Book Review: Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder (Three Stars)


Book Review: Sun of Suns (Virga #1) by Karl Schroeder

(Three Stars)

“If the world needed saving it wouldn’t be worth doing it. Everything worthwhile ends up getting stolen by someone evil.

Great new setting for steam-punk science fiction: inside a planet-sized balloon of gases (Virga). All “gravity” is inertial, Local “suns” heat and light small areas of the temperate zone, and the politics and technology is mostly nineteenth century. The characters begin in mystery and opposition but must work together for a greater good. An outsider knows about the evolved technology (and biology) outside the bubble, but her motives and theirs may not coincide. Good plot flow and development. Nice cover art.

“She’s bitter. People enjoy being bitter. It gives them license to act childishly.” “Aren’t you the philosopher.”

Having said that, the narrative seemed appropriate for young readers except for Continue reading

Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells (Four Stars)


Book Review: Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5) by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

(Second read in progress: Provisionally lowering the rating to four stars. I’ll explain why when I finish the read and revise the review.)

“I’m back online.” She smiled. “I’ll warn everybody.”

Fear not, those who thought Murderbot might survive the transition to novel-length. Our favorite … uhm, construct strides through three hundred pages with his self-doubt and existential crisis—not to mention his armature and drones—intact.

“What are you? You’re a bot?” Thiago said, “It’s a security unit. A bot/human construct.” Target Leader didn’t seem to believe him. “Why does it look like a person?” I said, “I ask myself that sometimes.”

Hasn’t quite the immediacy and edge of the shorter stories, but equally entertaining.

(If I got angry at myself for being angry I would be angry constantly and I wouldn’t have time to think about anything else.) (Wait, I think I am angry constantly. That might explain a lot.)

It’s the parentheticals. Not everyone can sustain so many snarky asides without dissolving into silliness. It’s a knack, and Wells has it. (Don’t look for it in her other stories; it’s not there.)

(Confession time: that moment, when the humans or augmented humans realize you’re really here to help them. I don’t hate that moment.)

Book Review: The Coming by Joe Haldeman (Three Star)


Book Review: The Coming by Joe Haldeman

(Three Star)

“If you took all of the energy that all of the world produces in one year, and put it all into a space drive … we couldn’t make a golf ball go that fast. If it’s an invasion, we’ve had it Perdido.”

Not-too-distant-future first-contact story. First published in 2000. Focus is on the reaction and interaction of players in Gainesville, Florida. Multilanguage vocabulary.

“But in more than twenty years of analysis, we haven’t gotten any clear semantic content from the three suspect sources. This one is as plain as a slap in the face.” “And as aggressive?”
“That’s not clear. If they were attacking us, why announce that they were on their way? Why not just sneak up?” “On the other hand, if their intent is benevolent, why don’t they say more than ‘ready or not, here we come’?”

Heavy handed, as are most Haldeman stories, but better than his average. A pornographic subplot unrelated to the plot cost him a star. Haldeman apparently flunked anatomy and physiology 101. Humor lurks just beneath the surface.

“There were the usual riots in the usual countries, controlled by the usual methods, which provoked the usual responses. But even the most coolheaded and rational looked toward Christmas and the New Year, and wondered if there would be a January, after the first of the month.”

Daisy-chain point of view shifts changes characters without losing the reader. Several timeline inconsistencies. Several huge unanswered questions, at least one of which potentially undoes the whole story. (If I tell, it’s spoil things horribly.) Plot gaps diminish the fun, but fun it is.

We use administrative procedures long before we resort to supernatural weapons.” “You once told me there was no such thing as ‘supernatural.’ If something happened, it was part of Allah’s design, and therefore natural.” “Touché.”


Book Review: A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julia E. Czerneda (Four Stars)


Book Review: A Thousand Words for Stranger (Trade Pact Universe #1) by Julia E. Czerneda

(Four Stars)

“What’s been done to you wasn’t to help you. And what was blocked is much worse than losing your past. If you were once so powerful, so gifted— Sira, they’ve blinded and crippled you.” “I don’t feel blind or crippled. I feel sick. And I’m scared.”

Excellent science fiction. A non-Star Wars take on a Force-like power, those who can connect and the muggles. Most told from the point of view of a sort-of human character whose memory and abilities have been blocked. Through the story she must discover not only who she can trust but who she is.

“You have touched the M’hir. Part of our unconscious selves is always there, mingling Continue reading

Book Review: “Redtooth” by Brian Rathbone (Three Stars)


Book Review: “Redtooth” by Brian Rathbone

(Three Stars)

“What did I say?” “You said: ‘I love you all, and I would like to cuddle, but I have a nuclear device in my ear.’”

A humorous science fiction cautionary tale for those who have trouble with auto-completion, auto-translators, and auto-spell correctors. A riff on the intersection between voice-activated assistants and ear buds. This technology is probably not that far away.

“I’m not cheap. I’m just resistant to change.”

Basically an extended gag. The concept is that not all technology advances are improvements, especially to late adopters. Nice cover art.

“The man to your right is a German spy who thinks you’re a CIA double-agent.” “What about the thick-fingered man from the pawnshop? Who does he think I am?” “He’s pretty firmly convinced that you’re an idiot.”

Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch (Four Stars)


Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch

(Four Stars)

“Time is an illusion, a construct made out of human memory. There’s no such thing as the past, the present, or the future. It’s all happening now.”

A compelling look at the nature of time and memory and what happens when people manipulate it. Believable protagonists find themselves in unthinkable situations: one as perpetrator, one as victim.

“Can this procedure—dying in the deprivation tank as a memory reactivates—actually alter the past?” “There is no past.” “That’s crazy.” “What? You can have your theories, but I can’t have mine?” “Explain.” “You said it yourself. ‘Now’ is just an illusion, an accident of how our brains process reality.”

Folded timeline, but then it must be. Escalating doom and a ticking clock impel the protagonists and reader toward a really big train wreck. Over and over. They more they try to avoid it, the worse it looms.

“If memories can simply change. What, then, is real? And if the answer is nothing, where does that leave us?”

Interestingly, the characters seem to have free will. When left to repeat their lives, they repeat them … exactly.

“In this moment, he is a man without memory.”

Quibble: Twice Barry finds himself without any memory. That is not provided for within the construct of the plot and throws the reader out of the spell of the story.

“Life with a cheat code isn’t life. Our existence isn’t something to be engineered or optimized for the avoidance of pain. That’s what it is to be human—the beauty and the pain, each meaningless without the other.”

Book Review: Faraday’s Cage by C. Sean McGee (Three Stars)


Book Review: Faraday’s Cage by C. Sean McGee

(Three Stars)

“He was, by all accounts, halfway through the race and by the looks of him, his laces were still untied.”

Don’t read this review or the blurb. This is a story best experienced without preconceptions.

“Happiness could be feigned … but disappointment … was as impossible to mistake as it was to hide.”

Ironically McGee’s protagonists struggle with just that humanity to which their science has nothing to contribute. The very things they seek—maturity and meaning along with value—are not subject to their scientific inquiry. The story is fleshed out with very real people, often in conflict, in ways that feel uncomfortably close to reality. Great inner voices.

“It’s just the board, and really enrolments [sic] in general, are leaning more towards … alternate science.” “Grievance studies?” “It’s a changing world, Graham.” “Is this a university or a thrift shop?” “Without students, we’ll be neither.”

Pornography and profanity represent the bankruptcy of moderns for dealing with the vital issues of life. Vocabulary and imagery have slumped to the lowest common denominator of smut. That said, it still cost him a star.

“It was as if the future was a horror movie that he was constantly playing in his mind.”

A visual work: Dozens of sentences begin “Were this a movie …” or “His [or Her] face looked like …” The reader is engaged to fill in the blanks. The enigmatic cover image is appropriate. Needed another proof reading, too.

“What good is diversity if everyone thinks the same?”

Book Review: And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson (Three Stars)


Book Review: And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson

(Three Stars)

“Behold,” he said. “Something Columbus couldn’t find. The edge of the world.”

For its time, published in 1960, innovative science fiction. Characters and plot are mediocre. Pop corn for the mind then and now. Not politically correct by current standards.

“The old town’s really come up in the world, hasn’t it?” “Overnight.”

Pattern for many subsequent science fiction tales, though in most the patch of earth is displaced temporally, not spatially.

“That sums up why you’ve never been a howling success in politics. You don’t give a damn for the people. All you care about is yourself.” Refreshing; today it’s a given that Continue reading

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (Three Stars)


Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor

(Three Stars)

“Gripping the edge of the console, I shouted, ‘No, no, no, no!’ and began to thump the panel. Strangely, this failed to work at all.

A fun time travel fantasy told from the point of view of a “disaster magnet” protagonist, who is too stupid to live. Unfortunately, it’s those around her who die. Fascinating to see what new ways she invents to endanger herself and everyone around her.

“Always nice to see someone who’s even more of a disaster magnet than I am. ‘Maybe we’ll cancel each other out,’ he whispered. ‘Like white noise.’ Fat chance!”

Perky, snide inner voice which adds perspective as well as humor. Clear, conversational prose propels the reader forward; that and curiosity of Continue reading

Book Review: Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews (Three Stars)


Book Review: Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews

(Three Stars)

“Sean Kozlov … groped the surface of the desk for a pen. The pen felt moist and cold. Suspiciously like a nose.”

Competent short science fiction about folks in a jam who find a creative—perhaps too creative—solution to an apparently insolvable problem. And the clock is ticking. (Nice, if inaccurate cover art.)

“There are only two ways to break down a third-order AI like Nanny: a chaotic protocol or a goal-oriented protocol.”

Creating a chimera on a newly-discovered—perhaps develop-able, perhaps left as a sanctuary—world would be irresponsible. But it may be the only solution. What could go wrong?

“…sheathed its body. A long silky man flared on its sinuous neck.”