Book Review: “The Martian Obelisk” by Ellen Datlow (Five Stars)

Victor Mosquera illustration, tor.com

Book Review: “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata

(Five Stars)

“You have to do everything you can, until you can’t do anymore.”

Amazing story. Like legacy science fiction, addresses the issues of today with clear-eyed reality. Excellent storytelling. Sparse, just-right character development. We learn about Susannah and Nate through their actions.

“We assume we can see forward to tomorrow, but we can’t. We can’t ever really know what’s to come—and we can’t know what we might do, until we try.”

A welcome antidote to the nihilistic gloom or mindless fantasy that pervades modern SFF. Looks reality in the eye, but doesn’t blink.

“This all looks like hope.”

(2018 Hugo Award Short Story finalist)

 

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Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2 by Martha Wells (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells

(Three Stars)

“Now would be a good time to go, to fly west into the sun with no one to see. Except he didn’t appear to be doing that.”

Anthologies set in the world or featuring the cast of an author’s invented universe allow her to explore side issues, deepen characters and promote the greater series–especially when said short stories are offered free or included in other anthologies. Fans get a fix of a favored setting; new readers can sample without committing to a full novel. So it is here. Not great literature, not even as good as the Raksura novels, but enjoyable nonetheless.

“He had learned from bitter experiences not to try to explain unexplainable things.”

Book Review: The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Serpent Sea (Book of Raksura #2) by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“They might be harmless, but Moon doubted it on principle.”

A better-than-average sequel. Expands Moon’s character and the ensemble of Raksura closest to him. Fills in backstory from the first book at appropriate time, but tends toward data dumps.

“Sense doesn’t enter into it where queens are concerned.”

The stakes are high; things keep going wrong; Moon isn’t the only one who is a fish out of water.

“Sometimes I don’t have visions; sometimes I have common sense. Not that any of you listen to me.”

Martha Wells is great at inner dialogue. For an even better sample, try her Murderbot series, especially All Systems Red.

“He felt as if he’d never really come home before.”

Book Review: Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Raven Strategem (The Machineries of Empire #2) by Yoon Ha Lee

(Three Stars)

“I would like to think that it’s possibly to construct a society where our orders don’t involve slaughtering our own people.”

Another masterful space opera set in the universe of the hexarchate featuring the four-hundred-year-old revenant of Shous Jedao. Readers unfamiliar with the hexarchate would profit by reading Ninefox Gambit first, however Strategem fills background as needed as the story develops.

“Immortality didn’t turn you into a monster. It merely showed what kind of monster you already were.” “Would it be such an evil thing to learn?”

Strategem features a Byzantine web of factions and players alternately attacking and defending each other. Corruption and betrayal are Continue reading

Book Review: Beyond this Horizon by Robert Heinlein (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Beyond this Horizon by Robert Heinlein

(Four Stars)

“Easy times for individuals are bad times for the race.”

Utopias have their downside. A landmark science fiction novel by a dean of the genre. Written before the United States entered World War Two, yet amazing prescient of the next fifty years.

“But man is a working animal. He likes to work. … likely to spend his spare time working out some gadget which will displace labor and increase productivity.” (20th, not 21st century man)

Marred by lengthy exposition/preaching. While Heinlein was ahead of society in some ways and clearly foresaw many technology advances only made possible by the invention of the transistor some years later, he mistook then-current fads in economics and para-psychology as indicative of future trends. “The structural nature of finance is too deeply imbedded in our culture for pseudo-capitalism to return.”

“The only thing that could give us some real basis for our living is to know for sure whether or not anything happens after we die.”

The protagonist voice is like P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. “I’m one long joke on myself.”

“An armed society is a polite society.”

Skip the post-script blather by Tony Daniels. “Which shows how much of the modern negative criticism that Heinlein evokes in the present day is not only completely mistaken and stupid, but pernicious and hatefully intended.” Denounces ad hominem attacks by “critics, most of whom I consider idiots.” Claims it “does not end with a twist” but with “an authentic answer.” Which is wrong on both counts. Dissuades reading any of his works.

“The only choices that matter are those that we responsibly made based on the evidence, not on anyone’s declarations, however well intentioned.”

(Finalist for Hugo retro award for 1943)

Book Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (Two Stars)

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Book Review: River of Teeth (River of Teeth #1) by Sarah Gailey

(Two Stars)

Great concept and background development. Interesting ensemble of characters. Love the map and cover art. What could go wrong? A lot.

Gratuitous sex and violence. That is, apparently injected to titillate, not to advance the story. Motives and actions were either heavy-handed or disconnected. Lack of proofreading (or something). For example, “then reached back into his saddle bag” appears twice in the same paragraph.

According to the map, the Harriet stretches 150 miles from the dam on the Mississippi (consider that for a moment) and the Gate near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River. Yet, Gailey writes Continue reading

Book Review: “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Win Prasad (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Win Prasad

(Four Stars)

“Have you ever met a human? This reads as if an alien wrote it.”

In the not-too-far-distant future Artificial Intelligences may be able to write science fiction “from a certain point of view” better than humans, and of course humans may not know the difference. In this Hugo year of abounding AI stories, Fandom distinguishes itself with a compact plot and wry humor.

“My lack of emotion circuits means I cannot be ‘happy’ about performing any actions.”

(2018 Hugo Award novelette finalist. Illustration is cover of magazine in which story appeared; has nothing to do with story.)

Book Review: “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” by Aliette de Bodard (Two Stars)

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Book Review: “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” (Dominion of the Fallen #1.5) by Aliette de Bodard

(Two Stars)

“Magic pollution affected everyone.”

This short story bridges the gap between two previous novels. Opaque for first-time readers, it reads like an introduction or side-side to a bigger tale. Not much to recommend it either way. Hard to believe it was nominated for a Hugo Award; perhaps spill over popularity from the rest of the series.

“Intrigues are allowed, but nothing that threatens our unity.”

(2018 Hugo Award novellette finalist)

Book Review: “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon

(Four Stars)

“His grandmother had never been very good at being normal.”

A fun twist on the typical heroic fantasy opening. All the tropes one expects of a Star Wars-like farm boy ripped out of his normal by a magic sword and stranger to teach him its use. But … no. Even a touch of humor.

“Goats thought themselves extremely clever and it was always rather a surprise to them when they were wrong.”

Seem disingenuous to accuse an eight-page story of being wordy, but the preceding sentence could have said as much in half the words.

“Good earth knows when it is loved.”

(2018 Hugo Award novella finalist. Illustration is cover of magazine in which story appeared; has nothing to do with story.)

Book Review: “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker (Two Stars)

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Book Review: “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker

(Two Stars)

(This review contains numerous spoilers.)

“Who discovers how to access infinite realities and then uses that discovery to invite her alternate selves to a convention?”

Great concept. How do you investigate a murder when the victim and all the suspects are the same person? Wanted to like it better. The point of view is one of the more pedestrian iterations of Sarah (yes, the author uses herself as the main character/almost-entire cast), but fails to grip the reader with the inner turmoil she describes as happening. Too focused on philosophizing and preaching.

“Divergence points were the key to everything.”

Figured out who-dun-it half way through, but find the explanation unsatisfying, though Pinsker provided several twists trying to make it suspenseful.

“We all built the future with our choices every day, never knowing which ones mattered.”

(2018 Hugo Award novella finalist.)