. I also like the way same-sex relationships are treated. Not so much as an eyebrow is raised, demonstrating that it is clearly completely normalised within both Thean and Iskat societies.

I loved the actions scenes and the way the tension grew, making it all but impossible to put this one down until the end – and then I crashed quite hard once I finished it. All in all, this has been a wonderful start to my science fiction reads of 2021, and Everina Maxwell is clearly One To Watch. While I obtained an arc of Winter’s Orbit from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Chasing the Shadows – Book 2 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder #Brainfluffbookreview #ChasingtheShadowsbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this engaging YA far future adventure Navigating the Stars, featuring bouncy disaster-magnet Lyra Daniels – see my review. So I was happy to snap this one up when it became available.

BLURB: Okay, so I only died for sixty-six seconds. But when I came back to life, I got a brand new name and a snazzy new uniform. Go me! Seriously, though, it’s very important that Lyra Daniels stays dead, at least as far as my ex-friend Jarren, the murdering looter, knows. While dying is the scariest thing that’s happened to me, it morphed my worming skills. I can manipulate the Q-net like never before. But Jarren has blocked us from communicating with the rest of the galaxy and now they believe we’ve gone silent, like Planet Xinji (where silent really means dead).

A Protector Class spaceship is coming to our rescue, but we still have to survive almost two years before they arrive – if they arrive at all. Until then, we have to figure out how to stop an unstoppable alien threat. And it’s only a matter of time before Jarren learns I’m not dead and returns to finish what he started. There’s no way I’m going to let Jarren win. Instead I’ll do whatever it takes to save the people I love. But even I’m running out of ideas…

REVIEW: I also enjoyed the blurb, which gives a strong indication of the narrative voice and the stakes involved, without then giving away major spoilers. I won’t deny that Lyra is something of a Mary Sue – she has major skills that no one else possesses, which also puts her right on the front line of the trouble they are facing. But this time around, that didn’t bother me, especially as Snyder does give us solid reasons why she is particularly outstanding, and it works with the plot.

What also works particularly well is the steady rise in the tension throughout, as the enormity of the threat that Jarren poses continues to impact the lives of the community. We learn a bit more about what the mysterious terracotta warriors can do and how they interact with the deadly shadow aliens. I would just mention that in order to fully appreciate this book, I think you would need to have read Navigating the Stars, as they are essentially the same story with the same overarching narrative arc, so not only would you be floundering in far too many places – there are events in the first book that have a direct bearing on the characters and ongoing plot.

The ongoing romance isn’t an aspect of the book that particularly interests me, but I’m not the target audience – and it is generally well handled. Sweet, without being too cloying, with just the right amount of passion suitable for the age group, it evokes the strong emotions of first love very well. It also neatly underlines what is at stake. This one comes highly recommended for fans of far future adventures featuring a feisty heroine – though do read the first book before picking this one up.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Who doesn’t want to fly around in a spaceship? #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffspacebattlecovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with SPACE BATTLES. I’ve selected Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke.

Ballentine, September 1975

This offering was produced by Ballantine in September 1975. And no… I know there aren’t any spaceships as such – or are there??? Look carefully at those twinkles in the sky – they are far too regular and in formation to be anything other than an armada of ships about to attack this peaceful colony! This one is a very close contender. I love the artwork, the lighting and the funky font – and the vintage feel of it. If it wasn’t for the next cover, this one would be my favourite.

Del Rey Book, October 1977

Published in October 1977 by Del Rey Books, this is my favourite. I love the really clever, creative use of the author and title fonts, where the spaceship seems to flying under it. The use of the strong reds, oranges and the sizzling yellow of the explosion down near the bottom of the cover and right in the middle, gives both a pleasing symmetry and grabs my attention. This is such a cool, imaginative design that consciously harks back to an earlier time. Why don’t we see more fonts like this nowadays? It sings out in thumbnail and looks really effective.

Thai edition, March 2018

This Thai edition, published by สำนักพิมพ์เวลา in March 2018, is a more muted affair. But it is an effective cover, nonetheless. The darker sky allows us to see the battle raging overhead, which looks beautiful from the planet surface. I also like the colony building in the foreground – this is a more modern version of the first cover. However, I’m not convinced about the title font, which simply disappears into the cover when in thumbnail.

This Persian edition, published in 1994 by پاسارگاد, is another strong offering, particularly if you are a fan of space battles (I am!). We have the Moon to the right and Earth near the centre of the cover and an exploding ship lighting up the whole scene in a really dramatic way. While I love the design, I would have preferred to see more made of the title font, with a more contrasting colour and maybe a bit bigger.

Orion Publishing Group, August 2012

This edition, produced by the Orion Publishing Group in August 2012, is cleverly disturbing. A planet or the Moon is in the foreground, while a molten blob that looks like a planet in mid-implosion provides most of the backdrop. Putting the lettering against the blazing yellow of the lava would have been an even smarter move if they hadn’t used such a very wussy font that immediately disappears. And I loathe that text strip near the bottom of the cover, announcing it is Gateway Essentials… really? They couldn’t have just coloured the font white and let the contrast provide the necessary visibility? Because that nasty yellow stripe immediately draws the eye away from the drama, compromising the impact of the design. Such a shame! Meanwhile, do let me know which is your favourite.

Review of INDIE Ebook End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenEmpirebookreview

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After following this entertaining series and Alisa Marchenko’s search for her daughter for over a year now, here I am at the last book. See my reviews of Star Normad, Honor’s Flight, Cleon Moon and Perilous Hunt. As with all enjoyable series, I reach this point with very mixed feelings, which is why I often put off reading the final book – I don’t want the adventure to end. But as I know there’s now a spinoff series available and I have far more new series stacking up than I can possibly read, it’s time to get practical…

BLURB: Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, Tymoteusz hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs. Finding him will be difficult, and even if they’re successful, facing him could be suicidal. To have a chance of surviving, Alisa will have to come up with her greatest scheme yet.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t crash into this series here. By now far too much has happened, and as this book picks up pretty much where Perilous Hunt left off, you’ll be floundering in a welter of names and places, before you figure out who is doing what to whom. Besides, it would be a crying shame to so short-change such a funny, entertaining series by such a talented author.

I really liked how finding Jelena has switched Alisa’s priorities. Her burgeoning romance with hunky cyborg Leonidas pretty much slides to a halt, as they are both aware that Jelena’s telepathic abilities could read their frustrated longing for each other, and as Jelena is only eight and already afraid of Leonidas, that would prove to be… awkward. Not that is the only thing Alisa has to focus on. Once again, Star Nomad, her clunky little freighter, finds itself up to its star drives in more trouble than it can cope with – so ditto the crew. I love the way that in the middle of all the risk of imminent death and destruction, there are still laugh-aloud moments of humour. Mica, Alisa’s long-suffering engineer is particularly hilarious.

But given that this is the final book in the series, the burning issue has to be – does it satisfactorily bring all that angst, romantic longing, humour and page-turning adventure to a fitting conclusion? Absolutely. Buroker nails it. As I haven’t read her books before, I am so impressed at how she managed to tie everything up without making it seem too tidy, or unrealistically cosy – yet at the same time not leaving any stray strands waving in the wind to niggle at me. It takes skill and experience to achieve such an outcome – and means I’ll certainly be looking out for this author, again. It’s one thing to bring a single book to a satisfying ending – it takes another order of ability to do the same with an eight-book series. Highly recommended for fans of action-packed space opera with a splash of humour and romance thrown in for good measure.
9/10

Great Science Fiction Series I’ve Discovered in 2020 #Brainfluffbookrecommendations #SciFiMonth2020

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It’s been a truly dreadful year – like everyone else, I cannot wait to see the back of it. But in one respect, it’s been wonderful – I have discovered some fabulous science fiction reads. Some are relatively newly published, others are a bit older. But the one thing they all have in common is that they provided me with an engrossing read that took me right away from the daily grind of social distancing, masks and lockdowns… Have you read any of these? I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

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. To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever.
Yes… I don’t deny there are some pacing issues. And that Bear does tend to muse about all sorts of philosophical issues that her character is chewing over – evidently being in a small tin can light years away from everyone else other than your own small crew can do that to you. But listening to this one, where the world seeped into my dreams and Haimey and I hung out together for a handful of days, was such a blessing… see my review. I’m currently listening to Machine, the second book in the series and enjoying that one, too.

Skyward and Starsight of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.
This one has more of a YA feel as Spensa is a teenager with family issues that make her reckless and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Humanity is clinging onto existence, anyway as constant alien attacks are besieging their ghetto on a planet ringed by ordnance. I loved the sentient ship – and also where the adventure went in the second book. See my mini-reviews of Skyward and Starsight.

Termination Shock and Interdicted Space of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency series by Gillian Andrews
Ryler Mallivan’s comfortable life as an upstanding young freighter captain has just imploded. Avaraks are storming the training ship he is on and the bullets being fired are not blanks. Interstellar war has broken out and unless he moves fast they will all be as stone dead as the instructor lying at his feet. But this is one conflict they can never escape. The cause of the trouble is far closer than they know and will bring Mallivan and his ragbag fledgling crew under ferocious attack from all sides. They are going to need all their wits about them if they are to stay alive. And they have to, because there is nobody else to save all their worlds from a doomsday weapon which is set to obliterate the entire universe.
Just how much can one lone spaceship do?
This is a lot of fun with loads of action and engaging characters – see my reviews of Termination Shock and Interdicted Space. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series – Exceptional Point sometime in the New Year…

The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli – of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?
I absolutely loved this series. The slightly degraded English in Koli’s first-person narrative is beautifully handled and works very well. Too much more and it have been annoying, but it is an effective part of the worldbuilding. I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in the series – see my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I have a particular fondness for stories where there are whodunits set in the future – done well, it makes for a wonderful, gripping read. And this is excellent – one of my outstanding reads of the year – see my review which is also going live today. I’m looking forward to getting hold of A Desolation Called Peace next year.

Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still – the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
It’s tricky to know what’s normal if you’re not, But Stella’s north west London upbringing is average enough, and her eccentric, protective (paranoid?) family are not given to making a fuss. Only when she finds herself smack dab in the middle of a situation, face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences, does she realise how sure she is of one thing. This hero stuff just isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it is what she wants for the future, and if that means smothering her instincts, so be it. At least she’ll know, should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be choice not chance.
Isn’t it a fact though, just when you think you’ve got yourself back on track, events can overtake and derail you.
This series has been one of the major reading highlights of my year – at a time when my need for enjoyable escapism has been intense, diving into these books was like a long cold drink of water on a steaming hot day… Love, love, love them all – here are my reviews – Relatively Strange, Even Stranger, Stranger Still.

The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and The Relentless Moon of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
This classy, alternate history where a meteorite accelerates Humanity’s reach for the stars is another highlight of the year. I loved Elma – and Nicole, who we get to spend more time with in the final book. See my reviews of The Calculating Stars and The Fated SkyThe Relentless Moon is to follow.

Have you read any of these series? Have you any other discoveries you’ve made this year, too? I have left off some others – Seven DevilsEmbers of WarUnconquerable SunEvery Sky A Gravewhich I also loved!




Review of KINDLE Ebook A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine #Brainfluffbookreview #AMemoryCalledEmpirebookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I’d seen glowing reviews for this book – and when someone compared Martine’s writing to that of C.J. Cherryh, then I had to get hold of it. It has languished on my TBR list for longer than it should have, so I’m very glad to finally read it. I have linked this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

REVIEW: I can see the similarity with Cherryh’s dynamic. Mahit is flung into the middle of a tense, potentially deadly situation, where not only her own fate, but the fate of all those she cares about is at stake. She has no one who she can confide in, or trust – for the one source of support that was provided proves to be unreliable in a way that utterly compromises her. So she is conflicted and frightened, while dealing with a sophisticated group of people who immediately patronise and belittle her, simply because she isn’t one of them.

I absolutely loved it. This is science fiction at its beguiling best. A different culture, which is far more alien to Mahit, brought up on a space station, than she had ever imagined, even though she has spent most of her life preparing for this. I loved her character and how we were alongside her and in her thoughts. It would have been so easy to get the pacing wrong – either speed up the action so that there wasn’t time for her reactions to the unfolding sequence of events. Or to allow the story to stutter as Mahit’s thoughts and fears prevailed at the expense of the narrative.

The worldbuilding is beautifully handled. Mahit’s culture shock at the difference in surroundings, the clothing and food, is visceral. And I also very much enjoyed the cast of supporting characters, particularly the wonderful Three Seagrass, who is Mahit’s cultural aide. I found this one difficult to put down as the situation continued to grow in intensity and complexity – to the extent that I was afraid the conclusion would be something of an anti-climax. It wasn’t. The final denouement was both unexpected and surprising – and completely satisfying.

This immersive, memorable read won’t be for all sci fi fans. While plenty goes on, it is interspersed with periods of reflection by Mahit as to the possible consequences, in the manner of C.J. Cherryh. However, I adore this form of writing and am very much looking forward to reading the second half of this duology in 2021. Highly recommended for those who enjoy this form of story-telling.
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Perilous Hunt – Book 7 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #PerilousHuntbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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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