Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun: Stories of the Xuya Universe by Aliette de Bodard

(Three Stars)

“Everything is a lie. Everything is a fragment of the truth.”

The collection contains the titular story plus “Ship’s Brother,” and “The Frost on the Jade Buds.”

“… seemed to be perpetual mourning, as if some spring within them had broken a long time ago.”

Well-written, but lacks depth. Presumably much backstory is developed in earlier Xuya Universe novels. This is not a good place to start.

“Tales for children. Bedtimes stories: the only narratives that can be stomached.”

(Illustration from deBodard’s website, not from collection.)

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Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

(Three Stars)

“The key to autonomy, she realized, was more than root access on the programs that shaped her desires. It was a sense of privacy.”

In exploring the limits—natural and imposed—on robotic autonomy, Newitz directs us to consider what limits and expands human independence and the value of human life. Any book which makes us think deserves extra attention. Autonomous comes packaged in good story telling and many well-developed characters—bot and otherwise. Multiple folded time lines.

“He’d asked Paladin whether he should call her ‘she.’ It’s true that he was asking the wrong question, but if she listened to the words behind the words … he was asking her consent.”

Comparisons with Martha Wells’ murderbot series are inevitable. Very different approaches. I like Murderbot better because it respects the reader more, and is laced with self-depreciating humor. Your mileage may vary.

“Humans, you know—they hate us for the indenture laws. Without bot indenture, there would be no human indenture. Human think bots deserve to be indentured, while humans deserve to be autonomous.”

Unfortunately, the story is also laced with soft porn and foul language. Sure, that’s how the immature talk, but it isn’t necessary to wallow in it.

“Everybody is an outsider, if you go deep enough. The trick is reassuring people that you’re their kind of outsider. Just figure out a way to share their problems” * (“I feel your pain.”)

Quibble: “Atop these desks were several servers and projectors, a chip printer, some fabbers, and a high-powered microscope box for imaging atoms.” Even in a science fiction future, this seems rather much to be cluttered atop a couple desks. (Which was the point.)

“I’m never going to stop making open drugs, sequence wants to be free.”

Newitz changes the gender of one character mid-story (for well explained reasons), but perhaps inadvertently she depicts that much gender identity in in the mind of others, out of control of the self.

“The bot had no choice but to fight for his life. Still, to Paladin, it didn’t feel like a lack of choice. It felt like hope.”

Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Grass (Arbai #1) by Sheri S. Tepper

(Three Stars)

“You are saying God cannot intervene in this plague?” “I am saying that perhaps God has already done his intervening by creating us.”

Published in 1989, Grass addresses many contemporary issues setting them in far future science fiction. Very slow start. You can’t skip the first hundred pages, but once the story begins to move, you’ll wish Tepper had. Lots of passive voice and participles; slows the pace. Addresses religion more honestly—bad and good–than most modern works.

“Seeking her soul, he had only taken her body, finding there a hollowness he had not expected.”

Some nice word pictures: “nights sat gently upon the sills.” Continue reading

Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

(Three Stars)

“Shugli believed his falconers. It took a watcher to recognize another watcher. Against an unknown enemy, only one strategy would succeed: stealth.”

Better-than-average science fiction series opener, which admittedly is a low bar. For all that, the character development and storytelling is exceeds the norm. While the close of this story resolves nothing, it is a closing, rather the usual abrupt cut.

“Stay away from the me-me-me. Clients want you to talk about them.” “I didn’t realize we needed to make the client feel good about themselves. It seems dishonest.” “This is Continue reading

Book Review: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Revenant Gun (The Machineries of Empire #3) by Yoon Ha Lee

(Three Stars)

“At least then the music tells you when the bad guys are about to sneak up on you.” “In the dramas, we’d be the bad guys.” “Not helping.” “Someone has to be a realist.”

Normally, one should not start a series in the middle; it makes no difference here. Like the previous stories in this series, totally confusing to start. Consumes half the book with the setup. Complex personalities and motives collide, again.

“I hadn’t thought the mating urge would take you so strongly, the Revenant remarked.” “The instinct has been suppressed in me, or I would not be a good weapon. I thought the same would be the case for you, but then, the hexarch Continue reading

Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard

(Four Stars)

“I’m a consulting detective.”

Well, we know who the detective is, despite the camouflage, but who–or what–is the tea master? You know, but you don’t know. Discovery is half the fun.

“You haven’t told me what you need to find in deep spaces.” “A corpse.”

Excellent story, if not tight enough. Used “Watson” as the point of view narrator, of course. Good character development, though we fell we known them already.

“You’re completely traumatised, but showing no other sign of damage.” “I. Am. Not. Traumatised.”

(2019 Hugo Award Novella finalist. Published March 31st 2018 by Subterranean Press)

“I don’t understand why you bother,” The Shadow’s Child said. “No one is going to pay you anything for this.” This time Long Chau did smile, and it seemed to illuminate her entire face. “Why? Because I can.”

Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

(Three Stars)

“In Space Everyone Can Hear You Sing.”

Great–almost obvious in hindsight–concept, from the title pun, to the obvious rip-off of Hitchhiker’s Guide, through the also inevitable, but brilliant dénouement (even though Valente telegraphs her punchline). Excellent cultural references to give the story and characters immediacy.

“This was a joke, a very unfunny joke, and whether he was the setup or the punchline, he’d no idea. Humanity was doomed.”

Theoretically better than Hitchhiker’s Guide, but Valente gets lost along the way–and takes the reader with her. Totally silly, as expected, but Continue reading

Book Review: Record of the Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Record of the Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) by Becky Chambers

(Three Stars)

“A job is partly a matter of personal fulfillment, yes, but also–and perhaps chiefly–social fulfillment. When an Exodan asks ‘what do you do?’, the real question is: ‘what do you do for us?’”

Not as good as Chambers’ previous. Too many, too-similar characters. Lots of head hopping, data dumps, and “as-you-know, Bob” conversations. Had the previous books in this series not been so much better, it might have gotten another star.

“The kind of excited that occurred when the chances were good that everything would be okay, but you were still holding your breath until said okayness was a done deal.”

Good mix of viewpoints. So much so that it occasionally intrudes on the story as artificial–or at least overdone. Lots of propaganda; some subliminal suggestion, too. A certain politicized word pair occurs several dozen times.

“She looked at Pop, entropy incarnate, and wondered if his present would be her future. She wondered which of her kids would sit in the extra chair in the exam room and lament the days when she’d been awesome.”

Quibbles: 1. The inciting incident flunks space logic. How could they have built a generation ship without pressure bulkheads and automatic self-sealing doors? Then she posits a single apartment still pressurized five years later, despite the plumbing which would certainly ventilate it? 2. The whole ship design is stupid and wasteful. Honeycomb doesn’t have corridors. How do people move without destroying the structural integrity of the design?) 3. “Nothing went to waste in the Fleet.” Not true, the Sunside Joyride wastes of unrecoverable propellant. 3. “Evolution is often thought of as a glacial process, but …. Rapid environmental change can prompt rapid physical change.” No, it prompts rapid die offs. After the meteor hits is too late to evolve.

“Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories.” “We are a longstanding species with a very short memory.”

Book Review: Doomsday Morning by C. L. Moore (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Doomsday Morning by C. L. Moore

(Four Stars)

“Maybe you don’t know it, but the world is dead.”

A fine example of early science fiction in general and the works of C. L. Moore in particular, though no mention of space travel or aliens. Published in 1957. Set in a post-apocalyptic America ruled by an aging dictator and suffering unrest, all seen through the eyes of a washed up actor. Spies and betrayal abounds.

“When a Comus sampling turns up false, they’ll repeal the law of gravity.” “In California the law of gravity has been repealed.”

Well-conceived and executed. Moore still had the touch she first exhibited in the 1930s. She takes you deep into the mind of her protagonist and deep into his world. Works well.

“When you’re young you never doubt yourself. You never wonder if you’re justified. But as a man gets older he learns to doubt.”

Fewer technical groans than you’d expect for a story written sixty years ago. She managed to create a “modern” world which contains few jarring anachronism–except maybe telephone booths, and even those have video.

Quibble: “The hollow thunder of bomber was beginning to blanket all other sound.” Even in the 50s, you couldn’t hear approaching bombers. (B-52 bombers were already operational then.)

“How do I get out of here?” “Don’t act like that.” “It’s not acting.”

Contains the requisite SF/F cliché phrase: “I had been holding my breath without realizing it.”

“What’s past is prologue. Wait and see.”

Book Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Skyward (Skyward #1) by Brandon Sanderson

(Five Stars)

“It was awesome!” “You just said you thought you were going to hurl.” “In a good way.” “How do you hurl in a good way?”

Possibly the best story Brandon Sanderson has written. Yes, I know. Better than most of his adult fantasy. Written for young adults, but will engage many readers.

“It’s not your fault you’re a bloodthirsty ball of aggression and destruction.” “I am?” I perked up. “Like, that’s how you see me?” She nodded. Awesome.

Sanderson mostly tells the story from deep inside the head of his protagonist: Spensa. She has a great inner voice. But key scenes include other points of view which increase rather than diminish the conflict.

“I’d always assumed that when I made it–when I finally got here–I’d stop feeling so afraid. But maybe, deep down, I was … worried.”

Your typical Harry Potter/ Top Gun/ Lord of the Rings gathering of misfits, who train, grow and bond, but Continue reading