Book Review – Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire. 

Review:

So a while back on Twitter there was #ReviewPit where authors and reviewers could connect and I jumped at the chance to read this because it is absolutely full of Queer characters, also there’s a cat. Unfortunately I was just not a big fan of the book itself which meant I put off writing the review as it’s always difficult when you didn’t enjoy it. Now, I didn’t enjoy it due to my own personal preferences which does make this much easier as it is still a good book, just not one that I’d particularly enjoy.

Let’s start off with the writing. The writing is the reason I kept reading and finished this book because it’s just delightful. Some of the descriptions used are brilliant and I love the authors use of language. Sure, I may not have cared much about what I was reading, but I still enjoyed reading it.

For the plot itself, I won’t say too much as the synopsis covers it pretty well, however it is very fast paced. At times I wished it would slow down a bit – particularly the scenes with the side characters as I’d really have liked more screen time for them as I didn’t feel I really got to know any of them that well. I did enjoy the plot and certainly didn’t expect everything that happened so it’s always nice to be surprised.

One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy this book that much is that honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of Damian or Aris. I liked Raeyn which did help a bit but it’s hard to enjoy a book when you don’t like the main character. There was also a lot of explicit scenes with Damian which although they were very well written (and there are trigger warnings at the start too), I did not enjoy. Of course, I imagine most people have no issue with sex scenes and indeed some people would probably love it for those scenes so if that’s what you’re looking for then this is definitely an excellent choice. There’s also a love triangle in the book and no matter how well written, I just do not enjoy love triangles.

The setting was very interesting but sadly we don’t get to see nearly as much of the worldbuilding as I’d like – which is another reason why I personally didn’t enjoy the book as much as that’s my favourite part of SFF books. The glimpses we got were super interesting though, and I was very interested in learning more about the Voyance and how it worked.

Overall though, despite not appealing to my personal tastes this was a very good book and I would highly recommend it to anybody looking for some steamy Queer Sci-Fi.

Book Review – Stranger Tales of the City ed. by Elizabeth Evershed

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The knights hospitaller have just woken to a second life in a City the size of a galaxy. 

Two strangers from a far-distant future are flung together on Resurrection Day. 

A window-seller visits a claustrophobic suburb and finds it full of mystery. 

A Remake gunslinger seeks a new role from the one he was always meant to play… 

In this, the sixth anthology in the City of the Saved series, we meet a host of human and not-so-human characters getting to grips with life in the afterlife: alien adoptees with no previous experience of human cultures; Citizens permanently missing and not merely misplaced; priestesses of long-forgotten religions; posthumans with their own baffling version of the Civil Tongue; a viral strain of humankind that has never known community… 

The City is full of strangers and these are their tales.

Review:

This is the sixth book in the City of the Saved series which is based on the premise that “Everybody has died and woken up together in a huge city”. The short stories all feature different characters and how they deal with their new life. It’s a fantastic setting which gives a lot of freedom to the authors which is definitely shown in this collection where all the stories are very different from each other.

Now, I may be slightly biased here because my partner is one of the authors featured here (his is the story about a window seller in suburbia) however even without his story I still loved this collection. The stories were all so varied and dealt with a variety of themes.

The stories themselves are all linked by a frame tale featuring the Knights Hospitallers which I really enjoyed, and I loved the majority of the tales. Ironically, the one I enjoyed least was all about language (which, for those that know me, is very odd given how much I love studying languages and linguistics).

Despite not having read any of the previous books, I still found this very accessible. The only issue I had was understanding what a ‘remake’ was since they appear in several stories (one focusing heavily on them) but I was able to get enough information from context to understand the story.

I would definitely recommend this collection of short stories to Sci-Fi fans, although I need to point out that it’s not available on Amazon and you have to go straight to the publisher if you want an ebook which seems a bit of a strange marketing decision (and unfortunately means I won’t be buying any other books in the series as I make my purchases using Amazon Giftcards to control my spending on books)

Book Review – Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers ed. by Sarena Ulibarri

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Solarpunk is a type of optimistic science fiction that imagines a future founded on renewable energies. The seventeen stories in this volume are not dull utopias—they grapple with real issues such as the future and ethics of our food sources, the connection or disconnection between technology and nature, and the interpersonal conflicts that arise no matter how peaceful the world is. In these pages you’ll find a guerilla art installation in Milan, a murder mystery set in a weather manipulation facility, and a world where you are judged by the glow of your solar nanite implants. From an opal mine in Australia to the seed vault at Svalbard, from a wheat farm in Kansas to a crocodile ranch in Malaysia, these are stories of adaptation, ingenuity, and optimism for the future of our world and others. For readers who are tired of dystopias and apocalypses, these visions of a brighter future will be a breath of fresh air.

Review:

I was very lucky to be offered an ARC of this straight from the editor due to the fact I previously reviewed Sunvault, another solarpunk collection of short stories. I leapt at the chance and read it straight away as I adore solarpunk and am always happy to read more of it.

Again, as this is a short story collection it’s hard to review because all the stories were so different. It was delightful to see all the different locations and interpretations used in the story. As seen in the blurb, the stories are set all across the globe, and some even venture into space. One particular story, The Spider and the Stars focuses on introducing insects to space and I really enjoyed that one despite hating spiders. Then again, I could just list the names of all the short stories as I enjoyed them all.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction which actually goes and lists other solarpunk books and short story collections for further reading which is so helpful as often when I mention that I enjoy solarpunk, I’ll get asked for recommendations. There isn’t a table of contents at the start which doesn’t bother me on my Kindle as I can easily skip through the stories, but in a physical edition that would disappoint me as I definitely see myself wanting to re-read certain stories again.

Overall though, this was a fantastic collection and it’s always brilliant to see more solarpunk collections out there. If you enjoy solarpunk or are interested in exploring it as a genre then this is an excellent place to start! I highly recommend this and hope more collections will be published in the future!

Book Review – The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

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Goodreads Synopsis:

No one at Meetpoint Station had ever seen a creature like the Outsider. Naked-hided, blunt toothed and blunt-fingered, Tully was the sole surviving member of his company — a communicative, spacefaring species hitherto unknown — and he was a prisoner of his discoverer/ captors the sadistic, treacherous kif, until his escape onto the hani ship The Pride of Chanur.

Little did he know when he threw himself upon the mercy of The Pride and her crew that he put the entire hani species in jeopardy and imperiled the peace of the Compact itself. For the information this fugitive held could be the ruin or glory of any of the species at Meetpoint Station.

Review:

C.J. Cherryh had been recommended a lot recently on /r/Fantasy and so I decided to give some of her books a shot this year. I ended up picking the Chanur series simply because somebody said it was essentially “space cats” which really isn’t that far off.

Firstly, this story is your classic “first contact with aliens” except for the fact that the alien encountered, Tully, is the human which is a nice twist because all of the existing species in the novel are all very different from humans and so we’re seeing it from their point of view.

The worldbuilding in this is absolutely brilliant and so I’m definitely going to read more of her books in future as I absolutely adore it. So much detail has gone into everything and I particularly love the attention paid to linguistics in this book (I love languages) as it even mentions how the “hani language” spoken is that of the family that had first contact with the rest of the species of aliens (who together are known as “The Compact”). At one point in a later book, to ensure they aren’t understood, some of the characters speak a different Hani language and I appreciated this so much as so often aliens in books just have one single language and unless they’re hive-minds then that just isn’t very realistic.

The hani are the main species that we see as they’re the main characters and as mentioned, they’re pretty much space cats. They are essentially humanoid lions and their culture is very similar to that of lions where it’s the women who go off and are traders and explorers while the men stay at home.

The plot of the story revolves around protecting this stray human that has wandered onto their ship and ends up dealing with a lot of political intrigue. The plot isn’t the fastest or most exciting so if you’re looking for a fun space adventure, this isn’t it but it is a richly rewarding book so I still strongly recommend it.

As I’ve not read any of her other books, I can’t say whether this is the best series to begin with but if you enjoy strong worldbuilding and lots of politics then I strongly recommend it. I’m now onto the fourth book and should complete the entire series soon!

Also as a final note, the covers for these books are absolutely fantastic.  The cover for the second book is probably going to end up as one of my favourite covers of the year because it’s just that brilliant.

Book Review – Protector by Larry Niven

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Phssthpok the Pak had been travelling for most of his 32,000 years – his mission, to save, develop, and protect the group of Pak breeders sent out into space some 2 1/2 million years before…

Brennan was a Belter, the product of a fiercely independent, somewhat anarchic society living in, on, and around an outer asteroid belt. The Belters were rebels, one and all, and Brennan was a smuggler. The Belt worlds had been tracking the Pak ship for days – Brennan figured to meet that ship first…

He was never seen again – at least not in the form of Homo sapiens.

Review:

It’s another book with an awful yet fantastic cover! This has been on my TBR list for quite a while and wasn’t too long so was a perfect pick after reading some longer books.

The synopsis does a pretty good job of summarising the beginning of the story and really, what happens after that is spoilers so I’m not going to say much more about it, other than I highly enjoyed the plot.

The worldbuilding was very interesting and I loved learning about the Pak society and evolution along with the way Protectors work. I was less of a fan of the society on the earth side of things, and the few women present were very flat and one-dimensional and mostly just there for sex (hurrah for classic sci-fi…)

Despite being such a great story, this isn’t a very long book and is able to be finished quite quickly but at no point did it ever feel rushed which I really enjoyed. The pacing works really well and I can see why this author is so popular.

If you’re looking for some classic sci-fi then I would recommend this as it’s a good story and it’s not that long either! That and if you love ugly covers like me, then it’s great for your collection!

Book Review – Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

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Book Review:

Generations ago, humans fled to the cosmic anomaly known as Grass. But before humanity arrived, another species had already claimed Grass for its own. It too had developed a culture…… 

Now a deadly plague is spreading across the stars, leaving no planet untouched, save for Grass. But the secret of the planet’s immunity hides a truth so shattering it could mean the end of life itself.

Review:

I decided I wanted to read more female authors this month and so this looked like a perfect choice. I bought this book a while ago purely because of the name (well that and because I was looking through SF Classics which is how I found it) and reading this book really makes you want to sit outside surrounded by grass. Well, it does for a bit anyway until you learn more about what lives in the grass!

I absolutely loved this book, it took me a little while to get into it but it’s one that the more you learn, the more you want to know and I absolutely loved reading about this planet. Grass is incredibly interesting in a range of ways and I loved learning more about life on it. There are a group of noble families (Bons) who live on various estates out in the Grass who go on regular hunts during Spring and Autumn. The book starts off with one of those and at first, it sounds relatively like a regular hunt with mounts, hounds and foxes but you slowly discover that just because they share the same name as creatures from Earth, doesn’t mean they are the same.

The main plot follows the fact that plague is spreading across all colonised planets yet does not appear to be present on Grass so they send some ambassadors to investigate this further. The wife of the ambassador, Marjorie, is by far one of my favourite characters and we follow her for most of the book as she learns more about the society on Grass and uncovers the secrets.

The book is rather slow paced, which I really liked as it slowly showed us more about the world and it was only at the end when things really started to speed up but I never felt like the book was dragging and I was always eagerly looking forward to the next new piece of information we found out.

If you’re looking for more Sci-Fi by female authors then I’d definitely recommend this. I’d also recommend it in general if you’re wanting to read some classic Sci-Fi as I really enjoyed it and definitely see myself reading more by her in the future.

Book Review – Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Unfortunately, there will be a generation left behind. For members of that missed generation, small advances will be made. Through various programs, they will be taught to get along in the world despite their differences. They will be made active and contributing members of society. But they will never be normal.

Lou Arrendale is a member of that lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the awards of medical science. Part of a small group of high-functioning autistic adults, he has a steady job with a pharmaceutical company, a car, friends, and a passion for fencing. Aside from his annual visits to his counselor, he lives a low-key, independent life. He has learned to shake hands and make eye contact. He has taught himself to use “please” and “thank you” and other conventions of conversation because he knows it makes others comfortable. He does his best to be as normal as possible and not to draw attention to himself. 
But then his quiet life comes under attack. It starts with an experimental treatment that will reverse the effects of autism in adults. With this treatment Lou would think and act and be just like everyone else. But if he was suddenly free of autism, would he still be himself? Would he still love the same classical music–with its complications and resolutions? Would he still see the same colors and patterns in the world–shades and hues that others cannot see? Most importantly, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings?Would it be easier for her to return the love of a “normal”?
There are intense pressures coming from the world around him–including an angry supervisor who wants to cut costs by sacrificing the supports necessary to employ autistic workers. Perhaps even more disturbing are the barrage of questions within himself. For Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world . . . and the very essence of who he is.
Thoughtful, provocative, poignant, unforgettable, The Speed of Dark is a gripping exploration into the mind of an autistic person as he struggles with profound questions of humanity and matters of the heart.

Review:

So I really loved The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon and so figured reading a Sci-Fi book by her would be a perfect choice. I was a bit hesitant about it as there are a lot of issues regarding whether or not autism is something that should be cured but I feel that this book was able to handle the topic quite well and indeed the choice of whether or not to get the “new surgery” was all up to the individual characters which ties in with what I personally believe (which I’m not going to get into in a book review, but my views are essentially that it should be up to the individual)

Lou is a fantastic character and I absolutely adore him. The way his mind thinks, the way he reacts to stressful situations and the way he interacts is all really well portrayed. It’s very clear that a lot of research has gone into this and I love that all of the characters are also all very individual representing the range of ways that autism presents itself in people.

Unlike most of his group at work, Lou spends a lot more time with neurotypical individuals and again his interactions with them are brilliantly done and I really enjoyed how accepting his fencing group are. Through interaction with them, Lou is able to learn a lot about social cues and grow as a person but still struggles from time to time with understanding concepts like unspoken rules (or things that contradict what he’s learnt)

Overall, this book takes us on a journey focusing on Lou as he grows and develops as a person all while portraying a realistic and powerful view of an autistic man. This is something I never expected to see in a book and I’m already planning on giving this to several autistic friends of mine because the representation just made me so happy and I know they’ll love it too.

I highly, highly recommend this book. Elizabeth Moon is a fantastic writer and this is definitely a book worth reading!

Book Review – Armada by Ernest Cline

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Goodreads Synopsis:

It’s just another day of high school for Zack Lightman. He’s daydreaming through another boring math class, with just one more month to go until graduation and freedom—if he can make it that long without getting suspended again.

Then he glances out his classroom window and spots the flying saucer.

At first, Zack thinks he’s going crazy.

A minute later, he’s sure of it. Because the UFO he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

But what Zack’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

Yet even as he and his new comrades scramble to prepare for the alien onslaught, Zack can’t help thinking of all the science-fiction books, TV shows, and movies he grew up reading and watching, and wonder: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little too… familiar? 

Armada is at once a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien-invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with author Ernest Cline’s trademark pop-culture savvy.

Review:

So, I loved Ready Player One and had high hopes for this, but when it came out it was getting quite a lot of negative reviews and so I just kinda forgot about it until now. My copy is a rather large hardback and was taking up too much space on my TBR shelf so figured may as well read it now!

The book wasn’t that bad. I can definitely understand a lot of the negative reviews and for me it definitely just didn’t feel right and fell flat a lot of the time with the references. It really does feel like he was trying to much to emulate what made Ready Player One so great and well, that never goes that well.

The plot wasn’t that bad, I actually rather enjoyed it if not for the fact that I wasn’t a huge fan of most of the characters as I feel they just weren’t that developed. The worst part for me was Zack’s “relationship”. We see all his interactions with this girl and honestly even with the world potentially ending, it was just not realistic at all and read a lot like just fulfilling a fantasy of “getting the hot girl who is good at video games”.

Ultimately, I think this book really suffers due to the fact that it’s always going to be compared to Ready Player One which does the same thing as this book, but better and since this book doesn’t have anything outstanding to draw you in, there’s really not that much in it to recommend it to readers other than those that just want to read more of the authors work and enjoy spotting as many references as they can (I must admit, I certainly got more in this one than in Ready Player One as my knowledge of movies is incredibly bad)

Overall, this is not a bad book but it’s not one I’d recommend. I’d instead always recommend Ready Player One and say only read this if you really, really want to read more by the same author as I don’t feel I’d have missed much by not reading it but since I already owned it, I figured may as well give it a go.

Book Review – A Story of the Days to Come by H.G. Wells

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The novella depicts two lovers in a dystopian London of the 22nd century. They explore the implications of excessive urbanization, class warfare, & advances in the technology of medicine, communication, transportation & agriculture. Like “When the Sleeper Wakes”, published in the same year, the stories extrapolate the trends Wells observed in nineteenth-century Victorian London two hundred years into the future.
London of the early 22nd century is over 30 million people in population, with the lower classes living in subterranean dwellings, the middle & upper classes living in skyscrapers & largely communal accommodations. Moving walkways interconnect the city, with fast air-travel & superhighways available between cities. The countryside is largely abandoned.
Many aspects of the world of these two stories will be instantly familiar to readers of the more popular Isaac Asimov’s Robot series written 50 years later. Altho no apparent citation exists crediting Wells’ world as the source for the Asimov stories’ settings & culture, the parallels between the two are striking.

Review:

It’s Sci-Fi month and H.G. Wells is finally in the public domain so of course I had to read something by him. I chose this book because I have a physical copy of it and so it means I can make a nice stack at the end of the month. This also just looked really interesting too as it’s always fun to see how people imagine the future.

The book follows a young couple who start off wealthy but end up losing all their money and so this conveniently allows us to see life in the different classes of society. Wells has taken “upper” and “lower” class and made them literal where the lower classes literally live below and work below those of the upper classes.

There isn’t much of a plot to the story, it’s mostly just following the two characters throughout their life and they’re used as a means of showing off the worldbuilding that Wells has done and well, that is what we’re here for. I won’t mention much else of what he imagines as it’s really fun to just read through and see his vision of the future.

If you’re looking for something short and enjoy reading what people thought the future would be like, then I’d definitely recommend this. However, although I enjoyed this I definitely enjoy his other work more so I’d only suggest this to those who already enjoy his work as otherwise there are much better books you can start off with.

Book Review – Flux and The Tin Angel by Ron Goulart

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Note – As this is actually two books combined into one volume, I’ve taken the synopsis from their individual books as this edition doesn’t have one.

Flux: 

There was a youth protest movement on the planet Jasper. Which should not have been anything new — there were always youth protest movements — and a planet like Jasper with its mixed colonies was entitled to them too. The difference was that these boys and girls had been made into human bombs — they blew up on contact.

That was good enough reason to call in Ben Jolson of the galaxy-famous Chameleon Corps. Jolson could disguise himself as just about anything — doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief, or even icebox.

But Jasper strained him to the limit. Not only did it house a mad combination of mad cultures, but someone else was doing the chameleon trick too — and besides, how do you go around looking like an exploding bomb?

The Tin Angel:

Start with medical transplants, add a dash of cybernetic engineering, and a talking dog can be commonplace. But Bowser was not commonplace–he was the top-rated star of 1999’s television–comedian, commentator, actor, and temperamental headache of the media masters. But he was still a dog–man’s best friend to the vast gaping audience of watchers, and a cur, mutt, and son of a five-letter-word to Bert Schenley, his agent and guardian. So when Bert got two assignments at once–both taking him and Bowser to the battle front in Lower California where the various guerrillas and rebels were making news, history and hysterics, it was the climax. Bowser was determined to keep on grabbing the headlines, Bert was determined to keep a grip on his own life, and the rest were equally set on blotting them both out

My Review:

So, I have a weakness for hilariously bad classic sci-fi covers. I’ve bought books before because I’ve gone “It’s awful! I love it!” just for the cover and this is one of several sci-fi books I’ve had sitting around for ages. It’s quite a slim volume and is actually made up of two novellas so I figured it’d be a good choice for Sci-Fi month as shouldn’t take long to read and I’ve not actually read that much pulp sci-fi so I thought it might be interesting.

Nope. This book now joins the ranks of the tiny amount of books I’ve given one star to on Goodreads. I kept reading just because I wanted to see how bad it could get.

Firstly, as expected the book is full of sexism and racism which I was expecting, and the homophobia didn’t surprise me that much either and for those grounds alone I would not recommend these to anybody. It was just the kind of bad you can’t stop reading because the entire time you’re thinking “How on earth did somebody actually get this published”.

I’m not even going to bother discussing the plots or the characters because they’re ridiculous however I am going to mention one thing that really stood out. In Flux, the main character spends his time impersonating different characters and at first, he’s impersonating what I assume is a Scottish character due to his “accent” (hint to writers – Unless you speak it, please don’t ever try and write how you think a Scottish character talks). This was done so bad that it was just cringy to read and really I should have just stopped at that point but oh well.

Now, of course I’m not going to recommend this book at all. Indeed, I’m going to get rid of my copy. On the plus side of course, this significantly lowers the bar and just makes me all the more grateful for all the good Sci-Fi out there.