2019 pick&mix


The third novella in the SF Murderbot Diaries series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 150

After the events of the previous novella, “Artificial Condition”, Murderbot (SecUnit) as it calls itself, is returning to the planet where the huge company GrayCris, which owned SecUnit, first attacked the scientists. SecUnit is trying to get evidence about GrayCris’ wrongdoings. However, to get to the planet where it all started, SecUnit must travel with humans. It poses as a security consultant, an augmented human. Unfortunately, it also is called in when the humans do something stupid, which is too often.

After the emotionally harrowing ride with the humans and another ride with just a bot controlled transport, where it can concentrate on what it loves the most: watching entertainment, it arrives on the station orbiting the planet. The station is supposed to be abandoned but an independent research team is just arriving. SecUnit decides to hide from them, which isn’t very hard. However, the team has with them a bot, called Miki. SecUnit talks with Miki through a feed and so it keep it’s true nature, as a rogue Security Unit, hidden from Miki. However, things go drastically wrong.

I really enjoyed this installment, too. SecUnit is much the same, making sarcastic comments (to itself) and trying to evade dealing with humans. But it now sees how Miki is treated. As a SecUnit, it has been always treated as a thing, either ignored or feared. But Miki is treated very differently and Miki’s personality is quite different from SecUnit’s. Miki is trusting, almost naive (or that’s how SecUnit sees it). We don’t know if that’s the result of original programming or treatment: we don’t know how long Miki has been with these humans or if it has been treated differently in the past. SecUnit makes a very interesting decision at the end so I can hard wait to get my hands on the next book.

Oh, yes and I quite enjoyed the plot of humans and bots running around scared on a supposedly empty space station with a couple of twists thrown in.

The first book in the Daevabad fantasy trilogy inspired by Middle-Eastern folklore.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 19 hours 36 minute
Narrator: Soneela Nankani

Nahri is a young street hustler. She poses as a soothsayer and a healer who can summon and banish spirits. But it’s all just for show; she doesn’t believe it. She lives in 18th century Cairo which has been invaded by the Franks who fight Turks over the ownership of Egypt whose people they despise. She’s an orphan; her parents died when she was young, leaving nothing. She speaks many languages and dreams of being a real doctor.

But when she performs a mock-summoning, something very strange happens: she summons a real daeva, a powerful spirit. That act also brings strange and strong enemies who can even summon the dead. Nahri is forced to trust Dara, the daeva, who is furious at her and put her down all the time. But Dara also says that he knows what Nahri is, so she’s intrigued almost despite herself. However, Dara says that the only place were Nahri can be safe is Daevabad, the city of the daeva. Despite her protests, he essentially kidnaps her, and takes her to a wild flying carpet ride.

The other POV character is Prince Alizayd, or Ali. He’s the younger son of Daevabad’s king. He’s also a djinn, a magical being, like all his family and most of the people who live in the city and country. He’s lived and grown up in the military and so has lived quite a sheltered life. He’s aware, of course, of the injustices in the city and has tried to help in his own way. The shafits are people who are half-human and the djinn oppress them mercilessly: they can’t leave but they also can’t work. Ali is trying to help them but because of his family, he must conceal himself. But then things go terribly wrong and in the end, Ali is summoned to live in the palace.

This is a very ambitious work with very complex world-building. The history of this world is woven with history, especially Islamic history. The djinns are divided into lots of fractions and races, which complicated the reading. Apparently, the print book has a glossary but they audio doesn’t. The writer also uses occasional Arabic words for clothing. This isn’t a book you can just breeze through. However, this also means that much of the book is spent exploring these cultures and tensions.

Ali and Nahri are very distinct from each other; one might call them even opposites at the start. Ali is a very religious young man and a dutiful son to the king. He’s lived almost monastic life and scorns the pleasures his station would give him. Nahri has lived on the street almost all her life. She hasn’t had anything that Ali takes for granted. Yet, they’re both bright, curious people. They’re also loyal and want good for other people. Nahri is a very pragmatic person while Ali is an idealist.

Dara is a very interesting character. He’s very old and has spent centuries as a slave, so his outlook is quite different from the others.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book and the complexities of the djinns. However, I didn’t care for the start of a romance because I didn’t see at all (except that as a case of Stockholm syndrome). For me, there was also the disconnect between Islamic religion being younger than some of the characters who are supposedly following it. The stories about Djinn are also older than that religion. Devas are divine, other-worldly beings from Hinduism and Buddhism.

The ending leaves everything wide open. I already have the second book.

The fifth book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: Pan books
Page count: 418

After stealing a book from world where she was first imprisoned for witchcraft and then escaping the dungeons, Irene is expecting a quiet evening with her former apprentice Kai and Peregrine Vale, the greatest detective in this pseudo-Victorian alternate world. But another Librarian has disturbing news and needs Vale’s skills. A very high-ranking dragon has been murdered and it happened at the worst possible place and time. The fundamental forces of this series’ universe, the dragons of order and the Fae of chaos, are trying to get together a peace treaty. Or at least some of them are. There are factions on both sides who would prefer that not to happen or possibly even a full scale war between them. So, the murder investigation is going to be a very delicate matter, involving high-born Fae and dragons who both have very clear ideas about their own importance. Luckily, neither side has any problems with working with a woman. That prejudice is limited to the place, which is 1890s Paris in as neutral a world as could be found. A world which is in balance between chaos and order.

The Library is an intermediary between the two sides and Irene is drafted into the investigation as the “neutral party”. Joining her will be Vale as the investigator and one dragon and one Fae. Naturally, neither wants their own side to be the culprit. To Irene’s horror, she finds a clue which could mean a Librarian is the murderer. A lot of Librarians are on the spot, working with the dragons and the Fae. But can Irene trust even her own superiors?

Like all of the other books in this series, Mortal Word is highly entertaining. However, the focus is on the investigation rather than action, so it feels a bit different from the previous books in the series. Irene has been dreaming of investigating a murder mystery with the world’s greatest detective and at first she’s thrilled but as problems pile up, she finds out that it’s not as fun as she expected it to be.

In the previous book, the Lost Plot, we got to know a bit more about the dragon society and that knowledge is used here. We also get to know more about both the Fae and the dragon society, especially about the people and customs at the very top. Irene and Kai’s relationship changed at the end of the last book and so Kai isn’t here to smooth things out between Irene and the dragons. In fact, Kai isn’t seen much in the book.

Instead, we get Vale and the two representatives. The dragon representative in the investigative team is Mu Dan, a judge-investigator whose position is quite rare in the dragon society because she’s independent rather than serving her family and liege lord. Unfortunately, it also means that she doesn’t have any powerful patrons and so she’s, well, expendable if need be. She’s sensible and practical, for the most part. The Fae representative was a hoot but I won’t spoil it here.

So, the team is very entertaining. Because of the peace talks, the book has a lot of characters but most of them are distinctive enough that I had no trouble telling them apart. Also, the dragons all have Chinese names, and so do their human servants. I also really enjoyed the most powerful Fae who are each a archetype or a stereotype and can compel people to respond to them as if they’re part of the same story.

Irene is put into a very dangerous position and this time she needs to be politically savvy. She also doesn’t know whom she can trust. Keeping Kai away reinforce her sense of being alone.

I think the Mortal Word can be read without reading the series first, but you get the most out of it by starting with the Invisible Library.

The first book in romantic urban fantasy series, the Gale women.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours 1 minute
Narrator: Teri Clark Linden

Allie Gale was born to the Gale family and so to magic, as well. The numerous women in the Gale family are strong with magic and so are the few men. The Gales tend to have 4 or 5 girls for every male child. But Allie doesn’t have any sisters. Instead, she has just one older brother and the family is afraid that he’s so strong with magic that he’ll go rogue. Allie loves her brother David and doesn’t believe that her aunts and nieces are right.

But her more immediate problem is that she’s unemployed, had to move back in with her parents, and Michael, the man she thought would be spend the rest of her life with, has gone off his boyfriend. She’s depressed and aimless in her life. Then she receives a letter from her grandmother, who has a junk shop in Calgary. Apparently her grandmother has died and given Allie the shop. Allie is shocked but none of the older women believe that her Gran is really dead. Allie isn’t thrilled about it but she goes to Calgary to check the place out. Mysterious things are happening and one of them is a gorgeous but snoopy reporter who wants to know all about Allie’s grandmother.

Soon, she’s joined by her cousin Charlie who has wild magic and is a musician. She’s also joined by Michael who is still worried about her… and caught his boyfriend cheating on him.

This was mostly a fun book. It’s very much a romance: Allie and Graham’s relationship is the main thing. Also, it’s about dragons. It’s also about familial love, family sticking together, no matter what (well, mostly).

Yet on have mixed feeling about it because the Gale family’s seriously strange. Only people in the Gale family have magic and so they want to keep the talent in the family as much as possible. Males make the choice of their wife among cousins… and before they choose, they sleep around with everyone. The woman can make a male change their mind and do so. In fact, the aunts are unhappy with Allie because she didn’t change Michael’s mind. However, that would have changed him to a different person and Allie didn’t want to do that.

Women also get more powerful when they age. On the other hand, they need a male spouse to rise to the “second circle” (get more powerful). They’re also expected to have a lot of children. And yet, the family has at least one nuclear family where the women are the spouses (to each other) and share a man. So, not so heterocentric after all.

The actual magic is mostly done with low-key charms, except when, er, dragons are involved. Allie’s cousin Charlie has wild talent which allows her to travel through woods. However, some the magic isn’t really defined much.

I liked Allie and Charlie. I didn’t mind Allie and Graham’s romance. I loved the humor and the pop culture references made be giggle. Still, the Gale family dynamic makes me uncomfortable. But I guess I’ll continue with the series.

The third book in the Star Trek: TNG Q-Continuum trilogy. Also ST:TNG book number 49.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 270

Riker has decided to take the Enterprise-E inside the Galactic barrier because the Calamarain’s attack is tearing the ship apart and he thinks that it’s the only place where they wouldn’t follow. However, this puts all the telepathic people aboard the ship in danger, including his imzadi Deanna Troi and the Betazoid scientist Lem Faal and his two young children. Riker decides to put the Betazoids to coma for their safety. However, Faal is obsessed with his experiments and refuses to end them. In fact, he’s doing everything he can to start the wormhole he created to punch through the barrier. He also cruelly ignores the needs and fears of his kids. However, he’s apparently under the influence of otherworldly power.

Meanwhile, Q has kidnapped captain Picard and led him through Q’s own history, when Q was quite a bit younger and under the influence of a murderous otherworldly being calling himself 0. Eventually Picard witnesses how the Q-Continuum is at war with 0 and his four nefarious minions, with young Q caught in the middle. Picard realizes that if the Enterprise-E goes through the galactic barrier, they might unleash the horrors of the malicious 0 once again.

In this final book, the different story lines come together for an exciting and enjoyable ending.

I ended up liking this last book the best, perhaps because the TNG crew themselves had a larger part to play than in the previous books. The book, like the whole trilogy, had quite a lot of references to classic Trek episodes, as well as TNG and DS9 episodes. I had fun revisit old friends, even though Q was far too human for my tastes.

The second book in the Star Trek: TNG Q-Continuum trilogy. Also ST:TNG book number 48.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 270

Enterprise-E is on a mission to investigate a way to go through the galactic barrier using a wormhole technology. However, the gaseous alien species called the Calamarain have attacked, enveloping the starship and trying to get through the shields. The shields are failing and Commander Riker is desperately looking for a way to save the ship and crew. Meanwhile, Professor Lem Faal, who came up with the wormhole technology, is equally desperate to try his technique. He’s even ignoring his young children who are on board with him. His son especially is starting to really resent him.

Q has abducted Captain Picard and is showing him certain points in Q’s own history. Specially, how much younger Q has fallen in with a malevolent being calling himself 0. 0 and his equally malevolent comrades talk about testing developing species and then torment entire empires.

The majority of the book follows the Tkon Empire which was a vast star spanning empire long before Federation. We get scenes from different key people around the empire, such as the empress. They’re a humanoid species and not very different from humans. 0’s companions are various entities from the original Trek. We also get to see where Calamarain’s original hatred from Q came from (as seen in the episode “Q who”). Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for the plight of the Tkon Empire, terrible as it was.

Q’s mate and child are also a significant part of the book.

This is clearly a second book in the series when stakes are raised and nothing is resolved.

A short story and novella collection about exploring space, colonizing the universe, and first contact.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 28 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Tim Campbell, James Anderson Foster, Mary Robinette Kowal, Karen Cass, and James Langon

This was a fine collection and I liked most of the stories. However, the vast majority of these stories are about the relationships between the humans who are in space, rather than first contact or colonization. Some of them also explore the world that the explorers left behind far more than what they encounter.

”A Jar of Godwill” by Tobias S. Buckell: The gedda are an alien race whose economics are based on patents rights on technology. Since they’ve previously developed tech that the humans use, they own the patents. Alex is a professional friend. A genetically engineered human (a hermaphrodite) whose job is to, essentially, keep humans sane in the vastness of space with empathy and touch (not necessarily sex). However, Alex’s account is overdrawn and his only chance is to take a job in an approaching space ship full of scientists. Alex’s job is to befriend a drone, another engineered human who is part of a hive mind but who is now far away from the hive.

In “Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu, a giant asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. Some governments have tried to build space ships. The narrator was a child in Japan and we see in flashbacks how the Japanese reacted. In the now of the story, he’s aboard the ship, working with others when a disaster occurs.

”Rescue Mission” by Jack Skillingstead: Michael and Natalie had a brief affair. Since they’re both single adults, that shouldn’t have been a problem. However, they’re assigned to the same mission of exploring a new planet. They’re the only crew. Things get really weird down there.

“Shiva in Shadow” by Nancy Kress is a story I’ve listened before in the collection Starship Vectors.

This story takes place in a deep space exploration ship the Kepler which has just three people; the Nurturer Captain Tirzah and two scientists Kane and Ajit. Tirzah’s duty is to keep the scientists focused on their work and working together. In order to do that, she has to constantly monitor them and she also has sex with both. They are exploring a black hole and to get data, the ship launches a probe which will send the data back to the Kepler. The probe has uploads of Tirzah, Kane, and Ajit. The story alternates between the crew aboard the ship and the probe.

In “Slow Life” by Michael Swanwick, three scientists explore the surface of Titan, especially it’s nitrogen/methane sea. Lizzie O’Brien enjoys her work immensely when she’s ballooning around inside her armored exploration suit, even when she must sleep inside it. But then her dreams turn weird.

In “Three Bodies at Mitanni” by Seth Dickinson humanity has sent seed ships into space. Much later, they have chosen three people who have been sent to evaluate the human colonies which have sprang from the ships. If the colonies might offer existential threat to humanity, they must be destroyed.

Anja-Hera, Tien, and the POV character have complex relationships and they must vote if the colonies will survive or if they will be destroyed.

“The Deeps of the Sky” by Elizabeth Bear: Stormchasers are space miners; they mine a gas giant in fragile little skiffs. When one of them notices an alien ship in trouble, he must decide if helping it is worth losing his potential mating rights with the Mothergrave.

I’m a fan of Rusch’s Diving universe so I’m very familiar with the next story, “Diving into the Wreck” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Boss has found an old space ship. It’s possibly several thousand years old. She and her crew of four are “diving” into the airless ship without knowing what they’ll find. They take a lot of precautions which might not be enough.

“The Voyage Out” by Gwyneth Jones: Ruth is a criminal condemned to death because she dared to speak out against the government, United States of Earth. She and more than a hundred other people are aboard a spaceship which is heading toward a habitable planet. They are going to be put down and start a colony without a possibility of coming back. None of the people are violent criminals but one young girl seems especially innocent.

This story feels like it could be a beginning of novel about the colony.

“The Symphony of Ice and Dust” by Julie Nováková: Kieran and Manuel are aboard Orpheus, looking for material for their next great symphony. On the planet Sedna, they find the remains of the previous expedition, 1100 years go.

“Twenty Lights to the ‘Land of Snow'” by Michael Bishop: 990 Tibetian Buddhists, and a group of others, have accompanied their Dalai Lama to exile to another planet. The Kalachakra is still on its way. Two young people are competing for the position of the next Dalai Lama: Jetson is Tibetian teenager and Greta Bryn is young Western woman. The story is seen through computer logs by Greta.

“The Firewall and the Door” by Sean McMullen: Argo is the only unmanned space probe sent about 30 years ago. Its information is sent directly to everyone’s living room. Its crew is on Earth and runs the drone from there. The main character is a magistrate, specializing in space law. When things go very wrong on Argo, he’s called in. In this world, stopping waste is the most important thing and no other spacecraft were ever built because it would have been too wasteful.

“Permanent Fatal Errors” by Jay Lake: the spaceship has just seven people but they’re all heavily modified: one can even withstand vacuum without a spacecraft. They’re also all immortal. When they find out something unexpected, they start to turn against each other.

“Gypsy” by Carter Sholz: When the US (or is that world?) economy tanked, Sofi was one of the people who had to take any job she could to survive. Her job isn’t terrible but in the end it can’t even support her and she must move to the company barracks. The world is full of hate and distrust. Governments and companies try to control everything and everyone. However, Sofi finds out that a group of people have built a spaceship and they’re going to escape the oppressive Earth. They’re heading to Alpha Centuri which should have a habitable planet. Sofi joins the crew happily. She should have spent the journey in hibernation but something goes wrong and she’s woken just two years into the journey. We also get to know Roger who came up with this project, called Gypsy, and many of the other people involved in and living in this hopeless world.

“Sailing the Antarsa” by Vandana Singh: Mayha is from the planet Dara, which was inhabited a few centuries ago. When the council of kinhouses decides to send someone to find out what happened to people who had left Dara a few generations ago, Mayha in the one who is chosen to go. Alone. She’s put in cryosleep but something happens and she’s woken too soon. She reminisces about her life in peaceful Dara.

“The Mind is Its Own Place” Carrie Vaughn: Mitchel is one of the pilots on starship Francis Drake. But then Mitchel wakes up in the neurological ward without memories of what happened. He’s told that he has a disease which affects a lot of pilots but he can’t accept that.

“The Wreck of the Godspeed” James Patrick Kelly: Adele volunteers to go aboard a starship which is looking for new planets to colonize. It has been doing that for a couple of thousand years, with changing crew but the same AI.

“Seeing” Genevieve Valentine: Marika is a scientist and one of the crew of three who are going to travel to Gliese 581. However, something goes terribly wrong.

“Traveling into Nothing” An Owomoyela: Kiu Alee is waiting to die. She was sentenced to death because she’s a murderer. Instead, an alien gives her a chance to live, if she becomes the alien’s pilot. The catch is that it’s a one-way trip to the alien planet. However, Kiu agrees and then finds out that she must deal with a neural interface she doesn’t like.

“Glory” Greg Egan: Two xenomathematicans travel to another star where there are two alien nations which are hostile to each other. The aliens know that they’re not alone in the universe because they have a founding culture which they think is actually alien. However, they’ve never seen or heard from actual aliens before. The (human) mathematicians are interested in that root culture and the mathematics that they came up with. However, that culture died out three thousand years ago so the two must rely on the two nation’s archaeology. The scientists have bodies which look and function like the aliens. Each scientist goes to one nation to encourage them to dig up more of those artifacts. The aliens have very interesting different biology but behave like, well, like USA and Soviet Union at the height of their paranoia.

“The Island” Peter Watts: In the far future, humans have left Earth. This group is traveling very long distances in space to explore. The crew is in deep sleep and only revived when necessary. When the ship encounter something new, it wakes up one of the humans from a very long sleep. To her surprise, she’s confronted by a boy she doesn’t know. He’s build partly from her genes so she’s unexpectedly a mother which doesn’t please her. The boy hasn’t been around humans and the ship’s AI, the Chimp, has been making independent decisions for very long.

“Gypsy” is mostly about the horrible, dystopian world the whole Earth has become. The next story, “Sailing the Antarsea”, is about the wonderful world of Dara that our explorer has left behind and the secrets it might yet contain. It was very interesting to read them one after the other. Many of the stories have spacecrafts where most of the crew is in cryosleep but one is awakened prematurely to deal with a threat. It’s interesting that the stories were still quite different.

I really liked the first story and I’m hoping Buckell will write more in that universe. Bear’s story was very interestingly different from the others and I liked it a lot, too. The same with Swanwick’s story

Of course, Rusch’s novella was also a favorite but I’ve already read the whole series.

While I was somewhat frustrated with some of the stories, overall I enjoyed the collection. The narrators were good and Kowal was very good, as usual

« Previous PageNext Page »