Book Review: Finna by Nino Cipri (Three Stars)

Book Review: Finna (LitenVerse #1) by Nino Cipri (Three Stars)

“Hopefully the next universe won’t try to kill us.” “You’ve cursed us now.” “Probably.”

Successful romp through several universes seeking a lost person, who might be the protagonists. Well-crafted and satisfying conclusion. Some humor.

“What’s holding you back?” “You mean besides the monsters that nearly ate us?” “Every world has its monsters. I’ve been watching the news, and yours is no exception. What’s the real reason?”

This book demonstrates how “they-them-their” is an inferior pronoun set to “Xe-xem-xer” (or whatever). Constantly throws the reader out of the story stopping to determine whether the author is writing about multiple people or using plural pronouns for a single person.

“The heart was a stupid, hurting animal, and her heart was stupider than most.”

(2021 Hugo Awards novella finalist)

2021 Hugo Awards Overview, Part Two

I have abandoned my intention of reading all the Hugo Award-nominated works this year. Many of them are garbage, if not offensive.

I gave up many because they were poorly written. A few had interesting premises and/or characters, but the authors couldn’t deliver the goods. Did Covid-19 degenerate our brains, or just the accompanying malaise? If the latter, perhaps next year’s crop will be better.

Science fiction and fantasy writers seem unable to complete a work without at least one use of the f-word. Certain writers seem to strive more. Worse language abounds. And so much hate. Some authors overflow with vitriol. It hurts that people are hurting so badly.

The quality of SF/F stories has been deteriorating for years. Hopefully, it bottomed in 2020, and 2021 will bring better writing.

Book Review: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Three Stars)

Book Review: Black Sun (Between Earth and Sea #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Three Stars)

“They were not good people.” “No, they were not. Are any of us? Am I? Are you?”

A satisfying fantasy revolving around a prophesied supernatural climax as an eclipse coincides with the winter solstice. Multiple point-of-view characters and a timeline folded like origami challenges readers who don’t have the luxury of reading the book through. Stick with it; Roanhouse delivers the goods.

“We are, after all, a society of laws that apply equally to all, noble and common.”

Don’t read this expecting a fantasy twist on Meso-American historical cultures. Instead Roanhouse set this series in a quasi-Gulf of Mexico universe which draws some elements form older American cultures, but just as often the tropes and memes of contemporary SF/F.

Quibbles: Old world references knock discerning readers out of the spell of the story. Lavender? Gratuitous profanity. Misunderstood navigation by the sun.

“Sometimes it is better to let one live with their misdeeds than to free them through death. A dead priest cannot atone. A live one… well, there is always the choice.”

Fitting close to this series opener with plenty of hooks to the next story. Nice cover art by John Picacio.

“A man with a destiny is a man who fears nothing.”

(2021 Hugo Award novel finalist)

Book Review: The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Poppy War (Poppy War #1) by R. F. Kuang (Four Stars)

“I don’t want to read about the balance in the universe. I want to know how to beat people up.” “Sometimes you must loose the string to let the arrow fly.” Rin rolled her eyes.

Harry Potter does The Karate Kid. An imaginative recasting of World War Two between China and Japan, about which many Americans are ignorant. Kuang uses Rin’s life and education to gently build her universe and history. Apt inclusion of quotes from Confucius, Sun Tzu, and Joseph Stalin.

“Once an empire has become convinced of its worldview, anything that evidences the contrary must be erased.”

Quibbles divide themselves into two groups: modern English phrases which destroy the reader’s sense of time and place, and standard fantasy silliness–repeating cross bows. Phrases like methanol, cut straight to the chase, and gravity. Instead of modern terminology (“volcano”), for example, Kuang inserts the term “fire mountain,” which conveys her meaning just as well.

“You think you can become a shaman? You think you can summon gods?” “I don’t believe in gods. But I believe in power. And I believe the shamans had some source of power that the rest of us don’t know how to access, and I believe it’s still possible to learn.”

Would like to have rated it higher, but even given my generosity to debut novels it just good. I do plan to read The Dragon Republic. Some day. Maybe. Unfortunately rife with profanity. What’s with current SF/F stories peppered with the f-word?

“You dress up your crusade with moral arguments, when in truth you would let millions die if it means you get your so-called justice.”

(2021 Hugo Awards nominee for best series)

Book Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi (two star)

Book Review: The Last Emperox (Interdependency #3) by John Scalzi (two star)

“This is our time.”

Disappointing. This book begins with a bang and is one accelerating train wreck. Pulp, porn, and profanity. Two stars was a gift.

“Assassination was not a tool I preferred to use. That said, there may have been times when I wished that someone would rid me of a turbulent priest.” “You had priests killed?”

Somewhere in here is a good story and a satisfying conclusion to his Interdependency series, but normally I would have quit after the first fifty pages. I wouldn’t have finished the Prologue, but continued because it was nominated for a Hugo Award and I wanted to give a fair appraisal.

“The end of civilization is going to be good for business.”

Quibbles: lots, but the biggest is the premise that there is only one inhabitable planet left in the galaxy. Many planets might not allow humans to walk free, but still support survival in domes or orbiting habitats. Not to mention organic and mineral wealth.

“If you could see it coming, why couldn’t you avoid it?” “Because some choices you make, you can’t come back from,”

Scalzi may be a one-man argument against multi-book contracts. Most of his recent output has been trash. This book continues the downward trend. I used to anticipate his next book. Once I drove out-of-state to his book signing. Now, I won’t buy another.

“I agree people are the problem.” “How do we solve it, then?” “I don’t know. Maybe make them live longer so they have to deal with the consequences of their actions.” “You’re an optimist.” “Apparently.”

Scalzi can write better; he’s demonstrated it. That he consistently doesn’t raises the question why. Only he can answer that. But continuing sales and awards will not encourage introspection.

“These are the times we live in.” “We make the times we live in.”

(2021 Hugo Award novel finalist)

Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (three stars)

Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey (three stars)

“You believe everything you read?”

Almost gave up after the first thirty pages; glad I stuck with it. Good coming-of-age tale about a settled city person thrust into the wilderness. This story is more than it seems. Yes, it’s the agenda-driven stuff claimed in the blurb, but it’s potentially more.

“Awful worldly for a colt. What’s at the end of that road, then, world traveler?” “Nothing but trouble.”

Quibbles: Correctly identifies the dangers of slow travel in the desert southwest, then ignores them. Serious issues with how far and fast horses can travel, especially pulling a loaded wagon. Stumbles over her own contrived pronouns occasionally.

She had seen a man decide that she deserved to die, and she had killed him for it.

Gailey must decide whether she’s wants to serious, challenging fiction or disappear in the sea of pulp writers.

“Dead as shoe leather, and fixing to stay that way.” “I should feel worse about it. Shouldn’t I?”
“You will.”

(2021 Hugo Award novella nominee)

Book Review: Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold (four stars)

Book Review: Diplomatic Immunity (Vorkosigan Saga #13) by Lois McMaster Bujold (four stars)

“Miles, have you ever heard of the concept of a search warrant?” “Dear Bel, how fussy you have grown in your old age. This is a Barrayaran ship, and I am Gregor’s Voice. I don’t ask for search warrants, I issue them.”

Bujold follows a maturing, married Miles into a typical crisis: impelled to act on what he knows is too little information. His bride complements his leaps of insight with poise and diplomacy.

Whatever her buried Barrayaran reflexes were regarding visible mutations, they would be trumped by her iron grip on good manners.

Bujold writes captivating fiction, even in this endless series of improbably space operas. She respects her readers intelligence and their erudition. Good plot formation; literary allusions abound; profanity suggested rather than explicit; circumspect data dumps; and rousing fun.

“Are we heroes here today, or the greatest traitors unhung?”

Thought I’d read all the Vorkosigan stories years ago. Fun to find one I missed.

“I have a kind of gift for timing, you see.” “And for doubletalk.” “That, too.”

Book Review: “A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (five stars)

Book Review: “A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (five stars)

“i don’t like being mean to customers that much though” “I can see how you would be bad at it.” “ha thanks for the compliment i think”

Excellent take on independent, self-aware robots trying to figure out the world and themselves. Humor. Really short; can and should be read in a single go.

“But I suppose that also raises the issue of subjectivity, and what qualifies as “a lot of time” when you discard human-centric views…” “Ugh. I swear your rambling is contagious.”

(2021 Hugo Award short story nominee)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (Four Stars)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1) by Nghi Vo

“One drunken evening, many years on, In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her.”

A fabled past is reconstructed by a cleric interviewing an ancient maid who had more than a little to do with the history reveals. Apt storytelling and clues scattered through the tales draw the attentive reader in and forward.

“Sometimes the things we see do not make sense until many years have gone by. Sometimes it takes generations. We are taught to be content with that.”

A welcome change from medieval European fantasies. Roughly imperial Chinese analog. The characterization of the cleric adds to the sense of other.

“Look to your records, cleric. Honor is a light that brings trouble. Shadows are safer by far.”

(2021 Hugo Awards Novella finalist)

Book Review: The Angel’s Game by Carloa Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Angel’s Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #2) by Carloa Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves (Four Stars)

“Never underestimate a writer’s vanity, especially that of a mediocre writer,” I would reply.
“I don’t like to hear you talking like that about Pedro.” “I’m sorry. Neither do I.”

Follows protagonist David Martin on a journey of discovery which, once began, he both impelled and repelled from completing. The reader will identify.

Even the worst news is a relief when all it does is confirm what you already knew without wanting to know.

Zafón deftly create character and scene by meticulous description, pulling the reader deeper into the horror Martin experiences. That things are not as they seem is a given, but David’s attempts to find meaning in  his own life is heart-breaking.

“We think we understand a song’s lyrics, but what makes us believe in them, or not, is the music.”

Folks should read, but probably not review books of genre they dislike. I dislike thrillers. This is a thriller. This is a very good thriller.  Still, I feel the need of a bath.

So many people in these streets have blood on their souls that they no longer dare to remember, and when they do they lie to themselves because they cannot look at their own reflection in the mirror.