The Six Directions of Space by Alastair Reynolds

Read: 17 November, 2018

When I picked this book up from the library, I was surprised by how small it was – coming in at only 85 pages. Given the scope of the book, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t really spend enough time with any one part: The characters are interesting at a glimpse, but we don’t get much depth; the worldbuilding is interesting, but we don’t get much of it; the multiverse concept is interesting, but we see very little of it.

I wanted so much more from the worldbuilding, because, I mean, Mongols in SPAAAAAACE! But this spacefaring civilization, that doesn’t have much in the way of planetary terraforming and therefore mostly lives on stations and in domes, has ponies. Why? Because the Mongols had ponies. There was an opportunity to do something neat with Mongols adapting from a pony-based nomadic society into a ship-based one, but instead they cart literal horses around on ships. Beyond that, because of the nature of the main character’s work, we get very little on what daily life would be like for the average denizen of this civilisation, despite that being the most interesting part of the story.

The discovery of a multiverse is interesting, but it’s been done. The idea of alternate histories being formed around singular events gone differently is interesting, but that’s been done too. Without something more, this reads more like an outline or a pitch than a completed story. A story – both what we actually see covered in this book, plus its implied continuation – that could easily be a whole series. Instead of that, we get 85 pages. It just barely whets the appetite, then pulls the meal away at the last second. I’m greedy, and I want more.

Vorkosigan Saga #19: Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 11 November, 2018

Over the course of the Vorkosigan series, there have been quite a number of details (people, places, ethnic groups..) that have popped up and then disappeared as attention moved elsewhere. The Nexus is big, and Miles always has to keep moving. I could read a whole series devoted entirely to Cetaganda, for example, but I also want Miles to explore Jackson Whole. Invariably, each individual story gives the reader only as much of the characters and setting as is necessary for that particular story, and then we – and Miles – move on.

But, sometimes, we get to another encounter, a little follow up. Diplomatic Immunity has that in heaps.

For one thing, I loved the Quaddies in Falling Free, when they were just a little group of hopefuls heading out into the cold universe to try to make a little home for themselves. We did get to see one Quaddie, Nicol, briefly in “Labyrinth”, but she was out of her element and under stress and, anyway, we didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with her. Now, however, we get a whole story set in Quaddie-space!

It was fantastic to see how the ideals of the original community translated into an organic culture with history behind it. It was also lovely to see the Quaddies with more agency and power (as they were treated in a very child-like way by the downsider characters in Falling Free), while still retaining that essential communal nature that had made them so unique.

I was also so happy to see Bel Thorne again. I’m so glad that it landed on its feet (so to speak) after everything that went down, and I’m really happy that it was able to find Nicol again.

I did notice some growth in how Bel’s gender is treated. For one thing, Miles seems to have retconned some mutuality into their sexual chemistry, and seems to regret that they hadn’t had a relationship when it was possible. Perhaps that’s just a sign of Miles’s own growth and maturity. I noticed, also, the term “herm” being used quite a bit, which I think is new? I don’t recall it leaping out at me previously, though of course Bel wasn’t the focal point of a story until now.

I would have happily read a book about Guppy’s life, and his time with Gras-Grace and the others. I wish we’d had a little more closure with regards to his fate, because he deserved so much more than what happened to him in this story.

Lastly, babies! Twins! Oh my goodness, I’m so excited!

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Redshirts by John Scalzi

Read: 31 October, 2018

The concept for the story is absolutely hilarious: What if the “redshirts” (the throwaway characters on the original Star Trek who seemed to exist just so that their deaths could drum up a little drama) figured out that they were redshirts, and decided to try to do something about it?

Given how poorly such a high concept story could go, I was thoroughly impressed by Scalzi’s ability to keep me laughing through almost the entire book. I mean, when a science fiction writer is asked if he’s ever even taken a science class, he responds: “It’s called science fiction. That second part is important, too!”

I was listening to this on audibook in the car, and I must have looked ridiculous, laughing my arse off as I’m barrelling down the road..

Wil Wheaton’s narration took a little getting used to. His voice is so familiar and recognisable that it took some work to hear the characters, rather than Wil Wheaton #3, female Wil Wheaton, older Wil Wheaton, etc. This wasn’t helped by the dialogue’s over-reliance on the “said” tag. So even though only two or three people are talking, and even though they are fast-quipping at each other, every single line ends with “said X”. You could hear the strain in Wheaton’s voice as he tried not to make that sound as ridiculous as it invariably did.

That aside, I did thoroughly enjoy most of this book, and Wheaton’s narration was great once I got used to it. Besides, just having him do the narration was amazing.

I will say, however, that the three codas at the end should never have made it out of editing. There’s a little satisfaction in finding out what happened to various characters, but they don’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book, and try a little too hard to make this a “serious” book. The story was already over by this point, so they really only serve as padding. Up until that point, I loved Redshirts, but I barely got through the codas.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Read: 28 October, 2018

I didn’t realize that this was the beginning of a series until after I’d finished it. Though, to be honest, this works as a standalone story as well. Yes, the ending is ambiguous, but it’s a complete origin story arc. The mystery of the Carls is still open ended, but it’s almost better that way.

I loved how strong the characters felt. Even the “baddies” had a nuance and an understanding that can be quite rare. I loved that Green did not make compromises for his story – the fictional world is every bit as complicated as our real world, while still reflecting Green’s own stated faith in humanity (as per his other media, such as his YouTube videos).

Having this come from Green, who was himself shot into fame after one of his YouTube videos went viral (and then another, then another, etc), was especially interesting, because April’s musings on that aspect of her life had a lot of authenticity. There were times when this book felt downright autobiographical (plus giant alien robots).

The mystery of the Carls and the Dream was captivating. It was, essentially, everything that I had liked about Ready Player One, but without all the white boy nerd baggage. I loved that April herself didn’t solve most of the mysteries, but had to outsource and to cooperate with many other people to accomplish her goals. However much she wanted to be the hero, the mystery kept bringing her back down into humanity.

Overall, I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable and very uplifting book. It’s full of hope for humanity, but without seeming saccharine or naive. I do think it fits in with a YA audience, but isn’t a YA book, per se; this is straight up science fiction. And more than enough to be found here for the more “mature” SF/F fans among us.

Vorkosigan Saga #17: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 17 October, 2018

Would it really shock anyone if I said that I loved this?

Wit, political intrigue, plots, subterfuge, and romance. And just because that wasn’t quite enough, Bujold throws in a trans man, and handles him reasonably well.

I liked Ekaterin right off the bat. She isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, mostly because Quinn was such an immediate force of nature. But, I find, Ekaterin is, too. She’s just been stifled for too long that she doesn’t know her own power. Right from Komarr, however, it was clear that that power was there, hiding somewhere just beneath the surface. A Civil Campaign has her go through the process of finding it, and I suspect that she will get to properly own it in a coming book.

The marriage proposal itself was perfect. It was absolutely everything this series demanded from it. It was so dramatic and funny and wonderful, and I absolutely loved it.

Ivan is acting more the Bertie Wooster than ever, and his scenes were an absolute joy, as well.

I’m still a bit ambivalent on Mark, and I find his emotional dependency on Kareen rather frightening. I don’t want her to end up subsuming her own life to manage his. That said, at least Mark is working on it, which is more than most men in his position tend to do. And as for Kareen herself, she is certainly learning how to identify her own wants/needs and to speak out for them.

We’re eleven books and a novella into the series and, somehow, the characters – even Miles himself – still manage to show so much growth. I was blown away at the very end when Miles is every bit the imposing count that his father is, and I realised that this is who he is now. I can remember skin-of-his-teeth Miles from Warrior’s Apprentice, and his growth into this self-possessed master of his own domain has been so gradual that I’ve hardly noticed it, but it’s been natural. Having him find a widow who is in also in her 30s and who has a son who will be a teenager in not too long seems perfectly fitting.

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Old Man’s War #3: The Last Colony by John Scalzi

Read: 10 October, 2018

This book promised to be a smaller story than Old Man’s War and Ghost Brigades, focusing on Perry’s retirement as the leader of a new colony. But, even retired, Perry can’t seem to keep himself out of interstellar politics.

There’s so much that I enjoyed about this. Scalzi has a knack with future-tech, making it cool, but not so cool as to create plot holes. The politics themselves were all hidden agendas and complex plans that hinge on the most random sequence of events, and I don’t even care because it was all just so much fun!

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Vorkosigan Saga #16: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 11 September, 2018

In Mirror Dance, we got to know Mark. It was the first time since Cordelia’s books that we spent a good deal of time in another character’s head. And it made sense that we’d be given Mark – so similar to Miles, and yet so notably different.

In Komarr, the narrative is again shared, this time by Ekatrin. This is her book, giving her time to come into herself as she is freed from an unhappy marriage. There’s also a political mystery in there somewhere for Miles the Imperial Auditor to solve, but that almost feels like an afterthought.

I love Ekatrin. Right from her first moment on her balcony, tending to her ugly little plants, bristling at her husband’s presence. She’s the historical woman – smart, strong, and competent, but kept uneducated and off-balance. I love that Miles saw right through her conditioning to her potential, and I loved that she didn’t just run to him as a rescuer. He may have seen her potential, but her character arc happens when she sees her own potential, and it’s not hearing it from Miles that makes her do so.

I enjoyed meeting Ekatrin, and I look forward to seeing how her relationship with Miles develops. Mostly, though, I look forward to seeing how she develops.

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Kim & Kim, vol. 1: “This Glamorous, High-Flying Rock Star Life” by Magdalene Visaggio, illustrated by Eva Cabrera

Read: 3 September, 2018

I’ve never read the Tank Girl comics, but I’ve always loved the movie (shut up, it’s awesome). I loved the sheer punk-ness of it – the over-the-top sass, the stuff that makes no sense but gets thrown in just because it’s cool, the colours, the joy of it.

Kim & Kim has that same energy. The Fighting Kims live in a grounded, real world (one Kim is humiliated by having to beg her parents to pay her rent when she fails yet again, while the other Kim is consistently misgendered by her father), yet they live big and loud. They are colourful, they love what they do, they are cartoonishly vibrant. It’s just a joy to read.

The story was okay. It bounced around a bit, and I was always feeling like I’d accidentally missed a page (the time jumping and narration really didn’t help). It felt a bit like just an excuse to show off these characters.

But the characters are fantastic, and the art style does them justice. While there are some printing issues (some of the panels look a little out of focus), I loved how expressive and colourful and cool the art is.

Vorkosigan Saga #15: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 28 August, 2018

I was trying to explain to someone about this book I was reading. Nothing’s happening, the main character is just kinda wandering around in a depression funk. He goes on a little vacation to the country, too. No, it isn’t boring at all, actually. It’s wonderful!

Sometimes, you just gotta read it for yourself.

The plot proper (anything that could be mentioned in a blurb) doesn’t actually start until at least halfway in. Before that, Miles is still dealing with the aftershocks of his temporary death in Mirror Dance – both physical and psychological. But this is Bujold, master of character, and it is riveting stuff.

Once the plot itself got underway, I barely had time to come up for air. I was nearly late for work this morning because I had to sit in the car out in the parking lot just so I could finish “just this chapter, I swear!”

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this one. Miles’s life is in for a heck of a change, and I am so excited to see where this leads!

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Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Read: 9 July, 2018

I’ve read a few of the Star Wars books now, and I haven’t been overly impressed. For the most part, the books are fine, but I wouldn’t read them if they weren’t Star Wars.

This one, however… this is the Star Wars book I’ve been waiting for.

Both main characters – Thane and Ciena – start off believing in the Empire. They willingly enter the academy, even working hard to get there. They fight on the Empire’s side. Throughout, their reasons are believable. Even when Thane becomes disillusioned, Ciena stays on, making excuses for the bad side of the Empire, and overemphasising the good. Even when the evil of the Empire becomes more visible and personal, Ciena’s reaction is so recognisably human.

It’s so timely (perhaps it’s always timely) to see how good people can serve evil power structures, and how interlaced their reasons can be.

I enjoyed seeing the major events of episodes 4-6 again through new eyes. Finally, we get a frank discussion of the Death Star, and the moral calculus that went into destroying such a powerful weapon at the cost of so very many lives.

I would have enjoyed Lost Stars without it being set in the Star Wars universe. As it is, that only makes it better.