science fantasy

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


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.

A stand-alone science fantasy book.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Tor

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 372

Shizuka Satomi is a legendary violin teacher who made a deal with a demon to deliver seven souls to Hell and she’s trained six exceptional musicians and delivered them to Hell. She has a year to get the seventh, but she hasn’t found a suitable student. Until she hears Katrina play in the park. Shizuka wants to train her, but Katrina doesn’t trust Shizuka.

Katrina Nguyen is a young transwoman on the run from her abusive father. Her only real passion is the violin. Her father has forbidden it because “it going to make her a faggot”. She has practiced in secret. She thinks she can stay with her friend Evan, whom she hasn’t seen in two years. Once she meets him, she realizes he has changed. Evan suggests she take up sex work to help with the rent. Katrina thinks she has no choice and does so. On the day she arrives in Los Angeles, she plays her violin in the park and Shizuka hears her. Shizuka offers to train her, but Katrina thinks she can’t be serious and wants just sex.

However, when Evan’s roommates take Katrina’s violin and pawn it, she’s had enough and leaves. In desperation, she goes to Shizuka’s place. Shizuka takes her as a student, but Katrina is terrified that Shizuka will reject her when she realizes Katrina is trans.

Meanwhile, the local Starrgate Donut is actually a home to interstellar alien refugees, who have human disguises. Lan Tran and her family/crew have fled from the Endplague and are building a stargate. Lan’s almost adult son, 12-year-old twins, a hologram daughter, and aunt are the crew. They analyzed the donuts and are making them with their replicator. When Shizuka steps into the donut shop, Lan and Shizuka are immediately attracted to each other. Shizuka doesn’t have time for a crush, and Lan has her hands full keeping her crew safe. Yet, they see each other more and more often.

Later in the book, there’s a subplot with Lucy Matia, who comes from a long line of violin repairers. But that work is not for girls or women. Lucy’s brothers hated the job and left after their father died. Lucy is now continuing as best she can, but she knows that as a woman she can never be equal to her father or grandfather, be a master. Then one day Shizuka asks her to repair Katrina’s violin.

The writing is lush and detailed, making me, at least, crave donuts and the various foods the characters eat. The descriptions of the music are also wonderful. Mostly, the tone is kind and soothing and the other main characters accept Katrina easily. When other people hurt Katrina through words or actions, it’s a jarring contrast, which is no doubt the point. There’s also a minor character who cuts herself.

Katrina is always on her guard and the awful comments people have said to her, especially his father’s words, are often playing in her mind. She thinks she’s worthless. Shizuka is very confident, knowledgeable and skillful but she’s also a teacher, trying to be sensitive to her student’s needs. However, she’s used to teaching divas and Katrina is very different. Lan just wants her family to be safe. Lucy is trying to keep the family business going and tries to coax her adult son to learn the family trade.

The pace of the book is leisurely, focused very much on the characters. However, there are some minor characters we only glimpse for a little while and their stories don’t get any resolution. Also, Aoki’s changes viewpoints almost on every page, sometimes in the middle of conversation. The style was a bit difficult at first, but I grew used to it. It feels choppy, especially in the beginning.

Still, this was an entertaining read with very interesting characters.

The second book in the science fantasy Daedalus series.


Publication year: 2014

Format: Audio

Running time: 13 hours, 9 minutes
Narrator: Bernard Setaro Clark, Kristin Kaibli

Publisher: Night Shade

In 2134, Lieutenant Commander Shaila Jain is living her dream: she’s the second in command in the survey ship Armstrong, the first crewed mission to Saturn. It’s been two years since “the Daedalus Incident”, the previous book. She and her geologist boyfriend Stephane Durand are still wondering how the rift between the two worlds happened. But they have their own problems. When the Armstrong nears Enceladus, they pick up a Chinese transmission. It seems that the Chinese have sent their own ship to Saturn first.

Meanwhile, Jain’s former commander General Maria Diaz heads the new agency, Daedalus, that investigates crossing into parallel universes. Her people find out that unexplained Cherenkov radiation emissions are coming from Mexico and Egypt. Diaz grabs a couple of underlings and heads to Egypt to investigate.

In 1798, 19 years have gone by since the first book. Thomas Weatherby is now the captain of the HMS Fortitude, a sailing ship that can also travel between planets using alchemy. The British and the French are at war. Weatherby is ordered to escort captured French ships from Egypt to England. However, when they’re crossing the Mediterranian, one of the prizes mutinies and jumps to space. The ship shouldn’t have been able to do that because all alchemical materials should have been confiscated. Also, Weatherby’s second in command and a group of English soldiers are onboard. Of course, Weatherby orders the Fortitude to follow. The chase will take him to Saturn and to the mysterious aliens, the Xan.

The former Royal Navy alchemist Andrew Finch is in Egypt, teaching alchemy to the locals. He’s also on good terms with the local French and takes the opportunity to spy on them. He tries to keep away from politics and is far more concerned with the dangerous alchemy that the French are trying to get access to.

This time we have four POV characters and four different, if linked, missions. For the most part, this worked well but the pacing is, of course, slower than in the first book. This time, too, we get two pretty different worlds. 2134 is straight-up science fiction while 1798 has working alchemical magic. It’s also interesting that both female (and POC) POV characters are in the future timeline while both male POV characters are in the past and white. Finch is on good terms with the Egyptians. He’s trying to understand their culture and customs, and respect them, unlike the French.

I enjoyed this mash-up as much as the first book. The story is very entertaining and brings back all of the major cast from the previous book. The story has a couple of twists and turns I didn’t see coming. But it ends in a huge cliffhanger.

A stand-alone science fiction book.


Publishing year: 2021

Format: Print

Publisher: Penguin

Page count: 476

The main character wakes up alone in a room, with only two mummified corpses for company. He doesn’t remember even his own name or where he is or why. Soon, he realizes that he’s not on Earth but on a spaceship that should be beyond current tech to build. So, this must be important. If only he could remember…

I don’t want to spoil anything, although even the GoodReads summary will tell you more.

This is very similar to Weir’s first book, the Martian. One man, a scientist, working alone. The MC has a similar sense of humor as Watney, but with less swearing. If you liked the Martian, most likely you will like this one, too. However, Project Hail Mary does have elements that aren’t strictly science even though they’re common to science fiction. Also, about half of the book is flashbacks when the MC starts to remember how he got here.

I really liked some of the elements but I don’t want to spoil them. I very much enjoyed this scientific adventure tale.


I feel like Sherlock Holmes. All I saw was “nothing,” and I draw a bunch of conclusions! Conclusions that are wildly speculative and with nothing to prove them, but conclusions!

Stupid humanity. Getting in the way of my hobbies.”

A short story collection which has fantasy and SF retellings of myths from around the world.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours 30 minutes
Narrator: Samantha Desz

From Egypt to India to Ireland, these 18 stories take various myths and reshape them. I don’t know all the original tales, and sometimes I recognized it near the end, but that didn’t me stop from enjoying these stories. Surprisingly many of them are a mixture of fantasy and SF. Subgenres range from ghost stories to mythic fantasy to cyberpunk to space opera. It even has two horror stories.

Seanan McGuire: “Phantoms of the Midway.” Aracely has lived her whole life in a traveling circus. Her mom has forbidden her to go outside the circus, but Aracely wants to see the world. One day, she walks outside and meets a girl whose face is half-burned.

Ann Leckie: “The Justified.” Het is one of the Immortals. She has left behind her Sovereign and is content living alone on a cold planet. Then one of her sibs finds her. The Sovereign needs Het again. Reluctantly, Het returns and the Sovereign commands her to kill humans because of a small slight.

T. Kingfisher: “Fisher-Bird.” A kingfisher bird meets a huge, shaggy man who calls himself the Stronger. He has godblood in him and he’s in trouble. He can understand the bird, so the bird offers him some advice.

Rebecca Roanhorse: “A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy.” A Native American movie star’s girlfriend, Cherry, has died, and he can’t forget her. When his agent gives him a chance to relive Cherry’s life through her recorded memories, he jumps at the chance.

JY Yang: “Bridge of Crows”. A hauntingly beautiful tale told in a format of a story inside a story. The unnamed narrator tells the tale of a young woman who is walking through a barren land on a desperate quest.

Arkady Martine: “Labbatu Takes Command of the Flagship Heaven Dwells Within.” Captain Labbatu is a thief, a commander, a lover, and an all-around badass. This is the story of how she takes the flagship with fighting, guile, and seduction.

Sarah Gailey: “Wild to Covet.” A childless couple finds the wild girl Thetis and raises her. But when she grows up, her adoptive parents force her to wear shoes and appropriate clothing for an unmarried girl. They also assume that of course she will marry, no matter what she wants.

Carlso Hernandez: “!Cuidado! !Que Vienne El Coco!.” Nadano is on a high-tech marine research ship that needs only one crew member, in addition to the AI Prudence which runs the ship. Also, Nadano’s baby girl Ela is on the ship. Nadano has some mental issues but the AI is also a skilled therapist. Then the little girl’s head changes to a coconut.

Stephen Graham Jones: “He Fell Howling.” Lycaen feeds human meat to Zeus. Furious, Zeus curses him to change into a wolf. The man realizes that by eating his own pups, he can change back to a man, for a little while. Horror.

Kat Howard: “Curses Like Words, Like Feathers, Like Stories”. The main character travels to Ireland to find incomplete stories, which she has promised to complete.

Leah Cypess: “Across the River.” The main character is a young Jewish man who wants to be a cantor but feels that his songs aren’t ready. Then he comes face to face with a sorcerer who kills Jewish people and he knows he must get help.

Jeffrey Ford: “Sisyphus in Elysium.” Sisyphus “amid the rolling green meadows of Asphodel” thinks about his eternal punishment.

Indrapramit Das: “Kali_Na.” Shiva Industries designed Goddess Durga to be an interactive goddess who turns faith to crypto wealth. To do that, the company made her able to learn from the people she interacts with. But when the vile trolls interact with her, nobody expects what happens.

Alyssa Wong: “Live Stream.” Diana is a gamer who livestreams her games. One day, a compromising picture of Diana is posted on the net, and many of her followers turn against her. She knows who is behind it, but she can’t prove it. Because he’s a famous gamer, and he forced her to do something she didn’t want to. But she decides to turn the tables on him. A powerful story of net harassment.

John Chu: “Close Enough for Jazz.” Emily has worked hard to develop tech that will let people who want to change their bodies or even their sex to do so. She has access to apples that when you eat one, it makes your body an ideal version of you, depending on what you consider ideal. However, since she’s a woman, her business partner does to pitching to the money men who are mostly white males. But the money men aren’t interested in funding a firm she desperately wants. This story touches on sexism and ableism in the tech industry.

Naomi Novik: “Buried Deep.” Ariadne loves her younger brother, who was born with the head of a bull. Their father Minos accuses his wife of adultery with Zeus and banishes the boy from his sight. Ariadne tries to help him anyway she can.

Carmen Maria Machado: “The Things Eric Eats Before He Eats Himself.” Eric has insatiable hunger. A horror story.

Amal El-Mohtar: “Florilegia; or, Some Lies About Flowers.” Lleu Llaw Gyffes is cursed in three ways. One of them is that he can’t marry a woman. So, his uncles make him a woman from flowers, Blodeuwedd. But nobody asked her if she wants to be his wife. Nobody cares that she has a hunger for roots and for freedom.

This is an excellent collection. Not all of the stories worked for me, but that’s usual.

The first book in a science fantasy trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone.


Publication year: 1926
Format: print
Page count: 175
Publisher: Tandem

To my surprise, I found an unread Burroughs book from my shelves. It has quite an elaborate backstory, especially for such a slim book.

As is usual for ERB, the story starts with the writer as the narrator and he meets the main character of the main story. This time Burroughs gives us future history which alone would have been enough for most SF writers. The book is set in 1960s when a terrible decades-long war has finally ended. Humanity turns to the stars. They receive a radio transmission from Mars, from Barsoom. Humanity sends spaceships to Mars in order to meet with the people of Helium. Also, the main narrator of the story, Julian, knows the future because he’s already lived it. He can remember his descendants’ future history because he’s reborn to the future.

Julian is the captain of the second spaceship. However, his bitter rival Orthis is also aboard. Orthis sabotages the ship and it goes to the Moon instead. But Julian and the others find that the Moon isn’t a barren place. Instead, beneath the Moon’s crust is a world with not just atmosphere but people. After our heroes explore this world a little, savage, centaur-like people capture Julian and Orthis.

As usual for ERB, this story has lots of adventure with strange creatures and alien landscapes. It’s quite enjoyable if you can ignore the blatant classism. (The descendants of nobility are good and heroic, the descendants of lower classes are the bad guys without a shred of decency.)

Structurally, the Moon Maid is very similar to the Princess of Mars. Julian is unexpectedly thrust to an alien and savage world, he explores the exotic places and people, and he falls in love with the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Like John Carter, Julian is a heroic fighting man; even though he prefers firearms, he’s also a good swordsman.

The Moon races are strange. The centaur-like people (No-Vads) are nomads yet they live in villages which are never described. They’re carnivores but they can’t eat the few animals, so they hunt and eat other tribes and also the one other intelligent race, which looks like humans. The “humans” on this world are remnants of a great civilization. They have two cities which are at war with each other.

The book has surprisingly little description. I would have liked quite a bit more. I was also rather uncomfortable with intelligent races eating each other.

Otherwise this was quite an enjoyable old science fantasy book.

Originally published as Blades of Mars by Edward P. Bradbury in 1965. The second book in the trilogy.

Publication year: 1979
Format: print
Page count: 150


I’ve loved Burroughs’ Barsoom stories for a long time and I’ve been looking for something similar, except with better female characters. This certainly delivered, except for the women characters.

For some reason, the Finnish library system doesn’t have the first book, so I had to settle for this second one.

Michael Kane is a physicist in present day (1960s) US. Apparently, in the first book he had invented a device which allowed him to travel to Mars, but millions of years in the past. There he had adventures and fell in love with a Martian woman but before they were married, he was yanked back to Earth. Now, he has managed to build his device again, with the help of Edward, and vanishes from Earth. But moments later Kane reappears but clad in a strange way.

The book is very clearly modeled after Burroughs’ style. It even has the frame story of the MC telling his tale to the writer who later publishes it as fiction. In this case, Michael Kane appears before the astonished “Edward” and tells him the story.

Kane returns to Mars but he comes to a desolate wasteland and realizes that he’s in a different timeframe than where he wanted to be. Desperate, he starts to walk. Soon, a beast attacks him but he’s saved by a savage Martian, a blue giant from a race called Argzoon. Kane fought against them in the first book. However, Kane realizes that this giant isn’t a savage. In fact, Hool Haji is a prince whose throne has been usurped by a terrible giant Jewar Baru who rules Hool Haji’s people with ruthlessness and superstition. And the help of 200 equally ruthless men. Kane likes Hool Haji and decides to help him free his people. Most of the book is spent in this mission.

While Kane doesn’t have incredible strength because of Mars’ lower gravity, otherwise this is a fine imitation of Burroughs. Two races, one monstrous and another human-like, men battling with swords. This Mars had two technologically advanced races who have left behind ruins. High adventure with strange creatures and almost as strange allies. I’m sure fans of Barsoom are highly entertained.

The first book in the Stan Lee’s Alliances superhero series.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time:11 hours 47 minutes
Narrator: Yara Shahidi

Nia is the loneliest girl in the world. She lives with her father in the middle of nowhere. Her father is the only person she’s ever seen. He schools her in a room where holograms can create anything. Nia wants to go out, to meet other people, and see other places. But he insists that the world outside is too dangerous and keeps her inside all the time. However, he allows her to have an internet connection and she has lots of internet friends on her social media accounts. But she doesn’t feel any real connection with them. So, she plans to escape.

Cameron Ackerson wants to be a YouTube star but his account has only 16 followers. So, he’s taking his boat right into the heart of a storm. But inside the storm, a lighting hits him. He survives and in the hospital he realizes that he has strange powers: he can connect with any computer without touching it.

Now, he’s famous as the lighting bolt survivor. He can also beat any game without really trying. But one day, he meets Nia, a girl who is just as good with computers as he is. Nia captivates him and he wants to spend more and more time with her.

Cameron’s father was a software engineer but he vanished years ago.

Juaquo is Cameron’s best friend. His mom died recently and he hasn’t been the same. When Cameron’s dad disappeared, Juaquo was there for Cameron, but Cameron hasn’t been able to do that same to Juaquo. Cameron feels guilty about it.

The story is told through multiple POV characters, mostly Nia and Cameron but also others. It’s told in present tense. The last third is much more action packed than the rest of the story.

I’m a Marvel fan so I was eager to get my hands on Stan Lee’s last creation. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations. However, it was mostly an entertaining adventure but people who like YA romance would probably like it more.

This is a story of loneliness and trying to connect with others. It’s also about how internet supposedly brings us together but also divides us. The main characters are teenagers who are having their first crush and that takes over about half of the book. The bad guys include a mysterious government organization and an alien from another planet who takes over a human body.

I really enjoyed the narration. It fit the story very well. The audiobook has also music in the beginning of chapters and also to highlight the more dramatic moments.

The fourth and final volume in the Planet of Adventure science fantasy series.

Publication year: 1970
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole box set: 23 hours 3 minutes
Narrator: Elijah Alexander

The previous book ended when Earth man Adam Reith and his two companions, barbarian teenager Traz and renegade Dirdirman Ankhe at afram Anacho, captured a shady businessman Woudiver who sold them out to their enemies. Even though Woudiver is their captive, he manages to signal the fourth alien race on the planet, the Pnume, about Reith and arrange his kidnapping. Reith is captured and taken to the vast underground tunnels where the aliens and their human slaves live. He manages to free himself but now has the task of avoiding the Pnume and their human slaves, the Pnumekin, and finding a way to the surface. To do that, he in turn captures a young Pnumekin woman and forces her to show him the way.

This time the book has distinctive two parts: the first part is set in the underground tunnels exploring the Pnumekin culture and the other is set on the surface where Reith must educate the woman about the surface culture. For me, the first part was more fun: I like characters sneaking around and it wasn’t easy to make several chapters of it fun.

The Pnumekin were weird. The Pnume strip them of personality and sexuality with culture and drugs. The woman Reith kidnaps doesn’t even have a name; he calls her Zap 210 based on the area where he found her. Her growth has been stunted with drugs and she has no knowledge of human sexuality or how different genders behave toward each other. She calls it “boisterous conduct” and doesn’t want to even hear about it. Reith must educate her and while he’s considerate enough, I found myself rolling my eyes at the scenes.

The Pnume themselves are curious and collect samples of life, including humans.

Still, this was a good ending to the series, even if the wrap-up was pretty abrupt.

The third book in the science fantasy series Planet of Adventure.

Publication year: 1969
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole box set: 23 hours 3 minutes
Narrator: Elijah Alexander

Human Adam Reith from Earth was stranded on the alien world Tschai in the first book “the City of the Chasch”. He’s still trying to get a space ship and return to Earth. However, that’s very difficult. He’s failed twice and now he’s going to build a space ship from scratch. His previous adventures have brought him to the attention of the Dirdir, panther-like aliens who hunt and kill men for sport. They’ve taken exception to Reith’s successes and his claim that humans originate from another planet. So, they’ve sent a murder squad called the “Initiative” after him. Reith manages kill them but his friend, and a renegade Dirdirman, Ankhe at afram Anacho tells him that more will come.

Reith needs a lot of money for the spaceship and what better place to gather them than where the crystals, from which the local money is made, grow. However, that place is the Dirdir hunting preserve where they hunt the men who try to get the crystals. So, Reith, Anacho, and teenager Traz, who is a former barbarian chief, head to the preserve. They, in turn, do what the local humans thought would be impossible: hunt and kill the Dirdir and take the money they’ve gathered from their victims.

However, Reith still needs to build the spaceship. They go to a huge city and engage the services of an unscrupulous businessman Woudiver who doesn’t miss a chance to squeeze every penny out of them. Woudiver also threatens to give them over to the Dirdir who are now furious at Reith.

The first half of the book is pretty solid, if violent, adventure with Reith and his two companions fighting Dirdir and their henchmen. However, the rest of the book is quite different, mostly Reith dealing with Woudiver.

Most humans regard Reith insane because he claims that he, and humans in general, come from another planet. This time Reith doesn’t encourage the various human societies to revolt against their alien masters, but he claims that humans are superior to the aliens.

We don’t actually get to know much about the Dirdir. Anacho tells us that they have multiple sexes of both males and females. Not all of them are compatible. We also know that they hunt in packs despite being a space faring species. They also think of men as subhumans who can be killed and exploited at will and they keep the Dirdirmen in thrall by telling them that they might be able to become actual Dirdir some day. But most of this was explained in the previous books, so not much is new. The Dirdir seem to exist just to be the enemies. At least they look impressive:

“impressive creatures, harsh, mercurial, decisive. They stood approximately at human height, and moved with sinister quickness, like lizards on a hot day. Their dermal surfaces suggested polished bone; their crania raised into sharp blade-like crests, with incandescent antennae streaming back at either side. The contours of the faces were oddly human, with deep eye-sockets, the scalp crests descending to suggest nasal ridges. They half-hopped, half-loped, like leopards walking erect.”

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