Book Review: Binti ☆☆☆

bintiHer name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive. – Goodreads

 

  • Title: Binti (Binti #1)
  • Author: Nnedi Okorafor
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

 

Okorafor does a great job getting across the culture of Binti’s people the Himba, but I would have loved to delve deeper into Binti’s character. I want to know more about the university, and all these alien species which are only briefly mentioned. We see a kind of tribal/healing magic, but I don’t know if it really is magic or just a natural salve which works on a specific species. There is some math mentioned, but there isn’t enough time to incorporate it in a meaningful way. Then there’s the twist at the end. I need to know how this will effect Binti. The story itself is pretty good, but it happens so fast I didn’t really get a chance to process it before it was over.

Here’s the deal.. I liked this novella, but I would have liked it much more in a longer format. The paperback I read had 90 pages, but really it was more like 80. Far too few to give this story justice. That being said I will continue the series when I can.

My Rating: ☆☆☆

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes ☆☆☆☆

8855321Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

-Goodreads

 

  • Title: Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)
  • Author: James S.A. Corey
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

 

Thoughts:

The Goodreads summery basically covers everything plot related I’d be willing to mention myself so I’ll forgo that in this review. I will say that in addition to be a science fiction and space opera story there are elements of noir and horror. Anytime the story is being told through Miller it’s noir so about half the book.

The horror was teased right away, and as the story develops it surfaces more, but honestly it’s drawn with a light touch. I say that using myself as a gauge as I’m not a fan of horror. I won’t even watch scary movies at home. I won’t do it!

There are a couple of things I really liked about this book. First, this is space opera just on a small scale. You space battles, new locales, politics, a looming threat to all life as we know it, and a memorable space ship(s) flown by a small close-knit crew ala Firefly. It’s just that the locales are all planets, moons, and space stations within our own solar system. The major factions are all human, but sufficiently different from each other to seem slightly alien. Also while the crew is reminiscent of Firefly Holden is a boy scout not a rogue. It works though.

Don’t get me wrong I love me some Star Wars scale space opera with numerous alien species, and exotic planets where the roguish captain must save the galaxy. Reading a space opera on a miniature scale was a nice change of pace however. I enjoyed reading about this adventure which was happening right outside. I mean I knew all the places we were going to, or if not I knew kind of where they were located relative to Earth. It made the adventure more real somehow.

Secondly, I enjoyed the opposite way both Holden and Miller saw the world they live in. Holden is a good guy who genuinely believes most other people are good as well, and that given the choice they will do the right thing. Miller on the other hand is jaded, and morally ambiguous. For him the good thing, and right thing are not always the same. When he’s forced to choose between them he will follow his own code. Such as it is.

The author(s) had these characters at odds over transparency, and the release of sensitive information quite often. For Holden the right thing to do is to put all the information out there for the people to see. In his view secrets are the darkness from which evil is birthed. Miller believes that some truths are better left unsaid. That the consequences, foreseeable and not, of exposing some secrets to the public is often more damaging than the secrets themselves. In the interview at the back of the book the author(s) state, and I’m paraphrasing here, that they did this knowing that when it comes down to it both sides are right, and at the same time both sides are wrong. Somewhere in the middle is the truth.

These differing world views, and the fact that this all takes place in our solar system makes for a very realistic and gritty story. I’m not sure I’d want this to become the new norm for the genre, but I did enjoy it a lot. I look forward to continuing the series.

This has no bearing on the story whatsoever, but I love that James S.A. Corey is actually a pen name for two co-authors (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)!

 

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

 

Currently Reading:

  • Title: Kushiel’s Avatar (Phedre’s Trilogy #3)
  • Author: Jacqueline Carey
  • Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Book Review: Ancillary Mercy ☆☆☆☆

ancmercyThe stunning conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Ancillary Justice.

For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Athoek Station’s slums turns up someone who shouldn’t exist – someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that’s been hiding beyond the empire’s reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq’s enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai – ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren’t good, but that’s never stopped her before. – Goodreads

 

  • Title: Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3)
  • Author: Ann Leckie
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

 

Disclaimer: This is the final book in the Imperial Radch trilogy. There will be spoilers in this review for books one and two. You have been warned.

 

Overview:

Now I had reduced my expectations for the series after Sword, but Mercy actually addressed many of my issues from that book. For starters the pacing picks up a lot. There is fighting, and ship battles (I just want to quickly say that I liked how the time delay was represented), but also in general it just feels like the story is moving somewhere again.

After the Presger translator residing in Athoek was killed in the last book another one shows up basically out of thin air. (Spoiler) This is actually pretty anticlimactic to be honest, but the translator is needed for the ending. (Spoiler)

Anaander Mianaai finally makes another appearance, and not the “good” Mianaai.  Though I do wish she’d been more epic somehow. (Spoiler) The Mianaai we see acts more like a petulant child then a cunning ruler who has been able to maintain her absolute control of an empire for thousands of years. I’d love to have seen multiple Mianaai’s fighting each other in the finale as well. It didn’t have to be actual fighting. I’d have been perfectly fine with political maneuvering. (Spoiler) This sets off a series of events which will have dramatic ramifications throughout the Radch, and galaxy at large.

I won’t go into the ending, but it felt right, and in a way fulfills Breq’s desire to kill the Lord of the Radch. Kind of. (Spoiler) I mean she is the Radch, and this is going to destroy the Radch as it is now. Surely it will evolve and survive, but it will have become something different. (Spoiler)

 

Thoughts:

Athoek Station gets a much bigger role, and I enjoyed the scenes she was in. Athoek as it turns out is pretty badass! She’s also more likable than any of the ships I can think of. From what I can tell ships care about their crews, but mostly they bond to one person. Stations on the other hand seem to care about everyone of their residents as a whole. And they aren’t as preachy about it. I’m looking at you Breq!

As it turns out I don’t really like Seivarden. I had this romantic idea of this character, thought dead for centuries, growing into a kind of Han Solo role, but that never happened. Honestly I don’t see what purpose this character even had besides to help give contrast to One Esk in Ancillary Justice. I will say I liked how her drug addiction was handled throughout the series. It didn’t really need to be there, but it was well done.

Having completed the series I still have a lot of questions.

(Spoilers) There were strong hints of an unknown third Mianaai identity at Athoek Station. At the very least there was one there at some point in the past. What was this Mianaa’s objectives? If “good” Mianaai wants to stop the practice of endless imperialism, and the making of ancillaries while “bad” Mianaai wants to maintain what had been the status quo then what does this other Mianaai want?

What is going to happen with the AI cores? There are three just sitting there. Will the AIs make ships, or perhaps another station? For that matter what was third Mianaa planning to do with them? I want to know!

Who, what, are the Presger? We have only the vaguest idea from the books, and I’d love to know more about them. If they are the undefeatable, completely sadistic aliens we are led to believe then why do they make treaties with lesser life forms, and then respect those treaties. There has to be more to them.

What was the purpose of the Ghost Gate? It was a giant Chekhov’s gun. I mean so much is made of it only for it to never matter. I know we learn that Sphene is there, but then we never see Sphene, the ship, in the story. Even Sphene, the ancillary, has no real purpose. I kept expecting something to happen with her, but it never did. (Spoilers)

 

Summery:

This series was up and down for me. I loved Ancillary Justice, but was disappointed by Ancillary Sword. Don’t get me wrong Sword was a good book, but I had been expecting something with more of an epic scale after the ending to Justice, and instead got the opposite. I had a better idea of what to expect with Ancillary Mercy, and I was pretty happy with the way things ended despite having a few unresolved questions.

 

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

 

Currently Reading:

  • Title: Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)
  • Author: James S.A. Corey
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Book Review: Ancillary Sword ☆☆☆

ancswdWhat if you once had thousands of bodies and near god-like technology at your disposal?

And what if all of it were ripped away?

The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.

Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized — or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent. – Goodreads

So this is the second book in the Imperial Radch series. This review of Ancillary Sword will contain spoilers for the first book – Ancillary Justice. Read on at your own risk.

I won’t lie I went into this book with high expectations. When Justice left off our Ancillary had made good on her 20 years of plotting revenge on the Lord of the Radch by exposing the cold war with her split personalities, and bringing civil war to both herself, and the Empire. She also managed to kill some more Mianaai clones as well, but the civil war is where the real death blow was aimed. After all the Lord of the Radch is the Empire, and no matter who wins this war both are presumably irrevocably weakened. This is the beginning of the end.

Better yet our girl, (and I’m calling every character, AI or human, a woman at this point. It’s just easier than trying to figure everyone out, and keep them straight.) gets her own ship, Mercy of Kalr, so rather than just sitting back, and watching the show she’ll be an active participant! This is really exciting because she doesn’t like any of the Mianaai splits, and so is a total wild card. Except as it turns out none of this happens. Oh it’s implied, but we never get to see it.

The first book was about justice, revenge really, for the loss Justice of Toren, and the death her favorite officer Lt. Awn. This book was about trying to establish a relationship with Lt. Awn’s baby sister. To do so we travel to Atheok Station which revolves around a tea plantation world with no real strategic value or significance. As Lt. Awn tried to address the injustices of Shis’urna in the first book so too Breq tries to address the injustices of Atheok Station, and one of the tea plantations on the planet.

Which is admirable, but not what I was promised! Where is the epic scale of a civil war spreading throughout the Empire? Where are the dueling Mianaai clones? I was expecting an epic Star Wars saga, but instead got an episode of Star Trek. Don’t get me wrong I like Star Trek, but that’s so not what had I been led to believe I was going to get.

Also the I wasn’t as big a fan of the POV hopping in this book as the last. In Justice we see the multiple points of view from Justice of Toren. You mostly see from Breq’s POV, but it often switched to her fellow ancillaries, and even the ship herself as needed. I loved that, and thought it gave a really good insight into Breq, and the AI in general.

In this book we see Breq looking through the eyes of Mercy of Kalr, and her crew. Instead of getting a better sense of the character(s) it just felt like spying to me. It also slowed the story down significantly. I mean one scene was often three separate scenes slowly playing out at the same time. If those scenes were important I’d have rather seen them from the POV of each character rather than just watch it dispassionately from Breq’s eyes. That being said there was still some good character development between Breq, and her crew so the book has that going for it.

Overall, I felt this book didn’t live up to my expectations set at the end of Ancillary Justice. Justice ramped up from a slow start to an epic saga in the making only for Sword to bring it to a screeching halt. I will still be reading the last book, Ancillary Mercy, to see how the story ends, but I’ll do it with scaled back expectations.

My Rating: ☆☆☆

That’s what I just read. I’m currently reading Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey.

kushiels_chosen

Book Review: Ancillary Justice ☆☆☆☆

leckie_ancillaryjustice_tpOn a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.

Before I go any further I’ve decided to put the synopsis of a book before my reviews. This will be either directly from the book, or from goodreads. I will not consider anything mentioned in this synopsis a spoiler, and I will not post any warnings before talking about it. When I do touch on something that might be a spoiler I will be changing the font color to match the background. Just highlight the selected area if you wish to read it.

Okay, let’s start with the good because there are a few things here that I love. First, this is a space opera which I realize for many is a red flag, but for myself is a huge plus. I love epic adventures in space. I love the space battles (although there aren’t any in this book), the tech (which is more cool than hard science technical!), all the new and exotic worlds, the ships, AI etc. I just love it all!

I should note, again, that in this space opera there is a distinct lack of space battles. There are actually only a handful of fighting scenes of any variety in this book for that matter. That said there are a few as well as other cool scenes peppered in. The action definitely ramps up more toward the end of the story.

Ancillary Justice also switches between POVs which slows the story down a bit in the beginning, and if you aren’t used to that sort of thing might make it harder to get figure out what’s going on. If you’ve read Jemisin or Rothfuss you’ll have no problem staying with the story. (If you haven’t.. OMG you need to do so asap!) Likely you will put the pieces together very early on. I know I did. All told I felt the story actually moved at a pretty brisk pace even when nothing much was happening.

Second, the story follows an ancillary of the starship Justice of Toren who is on a mission for vengeance some 20 years in the making. Ancillaries are basically humans wiped clean, and re-purposed to serve advanced AI ships. Ancillaries are extensions of starships much the same way an arm is an extension of a person. More like a tool/weapon actually. They share an identity with each other and the ship, but are also self aware as well. Quite a few reviews that I’ve read didn’t really like or connect with out ancillary, but I personally loved her/it/them.

Third, I’m very intrigued by the Lord of the Radch. She has many clones of herself spread throughout the empire to help her rule. It also makes her basically immortal. As far as I know she isn’t herself an AI with ancillaries, but like them her many clones share an identity while being self aware. A thousand years ago there was a rift between the main identity. Now parts of her are at war with each other. They have been playing a kind of cold war to keep the majority of her clones in the dark, and so to keep this war from her greater identity. Once this is let out of the bag the cold war moves to a civil war. I really look forward to seeing how this plays out!

The Radch itself felt rather vanilla to me. Don’t get me wrong Leckie does enough world building to make it feel real, but at the end of the day it was just another empire. I did like how the book gives multiple points of view. For instance from the Radch perspective they are simply an expansionist empire spreading civilization. From the ‘uncivilized’ the Radch they are evil murderous bastards. Leckie also shows how injustice is done outside the empire as well as how there are those inside the empire who decry the empire’s treatment of others.

Okay now for my only real complaint. Leckie decided to make the Radch, and by extension our ancillary blind to gender. Their language doesn’t distinguish between genders. They just by default use the feminine pronoun regardless of sex/orientation. This book has been out for a few years, and with all the buzz around it I knew this going in. I didn’t really think much of it, but it ended bothering me quite a lot.

I mean I get that Leckie wants to make a statement about default male in literature, and the world in general. The thing is that the way this is done kept throwing me out of the story completely. I kept trying to keep track of who was what, and eventually I just decided that they would all just be females. It was just easier. Plus lots of lesbians so yay! Seriously it would have been just as jolting we called every female character  by a male pronoun even when we knew they were women.

If Leckie’s goal was to create a society that was truly genderless she failed in two ways. First the Radch empire isn’t genderless!! The empire is made up of many cultures with each one we see having multiple sexes, and their citizens acknowledging these different sexes. Calling them all she doesn’t change that fact.

Second, the very act of assigning every sex a female gender as a way of making them genderless actually draws more attention to gender! If she had wanted to point out that they were all equal, and gender had somehow no longer become something worth mentioning then why not call the sexes them, they, it, you, human, citizen, or something, you know, genderless!

Besides which saying that humanity could ever get to the point where we don’t acknowledge gender at all is beyond naive. Even in a perfect utopia where all people are treated equally irregardless of sex, race, religion etc. we are curious beings who constantly try to define the world around us. It would be like saying in the future we now ignore colors. All color will now be referred to as gray. Not because we are color blind, but because all colors are equal.

And I could make the argument that Leckie was doing exactly that because her ancillary was basically color blind in regards to gender. It just couldn’t tell, or care enough to try to tell the difference between male or female. (Again why not go with citizen, human etc.?) I could make that argument except this isn’t just an AI thing. No it is supposed to be an entire human civilization thing.

So yeah at the end of the day this just felt like a gimmick. One that pulled me out of the story over, and over again. Despite all that I loved the story itself and highly recommend it. So much so that I might have given this 5 stars, but settled for 4 instead. I do still want to finish the series, and actually have already checked out the next book from my library.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Book Review: Redshirts ☆☆☆

redshirtsSo I’ve seen this book floating around the SF/F community for years now, but I wasn’t quite sure about it. Don’t get me wrong I like Star Trek, and have laughed at many redshirt jokes over the years, but can you really make a compelling novel about said jokes? I wasn’t sure, and have passed on this book many times as a result. I finally picked it up at my library this week after reading a blurb by Patrick Rothfuss saying it was the funniest book he’d ever read, ever. So of course I had I’d give it a try!

For whatever reason the humor just wasn’t the LOL hilarity that I was led to believe it would be. That’s twice now Rothfuss! (The other time being a blurb he did about The Last Unicorn which when I read I didn’t really enjoy much.) I mean I could see the jokes, and having watched many the different iterations of Star Trek I could even appreciate them, but they just didn’t make me laugh. Maybe I was too focused on the characters themselves to appreciate the fourth wallish humor. Or maybe I was just Mr. Grumpy Pants at the time. Who knows.

The story itself was okay, but a bit shallow. There just isn’t much there to sink your teeth in. Given that it is a book basically built on a long running joke I kind of counted on that. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, but no biggie.

It was also a short book. It weighs in at 320 pages, but the actual story is more like 200 pages. After that it cuts away from our Redshirts, never to return, and does a separate thing altogether. Basically there are three short stories which close some threads introduced at the end of the actual story. Each of these stories is written in a different POV style – first, second, and third. That part was cool, but again it wasn’t really part of our Redshirt adventure.

Overall it was okay. Redshirts was pretty much what I expected when I first started hearing about the book, but not what I had hoped it might be. Definitely worth a read if you are a Star Trek fan, and who knows you might enjoy it far more than I did.

My Rating: ☆☆☆

P.S. In related fandom news.. Who else is excited about Star Trek: Discovery?!

Book Review: Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball ☆☆☆

nk-jemisinI found another short story by N. K. Jemisin on tor.com, and wanted to do a quick review of it. This one is part detective, part science fiction. It features a boy named Jeffy who can do some pretty amazing things, and is currently being investigated for the disappearance of his friend.

As yet I haven’t been able to really get into detective novels. I need to read more to be sure if that holds for the entire genre. I do have a few on my tbr including Mr. Holmes, but let’s be honest my tbr is becoming something of a black hole. Anyways saying all that it really isn’t a surprise that I did not enjoy Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball as much as I did The City Born Great.

It is a good short story, and was a quick, easy read. I don’t think I’ll revisit it however. I would love to read more about Jeffy after he has grown into a man, and mastered his knowledge (ability?). There could be a lot of SF awesomeness in there.

Full link to this story:

http://www.tor.com/2014/06/30/playing-nice-with-gods-bowling-ball/

My Rating: ☆☆☆