Category Archives: science fiction

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Stars: 3 out of 5

For about 80% of this book I thought it would be a solid 5 stars… then the weird codas happened that turned me completely off. But since I was engaged with the story and the characters for most of the book, I am willing to still give it 3 stars.

Most of us watched Star Trek and noticed that nameless redshirt crewmember that usually dies horribly on an away mission in almost every episode, right? Well, what happens if the story is told from the perspective of some of those redshirts? Suddenly, they aren’t nameless anymore. Suddenly, they have a backstory, needs and wants, and friends. And they start wondering why so many of their crewmembers die so horribly on this one ship and not the others. Or why their commanding officers survive encounters that should have killed them ten times over. Not only do they wonder about it, but they decide to right that wrong once they discover the truth, no matter how crazy it seems.

I really got attached to these characters and was just as intrigued as they were to discover what was happening on the Intrepid. It’s an interesting take on the weekly scifi shows that kill off random characters just for shock value. You know that the core team (usually the captain and officers on the bridge) would always survive to the end of the episode, but what happens to the rest of the crew? More importantly, how do they feel about this? Well, how would you feel if you work on a spaceship where any mission suddenly becomes a life and death crisis, laws of physics and space-time stop applying, and your superior officers behave in a very strange manner from time to time. Oh, and don’t forget the Box. No wonder everyone is terrified. No wonder everyone is hiding when the call comes for an away mission crew members. They might be just extras on a show, but to themselves, they are people, and they don’t want to die.

I wanted them to find a solution to this problem and finally lead their lives on a normal Intrepid, not a ship constantly overtaken by the Narrative. So I was very shocked when that story abruptly ends on a rather negative note and we get “real” life codas instead. Honestly? I don’t care that the main writer for the show has writers block now or how he manages to overcome it. I don’t care that the actress who played Jenkins’ wife in real life finds her happy ever after. I did care a little about Hester’s transformation into Matthew, but that was about the only satisfying closure in this book.

So what had started as a fun story left me frustrated and even annoyed by the end. I know some readers would appreciate this breaking of the fourth wall, but I would have rather gotten more closure with the characters I had grown to love.

Ashes of the Sun (Burningblade and Silvereye 1) by Django Wexler

Stars: 4 out of 5

This is the third series I have picked up by this author and I can say with confidence that Django Wexler is a creator of worlds, which is good praise in my books. Each of his series has a very distinct feel, with an original world and engaging characters. 

I loved a glimpse of the world in this book, where humans live on the ruins of a war between two Elder races – the Chosen and the Ghouls, who had been intent on mutual annihilation. The Ghouls unleashed the Plague that wiped out the Chosen, but not before they bombed the ghoul underground cities into oblivion. That was 400 years ago. Humanity inherited a planet full of ruins, broken weapons, and magical artifacts. And also plaguespawn – an unfortunate side-effect of the Plague. These monsters have just one purpose – attack anything living and assimilated it, and they prefer humans. Unfortunately, they are also all over the place, so humanity lives in cities and walled villages, and travel is dangerous…

I also really liked both of our siblings – Maya and Gyre. Even though they are on the opposite ends of this conflict, it’s really hard to say who is right and who is wrong. They both believe in their own truths. They are both decent people deep inside. They are also very young, so they still see the world in black and white, even though they allowed a few shades of gray in the end which helped them find a compromise long enough to get out of a very bad situation they were in. 

I liked that they both felt “alive” to me. No, I didn’t agree with all of their actions, especially with what Gyre did in Deepfyre, but I understood their motivations. To me, that’s the most important part. I might not like the character or agree with them, but I need their actions to make sense with what I know about them. That’s exactly what I get every time I pick up a Django Wexler book. 

Of course, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered – who or what is that black spider that Maya keeps encountering. How did it get ahold of Jaedia? What is the Thing on Maya’s chest and why does the spider call her an experiment? What are the plaguespawn and are they really the by-product of the Plague? Are the Chosen really gone? And a lot more. 

So this book accomplishes what a first book in a series is supposed to do – introduces an interesting world with engaging characters and left us with enough questions to pick up the next book. Well done, Mr. Wexler, well done. I am definitely continuing with this series. 

PS: I received a fee copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Steel in the Blood (The Reckoning Cycle 1) by N.T. Narbutovskih

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I am not sure why this was published as a book. As far as story goes, it’s only Part 1 of a bigger book. The part that sets up the characters and the premise and doesn’t nothing else. By the end of Steel in the Blood, the main conflict of the story was set up, alright, but no questions were answered, there was no emotional payoff for sticking with the story so far. It just ended. So if you want to learn what this story is actually about, you have to buy the next book.

Unfortunately, there is nothing I hate more in a book than a cliffhanger designed solely to make you buy the next book, so I’m afraid that this series and I will be parting ways. Which is a shame, because from the little I have seen of the world and history in this small installment, it might be an interesting story.

The human empire has existed for thousands of years, ruled by an immortal Empress. It’s big, safe and prosperous (or so we’re told), but it has stopped growing. Innovation is discouraged, exploration is non-existent. It’s a well-oiled machine designed for one purpose only – to keep trade flowing to the capital worlds. No part of the Empire is self-sufficient. They all depend on each other for food, raw materials, trade, or goods. 

Each section of the empire is governed by members of different genelines, who have been cloned and enhanced to rule their sections for millennia as well. There has been no war in a thousand years, after the last Medicant Wars have ended. But now one is brewing…

Wonderful premise for an exciting book, right? That’s what I thought as well. I already mentioned the first problem with this story – this book is only a set-up. A transit point from one geneline is seemingly attacked by agents of another geneline, even though the Executor of that geneline never ordered the attack he is accused of. He has to find those who are responsible and clear his name or a civil war will break out. He leaves to do just that and puts his daughter in charge of their whole sector… And that’s it. That’s where the story ends.

If you are expecting answers to all the questions asked in this book, you will have to purchase the next book in the series.

My second problem is that while the world setting is intriguing, the characters are a lot less so. Erick seems very naïve and indecisive for a leader who supposedly ruled his corner of the Empire for 400 years. Bryn seems a little more interesting, but we haven’t really been in her head enough to get attached. In fact, the character I found the most interesting and whom I could empathize the most with is the Medicant. Yes, an android is has more personality than the humans in this story.

The ending also feels a bit flat – we are introduced to a whole assault team of characters we’ve never seen before who have a brief battle to capture a saboteur at a fold array. Said saboteur explodes, literally, damaging the array. The end. Again, if you were looking for answers and emotional payoff for sticking with this story for a few hours, buy the next book. Maybe the story will get better, maybe not. I am out either way.

PS: I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Nightwatch on the Hinterlands (The Weep 1) by K. Eason

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Do you have those rare occasions when a book just “click” with you? That you get so immersed in it that you love every single moment. And even if you can see some flaws, they don’t distract you from the pure joy of reading it? Well, that’s what happened to me with Nightwatch on the Hinterlands. I loved it from the very first sentence I read until the last one. 

I think a big part of my enjoyment comes from the wonderful characters the author created. Iari and Gaer couldn’t be more different, but they feel so “alive” and interesting that it was a delight to read both of their points of view. You could see how their reluctant partnership slowly progressed and mutated from ambassador and escort to colleagues to friends. They are different and bring different skills and beliefs to the table, but both are very interesting individuals. 

I also think that the world seen through our characters’ eyes is also rather unique and fascinating. Technically, it’s a scifi book, because we have space-faring races and spaceships and space stations and high technology weapons like the mecha Iari is wearing. But most of their technology is based on arithmancy and alchemy, so, dare I say, magic. Heck, Iari is part of a religious order of battle monks whose life is dedicated to preventing incursions from the Weep, which is a tear in the reality of the multiverse leading to a not so welcoming layer of it. So is this scifi or is this fantasy or a little bit of both? I’m not sure, but I loved every moment of it. 

I need to mention that the blurb mentions that this new series takes place in the same world as the author’s previous books, but since this is the first book I have read by this author, I can’t attest to that. I can however say that this reads perfectly well as a standalone. I was never confused by the worldbuilding, and if I missed some references to the author’s prior works, it wasn’t critical to this story.

The plot of the book is also interesting. What at first looks like a Riev malfunction turns out to have some much bigger, dare I say, earthshattering implications. And I loved how Iari pursued this investigation with a bullheaded determination, no matter how hurt she got in the process. That tenacity is part of what makes her so endearing. That and the fact that she would do anything to protect those she considers friends, even if one of them is the ambassador of a not-so-friendly race that caused the Weep in the first place, and the other is a Riev – who, until recently, was considered machinery, not an actual person. 

The whole idea about Riev is fascinating as well, though rather horrifying. They are basically the ultimate Frankenstein monsters – a fusion of dead people and mecha, held together with alchemy and arithmancy. Especially considering what we learn as the story progresses – that they retain some sort of consciousness and sense of self. I believe that Oversight was created precisely to suppress that, and once it had been disabled, the Riev started thinking for themselves again. Some better than others. I would be interested in exploring the implications of this further in the next book. 

And while the main intrigue of this book has been resolved by the end, there are a lot of thread still left untied. Plus we have a whole new set of questions to answer. So I would say that that this book sets up the series quite nicely.

All in all, this was an excellent first book in a series and a good introduction to a fascinating world for those who aren’t familiar with the author’s other books. I will definitely pick up the next book in the series.

Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux

 Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This was an interesting read and it went in a different direction than I expected. 

What would you do to get rid of the memories of the most traumatic events that haunt you? What would you do to never have to remember then again? Would that make your life easier? Better? Would that help you start over? Or would you realize that those events are also part of who you are, and by erasing them, you erase an important part of yourself as well?

This was the most interesting aspect of the story for me. I understand that people can be so damaged and haunted by something horrible in their past that they would do anything to get rid of the memory. Even accepting to be part of an experimental treatment offered by a person whose face nobody has ever seen. Even accepting to go to a remote and desolate location where they would basically be at the mercy of that same person. I understand that the desire to forget can overwhelm the instinct of self-preservation. And when you get to the place and things don’t seem quite right, or when the man in charge makes the hairs on your back stand up, you still try to make excuses, because you want so bad for this to work…

This book also raises an interesting question of whether our memories and experiences shape us as a person. That we are the sum of all the experiences we had – both good and bad. If we erase the bad, would we still be the same person? 

Also, how can we be certain that someone who has absolute access to your memories didn’t modify something else? How can you be sure that you are still you, and that your desires are really yours, instead of implanted by a machine?

So I loved all those concepts and questions raised by this book. Unfortunately, the characters we followed through the story felt a bit flat to me. Though, I must admit that they improved by the end of the story, but for most of the book, I wasn’t really engaged in their stories or their well-being. I felt slightly more engaged with Senna than the other two, but even then, it was more mild curiosity than concern.

Plus, the villain’s motivations didn’t particularly stand to scrutiny. What was his end-game there? Keep these people prisoners on his nice little ice world forever? Edit their memories so badly that they become no better than androids who obey his every whim? That’s not viable on the long run.

Also, the technology itself was more in the realm of fantasy than science fiction. So that was a bit of a let down. And I also found that the ending was wrapped up a little bit too neatly.  There would have been a lot more fallout for the survivors after they basically accused the most influential man in the system of kidnapping and illegal experimentation. I mean, look what happens to those who go against rich and influential figures in our times – most times those lawsuits go nowhere and we never hear from the accuser again… yet the accused are still rich and thriving. 

All in all though, it was an entertaining story that I would certainly recommend. 

PS: I received a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

I don’t read a lot of time travel stories. Usually because the science of it makes my head hurt, or because the complete lack of scientific backing or inner logic makes my brain hurt. Plus, I usually can’t get over the time paradox that a lot of these stories create. Like, if the character went into the past to save his sister/lover/parent, wouldn’t that person be alive in the new present, thus negating their need to go into the past and change things? Brain explodes.

But I’m happy to announce that we don’t have as many time traveling shenanigans here, so I could enjoy this book without giving myself a migraine. We have more of a case of people existing outside of time, or being Unstuck. And that’s a wonderfully interesting concept that I haven’t see in books before. I liked the narrative possibilities it opened. Being Unstuck is not a boon. In fact, most people who reach the third stage of being Unstuck fall into a coma, their mind lost in time, disconnected from their body and the “present”. This adds an additional danger to the already dangerous situation our protagonist finds herself in.

Speaking of protagonists. January is a hard cookie to crack. She is far from being a nice person. She is abrasive and rude to everyone around her. She lashes out at everyone who tries to help her out or even try to be nice at her. She is like a wounded dog that bites the hand that tries to pet him. It’s hard to empathize with such an abrasive character… and it’s a real feat that the author actually makes you empathize with her in the end. 

January is a major b to everyone around her and so clearly miserable with her job, with the hotel, with her life in general, to the point that nobody understands why she stays there. She has enough years on the job to retire comfortably. In fact, retiring and getting away from the time port is the best thing she can do, since being so close to it slowly worsens her condition. So why does she stay? By slowly uncovering her reasons for staying, the author explains why she is so abrasive to everyone. And makes the reader care for her in the process.

It also helps that she genuinely cares about the hotel and the people who work there, even if she doesn’t know how to show her affection to them. So she fights tooth and nail to keep them safe. To neutralize the threat she uncovers. And she grieves for those she is unable to save. January is flawed, even broken, but she isn’t a bad person.

And the other characters are just as interesting and eclectic. I really enjoyed getting to know them. They felt real. I would have loved to discover more of their backstories. What brought them to Paradox Hotel? Why are they staying? It’s not like they are treated well or that the pay is exceptional… yet all of them stay. It says a lot about the author’s mastery of their world that each supporting character could have been the protagonist of their own story, and I would have been there for the ride.

My only complaint is the villains’ motivation. I’m still not sure what the end game was here, for either of those people. They already went back in time and made one of them filthy rich. What else did they want to accomplish? What’s the ultimate end goal? Since that’s never really explained, it lessens the impact of the book, in my opinion. 

But that’s a small gripe. I loved this story a lot more than I expected, and I’m not a fan of time travel stories. So for those who love them, this is a must read!

PS: I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Extinction Trials by A. G. Riddle

 Stars: 1 out of 5.

I DNFed this book at 55%. You would think that reaching the halfway point there would have been some exciting action, right? With a name like Extinction Trials, you would think there would be some high stakes, trials, etc., right? Wrong. 

Yes, there seems to have been a mass extinction event, but even halfway through the book I’m not sure how long ago it had happened or how the characters ended up in Station 17. And apart from them leaving the station and getting on a boat, there hadn’t been any trials either. Unless you count them trying to repair the boat as a trial. But then one man was working on it and the rest were just mulling around waiting, so that’s a boring trial.

And that’s the crux of it – this book is boring. The characters are uninspiring. Heck, I am not sure I can remember most of them after dropping this book a few days ago. I mean who the heck is Blair and what is her purpose in this story anyway? They have no personality, no quirks, no inner strengths or weaknesses. And even though the book is told from the perspective of two of those characters, we never really get familiar with them. 

The reason for that is because the author doesn’t know how to show things. What we get instead is never-ending exposition. Each character has to tell their backstory. Then they find a journal and a character needs to read every single entry out loud. Then they find video recordings, so those are narrated as well. Heck, at one point, the two character even read excerpts from a self-help book… Yawn.

By the time I reached the halfway point and discovered that nothing major had happened yet and I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters, I decided that continuing this struggle wasn’t worth my time. So I skipped to the end just to see how this whole mess was resolved and… let’s just say that the ending is very disappointing. If you want the events in a book to make sense and abide by the rules of the world that the author created, this book is definitely not for you.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ion Curtain by Anya Ow

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a surprise hit for me. I went into this book not expecting much of anything and just hoping that it would be a fun enough to compensate for a disastrous post-apocalyptic read I had DNFed before starting this. I’m glad that I tried it. It was fun, it was fast-paced, and it had surprisingly a lot of heart.

I loved the characters. Be it Kalina or Solitaire or our stoic Russian Captain. They are surprisingly very real and “alive” in their interactions and inner thoughts. I laughed out loud a few times and rooted for them and was shocked and sad about the demise of some of the characters. It’s a sign of good writing when the reader ends up grieving the death of minor characters along with the protagonists. 

The worldbuilding was also pretty impressive and different than the usual scifi fare. In most scifi books written in the Western World, The space-faring galactic humanity is distinctly ango-saxon. If minorities are mentioned, it’s glossed over or considered that they assimilated into the bigger anglo-saxon culture. It was a breath of fresh air to see something different here. Human colonies are divided between a militaristic Federation that originated from the Russian expansion into the stars and the UN who is an amalgamation of other races but with a strong Chinese base and influence. This results in mentalities, languages and behaviors that are different from the usual. 

I absolutely loved that! We need more diverse voices in science fiction. It’s absurd to think that American culture will still dominate humanity hundreds of years from now. I loved Firefly for that exact reason – they accounted for the melting pot of cultures that will expand into the galaxy, and not all of them spoke English. 

It is also interesting to read a book about AIs and the dangers that come with achieving singularity. Though there could be discussion here whether the ships really are AIs – after all, they are brain scans of real people, so they behave like those people. Either way, the prospect is rather terrifying. And AI is be definition faster and more intelligent than a normal human. What happens if it decides that humanity is no longer relevant? What can humans do against a super computer that is self-aware and incontrollable? 

I think the author did an excellent job showing us just how ruthless and alien that kind of enemy can be. The destruction of New Tesla was horrifying because of how unnecessary it was. The AI destroyed an entire colony to get at one little ship. How do you negotiate with that kind of enemy?

I have one complaint about this book though. The story isn’t finished. Nothing is resolved. In fact, one might argue that the real story is barely starting. This made me feel rather unsatisfied when I finished the book. I was hoping for a little more resolution so to say. And I don’t mind waiting for the next book in the series, but so far no other books have been announced. I really hope we get a continuation (and conclusion) of this story eventually. 

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

 Stars: 5 out of 5

This was a surprise winner for me. I picked it up on whim and because the cover was so cool. I didn’t expect much of the story apart from space horror. I got that alright, but I also got surprisingly a lot of heart.

Imagine for a moment that you are on board of a generation ship that is running out of resources and no matter how many times you do the math, it all points to the same thing: we won’t reach Earth before our air and food runs out. Add to that that the ship is traveling through a literal minefield deployed by two unknown alien species at war with each other. The humans are just collateral damage in this battle, but it hurts the ship and their chances of survival all the same, because we don’t have the technology to detect and avoid the mines. Then add to that the fact that they unknowingly picked up a hitchhiker or two when they left the colony. And those hitchhikers are fond of human flesh. Yes, the sum total is one terrifying ride.

What I didn’t expect, is that this short novel, more a novella, would be populated by fleshed out characters I would sympathize and root for.  Jacklyn “Jack” Albright is an amazing character. She feels real. She has her flaws and insecurities and moments of pettiness or self-doubt, but she is also courageous and willing to do the right thing even if doing so means facing off with a terrifying monster that tears people apart like they were paper cutouts. She is trying her best to keep her crew together and prevent her ship from falling apart after each space mine, or “engagement” they encounter. She is overwhelmed and terrified, but she still tries everything she can to face the new treat when it arises. That’s what a true captain is, unlike her father who chose to abandon them in this trying time. 

As I had mentioned, the book is very short, and I devoured it in a lazy afternoon reading session. And I ended up loving the story and all the characters and wanting to know more. Like why had the colonists decided to attempt a doomed voyage back to Earth? What had gone wrong in the new colony? Especially since the existence of the native species was just speculation, from what I could understand. Who are those spacefaring aliens waging war across the stars? They seem to have technology eons above what humanity can master.  I really hope that the author will revisit this universe in her future books. 

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rising Tide (Ben Gold 2) by Rajan Khanna

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This was better than the first book. Mainly because I thought I saw some character growth in Ben. After all, he sacrificed the Cherub to save a town instead of running away, like he would have done previously. That was the first selfless action I’d seen him do. And he does a lot more selfless things in this book, which is a big plus in my book. 

I was fully onboard for that change, because honestly, I didn’t like Ben in the first book. He is selfish to the extreme. All he cares about is himself and his ship. To see him outgrow that and start acting against his own selfishness to help others was fulfilling. He was protecting the island. He helped rescue the scientists. It looked like he genuinely cared for Miranda’s research in finding the cure for the virus…

Unfortunately, as I came to find out by the end of this book, this was less a fundamental change of Ben’s character than his need to act like the person he cares about (Miranda) wants him to act. He loves her, so he craves her her approval. So her goals become his goals. As soon as he realizes that Miranda is gone, he reverts to his old selfish ways. I mean, seriously, he just drops everything and runs. He abandons the people he’d been fighting back to back with, who he even started considering friends, and just takes off. This, right there, killed the book for me, because it showed that the supposed character growth was just a gimmick. Talk about killing my interest in a character.

My other problem is that this book doesn’t contribute anything worthwhile to the worldbuilding. Yes, we learn about some other factions and power players, but we still don’t know the motivations of the main factions we went against in the first book. What does Valhalla want? But more importantly, what do the scientists want? Their motivations are waved off by “evil scientists do evil stuff because they are evil” gimmick. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work in a post-app world like this one. Why did they make this new virus? Do they want to completely depopulate the planet? Well, newsflash – the ferals are doing a pretty good job without anyone’s else help. Besides, if they eliminate what’s little left of the human race, then what? I doubt they will be content with farming their own food, cleaning their dwellings and doing other menials tasks of keeping themselves alive in a world without convenient minions to do their bidding. So yeah, their motivations are never explained. 

There are also several threads introduced in this book that are completely dropped and never mentioned again. For example, that strange feral outside the police warehouse in Ben’s recollections. Why attract the reader’s attention to that? It’s never mentioned again. What was the point? I understand that we see this story through Ben’s eyes, and he can’t think past his own self-interest, but it just feels so… disjointed. And while there was a driving force behind this story – Miranda’s search for a cure, I’m afraid that this is truly destroyed now. 

Which brings me to this: while I enjoyed the fast-paced action of the first 2 books, I don’t feel the need to follow Ben’s character any further. He proved that he doesn’t change. It also doesn’t seem that we would learn more about the virus or find a cure for it in the next book, so I think I will say goodbye to this series right here and now.