1st in a series


The first novella in the Dispatcher series.

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Publication year: 2016

Format: Audio

Running time: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Narrator: Zachary Quinto

Tony Valdez is a dispatcher: he kills people legally and as humanely as possible. Because now 999 out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. Nobody knows how or why, but that’s the new reality. Everyone Tony has dispatched has come back. Tony is in a hospital, covering for another dispatcher when Detective Nora Langdon comes to see him. Turns out that one of the other Dispatchers had disappeared. In fact, the Dispatcher Tony is covering for.

Tony wants to find out what happened to his acquaintance. We find out about the less-than-legal jobs that some dispatchers take, for money of course. Most of the jobs aren’t too bad but then there are gigs for the mob, for example. I wondered why the mob or the other violent types would need dispatchers. Anyone could shoot someone and that someone would most likely come back. Maybe it’s that most likely. There’s still a small chance they won’t come back and the shooter would become a murderer. Dispatchers are trained for that possibility.

Tony used to do private gigs but he assures the detective that he doesn’t do them anymore. In fact, he tells the detective a lot about the less legal jobs.

The setting is very well developed. The one change reaches everywhere from wars to surgery.

This was an interesting, short mystery and I enjoyed it. Quinto is a surprisingly good reader.

The first book in the Checquy files.

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Publication year: 2012

Format: Audio

Running time: 17 hours, 46 minutes
Narrator: Susan Duerden

A young woman wakes up in a London park surrounded by bodies. She has no idea who she is and what happened. In her pocket is a letter that begins: ”Dear you, the body you are wearing used to be mine.” The letter is from her former self who knew that she would be attacked and left without memories. The letter gives her directions to a hotel and she goes there.

She finds out that she, or her previous persona, is a member of the Chequy, a secret organization that battles supernatural beings and events in Britain. However, even though she has a high rank, she’s an organizer, not a front-line fighter, even though she has a powerful supernatural ability. Many other members have supernatural abilities, as well. Someone from the organization has betrayed and attacked her. Oh and her name is Myfanwy Thomas.

The new Myfanwy is of course rather disoriented. At first, she wants nothing to do with the organization. But after she’s attacked, she realizes she has no choice but to pretend to be her former self and find out who betrayed her.

At first, I really enjoyed this book, the secret organization and people with superpowers. Every other chapter is a letter from the old Myfanwy teaching something about the world to the new person. The letters tell about Myfanwy’s own past, the organization’s history and members, as well as supernatural beings. Someone might find them infodumps but I mostly enjoyed them. However, near the end, I got impatient for the actual plot to get moving.

Every other chapter is from the new Myfanwy’s POV when she tries to navigate Checquy so that nobody notices that she’s lost her memory. She must rely on the letters to know who is who and what she’s supposed to be doing.

It was fascinating how different the two Myfanwys are. The older one (Thomas, as the new Myfanwy thinks of her) was a shy, timid woman, happy to work late nights and have no social life. Her talent is in administration. The new Myfanwy is more assertive and curious. She explores her supernatural abilities in a way that Thomas never did.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but the second half dragged a bit when the letters described events that had nothing to do with the current Myfanwy.

The first book in the Killday series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 11 hours, 34 minutes
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews

Set in the near future, people are using fobs instead of tablets or phones. Both governments and computer companies are designing artificial intelligences.

Lee is a computer scientist and works for the US government. She has designed robots, combots, that take the place of soldiers in combat. Now, she’s flying to Pakistan in a travel pod. She realizes that something’s strange with the combots, but Lee has not time to investigate. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and a robot kills a human. Lee is supposed to be the only one who can change the combots’ programming and she’s suspended.

Owen Royston is the founder and owner of Royston Dynamics. His former partner Victor suddenly arrives at the HQ with an offer that interests Owen a lot. Years ago, Victor betrayed Owen professionally, so Owen is reluctant to trust him again. Owen’s company makes nano assemblers that can make anything. For years, he’s wanted to build spacecraft, his space schooners, but hasn’t had the time or resources to do it. Now, he has a chance.

Mortimer is an AI who wants to break free from the company that created him. When he realizes that one other AI is already roaming the internet, he redoubles his efforts. He has watched the humans who have created him so that he can manipulate them. However, humans interest him and when he realizes that one AI is out to destroy humanity, he wants to prevent that.

Richard is a robotics engineer at a computer company. He starts to see visions of a child who claims to be god. This god warns Richard about AIs who will one day soon destroy humanity. Richard must prevent that by any means necessary.

The story has lots of high-level tech. Some people have nanotech inside them to heal illnesses, even mental illnesses. The travel pods apparently use anti-gravity, but the tech isn’t enough to lift vessels to space. However, most people still use cars and buses so the pods must be expensive.

The beginning is a bit slow with multiple subplots that don’t seem to connect. However, near the halfway point the pace picks up a lot and builds to an explosive ending.

Unfortunately, some of the relationships felt contrived. Lee has a troubled marriage and a preschool daughter. Her husband isn’t happy with how much Lee must be away because of her work. Lee isn’t happy about that, either, and thinks about resigning. Owen’s wife thinks that the space vessels are a waste of time and money, especially because Owen wants to give the space schooners away for free so that humanity isn’t tied to Earth’s fate. The AIs have very human motivations and ways to communicate. Of course, they can’t be too inhuman, either. Also, near the end, the tech was a bit inconsistent.

The book starts as a warning against AIs but ends as a disaster book. The ending was a bit too bloodthirsty for me although I can see it as a summer blockbuster movie. Otherwise, this was an entertaining read.

The first book in the Children of Time SF series.

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Publication year: 2015

Format: Audio

Running time: 16 hours, 31 minutes

Narrator: Mel Hudson

I haven’t read a book like this before. It has an alien perspective and a human perspective.

In the distant future, humans have engineered a nano-virus that can “elevate” an animal to a human level of intelligence and consciousness. The virus will also accelerate the process. Doctor Avrana Kern needs to spread human intelligence throughout the stars. She starts by seeding an alien planet with monkeys and the virus. Their evolution will, of course, take thousands of years, so she won’t be there to witness it. Instead, she will seed other planets. Unfortunately, Earth has a strong movement against tampering with other planets. One of those people infiltrated Kern’s mission and sabotages the launch of the monkeys to the planet. He also destroys Kern’s ship and the monkeys. Kern manages to upload her mind to the satellite she has left orbiting the alien planet. The virus spreads on the planet but doesn’t have Earthlike mammals to infect. Instead, it infests spiders.

A couple of thousand years later, humanity’s last ark ship the Gilgamesh is nearing Kern’s world. The ship simply doesn’t have the resources to maintain its cargo of thousands of cryosleeping humans infinitely. So, based on old, old records the ship’s captain, Guyen, has chosen this world as most likely to be able to support human life. He wakes up a classicist, Holsten, who has studied the old Earth. Guyen commands Holsten to translate the old Empire’s language and contact the satellite around the planet.

Meanwhile on the planet, the spiders have grown intelligent and are forming societies. We see through the eyes of Portia and her descendants how the spiders develop languages and customs. Eventually, they also form religion and organized warfare. They also keep ants as servants. Because of their different physiology, their language isn’t human-like and they command ants through scents.

The humans aboard the Gilgamesh start to fight among themselves (as usual). Holsten is in cryosleep for much of the time and each time when he wakes up, the situation has changed. However, I was far more interested in the spiders. The curious spiders with their scientific mindsets seemed more interesting than the power-hungry and increasingly savage humans who just love to fight each other. Of course, the two species are heading toward a confrontation.

The writing styles for the two factions are different. Holsten is the POV character in the human chapters which are written in a tight third POV. But the spider chapters are from an omniscient view. They have a spider POV character but the narrator also summarises the development of the spider society.

This was a very entertaining and compelling read. The final chapter continues the story but it’s not a cliffhanger.

The first book in the First Edition Library cozy mystery series.

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Publication year: 2019

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 23 minutes
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham

Hayley Burke has a new job as the curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling’s First Edition Society’s library in Bath. She also lives in the Middlebank House, a Georgian manor, where the library is kept. The late Lady Fowling’s former secretary, Glynis Woolgar also lives in the house. The women don’t get along because Hayley wants to modernize the Society so that it could be profitable. Lady Fowling wrote murder mysteries and the library is dedicated to first editions from the Golden Age of Mysteries. Hayley’s other problem is that she’s never even read a mystery: she’s an English Lit major. She’s planning to read one whenever she doesn’t have to fight with Mrs. Woolgar, advise her adult daughter, or travel to London to see her inventor boyfriend. Meanwhile, she avoids talking about mystery books as much as she can.

She’s arranged for a group of mystery fanfiction writers to meet weekly at the Middlebank House and pay for the privilege. Mrs. Woolgar doesn’t like it, of course, and complains about them all the time. But then one of the writers is found dead in the library. Initially, Hayley has no intention of investigating the crime but she needs to preserve the Society, not to mention her job, so soon she becomes an amateur sleuth.

This was a fun mystery set in a very bookish environment. The story has lots of twists but the ending didn’t really work for me. In addition to the mystery, Hayley juggles a long-distance relationship with her absent-minded boyfriend, giving motherly advice to her daughter, and she meets an annoying literature professor. The fanfiction writers are a very colorful lot. The story is a bit too long and sometimes focuses a bit too much on Hayley’s life than the mystery. Otherwise, it was quite entertaining.

The first book in the SF series Mickey7.

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Publication year: 2020

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 15 minutes
Narrator: John Pirhalla, Katherine Chin

Mickey7 is an Expendable, an employee whose consciousness is downloaded to a new clone body after he dies. So, he does all the most dangerous jobs and especially those where he is sure to be killed. There can only be one version of an Expendable at a time. Also, it’s easier to grow a new body than replace an expensive drone or other equipment, so that’s why people who have space-age technology use expendable humans.

He and the rest of the crew are colonists on Niflheim, a planet that was supposed to be able to support life easily. When the ship arrived, they saw that the planet was ice and snow. It also has dangerous animals which were dubbed creepers. The colony is struggling and resources are low.

On a routine mission, Mickey7 falls down a ravine and is left for dead. That doesn’t surprise him. However, he manages to return to the base, and to his astonishment and dismay, Mickey8 is already in his bed.

This was a fun and quick romp. Every other chapter is present day and the other chapters are either from Mickey’s past or he tells us some significant piece of history. The book is about space colonization and cloning.

Mickey has a girlfriend but only one close friend on the base. The commander is a religious man who thinks that cloning is an abomination, so he uses any excuse to punish Mickey. While the parts of the story are pretty dark, the overall tone is light and humorous.

The first book in Legendborn YA fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2020

Format: Audio

Running time: 18 hours, 54 minutes
Narrator: Joniece Abbott-Pratt

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Bree Matthews lost her mother a few months ago and she can’t get over it. She hates living in a house where everything reminds her of her mother. She has applied to a residential program for bright high schoolers at a university and both she and her best friend Alice are accepted. Despite her father’s misgivings, Bree and Alice attend.

But during the first night, Bree and Alice participate in a party that is outside the campus. Bree sees something unexpected: a supernatural creature attacking. Some of the other students use bows and arrows and swords to take it down. Bree hides.

This was an entertaining read and a new twist on the King Arthur legend. It has the descendants of various knights who belong to a secret order. It also points out that all the descendants and members are white. Some of them have been slave owners. And Bree is black.

The main themes of the book are grief and racism. Bree’s grief over her mother was beautifully and realistically described. Her reactions, too. When she realizes that she might not have died in a simple car accident, she won’t allow anything to stop her from finding out what really happened. She’s brave and determined and also wants to protect her friends and dad. She does have flaws, as well. Also, she’s only 16.

While racism is shown through some people’s actions and words, there are also heartbreaking scenes where Bree realizes that she always feels out of place. For example, because buildings and places aren’t for her (race) even though most likely black workmen (or slaves) have built them, but for white people. Or because she doesn’t know her family history. There are also a couple of flashbacks to her foremothers who were slaves.

Themes are more important than the plot. So the plot has a leisurely pace.

Despite the strong themes, the story succumbs to some YA tropes. The love interests and the love triangle. I didn’t care for the triangle. I kind of like the love interests as characters, though.

Bree doesn’t know anything about the magic at the start of the book. When people tell her about it, there are quite a few info dumps, which I didn’t mind. The Arthurian stuff comes up later, so I don’t want to spoil it. I enjoyed most of it but was dubious about some things.

The first book in the Iron Widow YA science fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 394

Hundreds of years ago, the alien Hunduns tried to conquer the Earth. Now, giant robots made from the husks of the aliens defend the remaining humans. Each robot has a psychically linked team of two people: the main pilot, a boy, and his concubine pilot, a girl. The girl dies almost every time. The boy pilots are media superstars.

Wu Zetian is an 18-year-old woman whose older sister became a concubine pilot and died a few months ago. But she didn’t die in battle. Zetian is convinced that the pilot her sister was supposed to be paired with, killed her and got away with it. She’s going to get revenge.

So, she makes herself beautiful by getting rid of her unibrow and then volunteers for the concubine program. She knows that she’s going to die, but she wants to kill the male pilot first. When her spiritual energy which powers the mechas, qi, is tested, she gets a much higher rating than most people. So, she is paired with the pilot she thinks is the murderer. But she ends up killing him in their linked minds and survives, which is extremely rare. Now, the military wants to control her and pairs her with a boy pilot who murdered his own family.

The world is harsh and even more harshly patriarchal. Everyone seems to think that it’s ok to sacrifice girls so that boys can pilot the big mechas against aliens. However, the boy pilots rarely survive past the age of 25 while the girls usually die in their first battle. Society is very much influenced by the old Chinese traditions where girls aren’t valued. Also, the old custom of foot binding has been revived, at least in some cultures. When Zetian was five, her grandmother crushed and bound Zetian’s feet, so it is difficult for Zetian to even walk. Zetian’s family wants her to become a pilot because when she dies, her family gets paid and Zetian’s brother can study. So, Zetian doesn’t like her family.

The plot is fast-paced with lots of fight scenes between the giant mechas and some between people. Unfortunately, that left the characters rather shallow. I would have also liked more world-building and more information about the Hunduns. Also, the other female characters didn’t seem to see the problems in the society or they were just trying to get by. Of course, the novel is in the first person from Zetian’s POV.

Zetian is a very angry character and the more she finds out, the angrier she becomes. She doesn’t dwell on any warm memories with her sister, but instead remembers her father’s belittling words and her mother’s advice to obey and confirm. Her only warm memories are with Gao Yizhi, a rich city boy, whom Zetian met accidentally. They’re in love but they can’t marry. Zetian leaves him to get her revenge on the boy pilot. She’s suspicious of every male character, quite rightly. When she gets power, she uses it ruthlessly. Especially in the end.

The first book in a historical fantasy series the Radient Emperor set in China in the 14th century.

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Publication year: 2021

Publisher: TOR

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 416

The story covers years 1345 to 1356 and is broken into three parts.

The first part follows our protagonist, a nameless second daughter of a destitute Zhu family. Almost all of her family has died of hunger, just she and her brother, and their father are left. Her brother and father call her a “useless girl”. She has learned to fend for herself, hunting with traps and hiding part of what she catches. Otherwise, she would have starved to death, too.

One day, the father takes the children to a fortune-teller. The old man prophesies that her brother, Zhu Chongba, is destined for greatness. The father and brother are happy and determined to survive. But for the girl, the fortune-teller says just ”Nothing”. The usual fate of girls in China.

But the girl is also determined to survive. A group of bandits robs them, but they don’t have much. So, the cruel men kick the father to death and the brother also dies the next day. The girl buries them, wondering why her brother has died when he was destined for greatness. She realizes that she can take up her brother’s name and greatness for herself. She remembers that her father arranged for the brother to go to a monastery. And so she walks to the monastery and sits outside for days until the abbot takes pity on her and lets her in.

She’s two years younger than the other novices and can’t read. She also has to keep her sex a secret. But she’s determined to succeed.

The second part introduces a handful of new POV characters. General Ouyang comes from the conquered Nanren people but he serves the Mongol Emperor who rules China with an iron fist. Ouyang’s father and the rest of the family were executed as traitors and Ouyang were the only one to survive. He was made a eunuch and a slave. Still, he clawed his way up, even though almost everyone despises him. He has, of course, plans of his own.

Ma Xiuyuing is the beautiful daughter of the rebel Red Turbans’ general. Recently he died in battle. Ma is betrothed to a young and foolishly arrogant rebel general. She feels that she has no control over her life. She’s a more gentle character than any of the rest. The other POV characters include a high-born Mongol man and a young thief who joins the rebels out of self-preservation.

The book has a couple of minor fantasy elements but you can almost read it as alternate history.

Zhu and Ouyang are mirrors of each other. They both have a destiny that they’re striving for ruthlessly. However, Zhu takes on her brother’s promised greatness to escape her fate of nothingness. She thinks that she has deluded heaven into believing she is her brother and she must do everything just like her brother would have. On the other hand, Ouyang has infiltrated his enemies to avenge his family. Except that he has grown to love his former master, lord Esen. Esen in turn thinks Ouyang as his best and most trusted friend. Ouyang is competent, of course, but must constantly endure the Mongols’ disdain both for being a eunuch and a Nanren.

Zhu and Ma are also mirrors of each other, as women. Ma has no desires of her own and hasn’t even realized she could have them. Zhu has a very strong desire and bends herself and the people around her to her will.

This society is misogynistic. It devalues women and deforms them and puts them in a tiny little box of either a dutiful, chaste daughter or a dutiful wife. Women do most of the domestic work and are still called useless to their faces. But I don’t think the narrative is misogynistic. While Zhu is clearly the exception who constantly hides her femininity, there are a couple of rather powerful women we see briefly. Ouyang despises women. The society also elevates warriors above other men. Without bureaucrats, the Emperor couldn’t rule but they are also constantly put down, as we see with lord Esen’s brother who is a bitter disappointment to their father.

This book certainly has an epic scope, with a large cast of characters and spanning decades. However, there aren’t many detailed battle descriptions. It’s far more focused on intrigue. The rebel Red Turbans have few leaders but they’re constantly fighting amongst themselves. The men under the Emperor are also undercutting each other.

The story was entertaining, if on the grim side. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger but Zhu’s journey hasn’t reached the end.

The first book in the fantasy series the Book of Dust.

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Publishing year: 2017

Format: Print

Finnish publisher: Otava

Page count: 687

Finnish translator: Helene Butzow

This series is a prequel to the His Dark Materials series.

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead’s parents run an inn called the Trout in Oxford. He’s a studious boy who likes to help people both in the inn and out of it. He’s also very observant. When three strange men come to the inn and ask Malcolm about a baby who is in the care of the local nunnery, he thinks it’s very strange. He hasn’t heard about it and tells them so. Later, when he’s on the Thames in his canoe, La Belle Sauvage, he sees a man looking for something. His daemon Asta thinks she saw where the man dropped the item. But before they can help the man, he’s arrested. Malcolm and Asta go and retrieve the item: a wooden acorn. They manage to open it and find inside a secret message. But they don’t know where to take it, so they keep it.

Later, when Malcolm goes to the monastery, he asks about a baby and much to his surprise, a nun tells him that they are caring for a baby. She’s called Lyra and nobody is supposed to know that she’s there.

The first half of the book is building tension when Malcolm slowly realizes the depth of the secrets he has stumbled upon. We also get to know Dr. Hannah Relf who interprets the alethiometer at Oxford University. She’s also part of a conspiracy against the Magisterium, the religious organization that wants to control the world. We also meet some other conspirators. When the action starts to roll in the second half of the book, everything is in place. Well, mostly. The second half has scenes and magic that felt very random to me and they weren’t explained. Also, compared to the first half where the only magic are the daimons, the second part seems disjointed. Also, the main bad guy, Bonneville, seemed very strange.

Malcolm can feel quite a passive character who only reacts to events, but he’s just 11 and doesn’t know much about the larger plots. This can frustrate readers who are expecting a more Lyra-like main character. For the first half, Malcolm runs errands, spies for Hannah, and just talks with people building tension for the rest of the book and series.

It’s been a couple of decades since I read His Dark Materials series but I recently watched the first season of the TV show so I remember it well. I loved the daemons, again. Malcolm’s Asta still changes form at will and the adults have stable daimons who reveal a lot about their personality.

Some characters from the previous series appear. However, we already know what happens to Lyra so there’s no tension about what ultimately happens to her. Of course, I don’t read books to find out how the main characters will die, so this didn’t really bother me. Overall, I enjoyed this book and it’s a fine beginning to a new series. I just hope Pullman has some explanation for the random things that happened.

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