The Murderbot Diaries #2: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Read: 9 February, 2019

All Systems Red definitely wasn’t a fluke, and I’m loving Murderbot more and more the more time I spend with it.

I really enjoyed seeing how it interacts with different types of sentients (in this book, we have a research ship, humans, and a sexbot) as it starts to develop more of its own unique personality.

More books in the Murderbot Diaries series:

  • All Systems Red
  • Artificial Condition
  • Rogue Protocol
  • Exit Strategy

The Murderbot Diaries #1: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Read: 6 February, 2019

I absolutely love Murderbot!

This is a short little novella about a SecUnit (think security android), from its own perspective, as it tries to protect its crew when absolutely everything is going wrong. I feel Murderbot’s anxiety and snark.

The mystery itself started out really well, with a good creeping “something isn’t right” feeling, but I did feel that the resolution was a little rushed. When we find out who is behind the mystery, and why, it comes somewhat out of left field, and is resolved almost as an afterthought. I do appreciate that this is more of a character study than a mystery, but I still would have preferred a bit more time with the mystery as well.

This is a very small complaint, though, and I had a lot of fun with this story.

More books in the Murderbot Diaries series:

  • All Systems Red
  • Artificial Condition
  • Rogue Protocol
  • Exit Strategy

Throne of Glass #5: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 2 February, 2019

This book could be summed up as “You get a fey prince! And you get a fey prince! Everybody gets a fey prince!”

Nearly every important character gets matched up, and most of them get to bone. A lot. And the boning is.. eeeeeeh. It’s all about territorial marking and angry sex and wrecking beaches because the characters lose control of their powers while orgasming, and it really isn’t my thing at all.

Given that the sex scenes did nothing for me, getting through so many of them was a bit of a slog. Especially in a series that seems to have saved it up only to dump all of the sex out in one go.

I don’t know how much of the series Maas planned out when writing Throne of Glass, but this book has a whole bunch of Big Revelations. A lot of them work, and those are quite satisfying when they answer some mystery that’s been sitting in the background since the very beginning. Some, though, do feel like clunky retcon. There’s also more use of the “Aelin was secretly solving all the problems without telling anyone and while acting as though the problems were not being solved at all” plot device which is dangerous, to say the least. Sometimes, it results in a triumphant showing of her hands, as in the ending to Queen of Shadows. Sometimes, though, it reads like Maas wrote herself into a corner, and gave Aelin the deus ex machina trump card to get out of it.

Elide continues to be my favourite character. She’s so outgunned by everyone on Team Aelin, and yet she continues to hold her own. I even quite like her relationship with Lorcan. I’m not a huge fan of how Maas writes romance, but theirs works for me the best. And while she and Manon don’t get a lot of time together, their relationship continues to be one of my favourite aspects of the story.

Manon is still fantastic, and I even really like her with Dorian – as long as they aren’t having sex. As soon as they have sex, it’s all gross and angry and talking about what they could do with chains, and it just doesn’t seem to fit a relationship that is otherwise founded on mutual mercy.

A whole bunch of characters show up for the first time with obvious histories, which I assume were covered in the prequels. Having not read the prequels, I still never felt lost. The sudden influx of allies didn’t feel cheap, either, since there have been enough hints of Aelin’s past for these pre-existing relationships to be plausible.

There are still some repetition issues – everyone keeps either purring their statements, or saying them “too quietly” – but it’s still never as bad as it got in Heir of Fire.

More books in the Throne of Glass series:

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Imperial Radch #4: Provenance by Ann Leckie

Read: 27 January, 2019

Despite being set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy, this book is entirely its own thing. The cultural setting is different, the protagonist couldn’t be more un-Breq-like, and the story is almost something of a heist plot.

Yet, at the same time, it fits in with the original trilogy, and I really enjoyed seeing the Radch from the outside.

SPOILERS:

My only issue with the story is the ending, where Ingray cedes her position to her brother. On the one hand, it does make sense – Danach is consistently described as the more political of the two siblings. But on the other hand? Ingray has spent a whole book proving that she can rise to the occasion when necessary, and has a proven track record of learning from her mistakes. I understand why she wouldn’t want to enter the world of politics, but she absolutely does have the qualities that would make her good at it, no matter how much she protests.

I really loved the character of Ingray, who is flawed in a youthful way. She’s still learning so much about life and her place in it, and she makes mistakes as a direct result of that naivety. But, at the same time, she learns from those mistakes, and becomes a much stronger character by the end.

I also love that she doesn’t solve problems by punching her way through them. Rather, she seeks out anything (or anyone) in her environment that might be of help. She enlists allies, even from among her enemies. It’s a fairly rare character type, and an interesting one.

More in the Imperial Radch series:

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The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Read: 26 January, 2019

I came for the lesbians and the living ships, but I stayed for the complex discussions of personal autonomy, reproductive rights, and identity.

There’s a danger, when a setting is this strange, of losing the reader. And, certainly, there were a few horrifying moments – like when a character gives birth to a cog made of flesh and snuggles with it as though it were an infant (oh hey there, visual that will almost certainly be haunting my dreams for a while!) – but providing us with Zan, a character who has lost her memory, helps provide some translation. Whenever I was horrified, Zan was horrified, too. Whenever I had questions, Zan asked them.

I’ve long had a fondness for living ships (at least as far back as Lexx), but the idea that the humans physically give birth to needed parts was a new twist. More than just a twist, actually, because Hurley integrates it into a running theme of interconnectedness.

Parts of this book were difficult reading, particularly the alienness of the setting, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. I also think that this is one book that will stay with me for a long, long time.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Read: 19 January, 2019

On this story, Faulkner wrote: “if we in America have reached that point in our desperate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what reasons or for what color, we do not deserve to survive and probably won’t.”

To which Tyson responds: “Ask yourself whether America’s predicament is so different now.”

This is the story of a gruesome murder, a complicit culture, and a miscarriage of justice. While the United States was fighting its cold war in the name of democracy, it allowed two men to be acquitted of a murder that every single juror knew perfectly well they had committed, simply because their victim – a child – was black.

And have we changed? Really?

In a time where “Black lives matter” is a controversial statement and Trump is president, I can’t see that we have. As the author puts it, “we cannot transcend our past without confronting it.”

Apart from the subject matter, this is an excellent book. It covers Till’s life, giving a good sense of who he was as a unique person. Tyson also spends a good deal of time setting the stage, going into some of the recent events of the time. After going over the murder and the trial, Tyson covers the aftermath – both immediate, in the civil rights movement, and more long term, in Till’s memory in the Black Lives Matter movement. The book is a good coverage of what happened and why it matters, without that “true crime” fetishization.

Binti #1: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Read: 19 January, 2019

This is a quick read about a girl who leaves home and becomes mixed up in a galactic conflict.

I love how deceptively simple the story is. The prose reads almost like a fairy tale, taking a very top-down sort of perspective, yet the themes are important. Or, perhaps, that’s still true to the fairy tale as well.

It also reminded me of the “into the bush” stories, like those of Amos Tutuola. Except, this time, the “bush” is outer space and the spirits are aliens.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Read: 18 January, 2019

I was really surprised to find out that the author is USian – Space Opera reads just like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, with their particular brand of dry, critical (yet optimistic) humour. It really was such a pleasure to get to enjoy that style of writing again, but updated for modern sensibilities and with modern pop culture references.

And while this may out me as some kind of SJW, I loved the genderfluid and pansexual representation. In particular, I liked the way that aliens got to figure out how to have sex with each other – it was a great analogue for “what do you like?” conversations that we don’t model enough in our representations of sex.

Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

Read: 5 January, 2019

Rather than Urban Fantasy, it might make more sense to call this Urban Mythology. The world of Dreams Underfoot is one where the city is a living ecosystem of magical creatures.

I had read that ‘Nathan Burgoine was inspired by Charles de Lint, and I can absolutely see the connection. Both tell stories of urban magic and found family, and of people that have historically been outsiders coming together to form a new community within a city environment. Both also make magic of art.

There is rape and child abuse in Dreams Underfoot, which is something I really don’t enjoy. However, I did like that de Lint usually used these stories in the victims own character arc, with her being the protagonist of her own story, rather than using it to motivate someone else. Not only that, but victimhood is one part of these characters, not a backstory used in place of a personality. One story, that doesn’t end particularly well, has five (and then six) victims coming together to support each other, to create art, and to help others in similar situations. It’s an exploration of victimhood that does a lot more justice to its characters than I normally see, and I appreciate that.

The Expanse #1: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Read: 29 December, 2018

A hard-boiled detective story in space? Oh goodness, yes!

I loved all the little “space living” details, like the physical differences between people who grew up in different gravitational environments. I loved the interplay between Holden and Miller as they both grapple with complex morality in extenuating circumstances. Mostly, though, I loved the detective story elements.

I went into this without knowing what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised.

More books in the Expanse series:

  1. Leviathan Wakes
  2. Caliban’s War
  3. Abaddon’s Gate
  4. Cibola Burn
  5. Nemesis Game
  6. Babylon’s Ashes
  7. Persepolis Rising
  8. Tiamat’s Wrath