Category Archives: science fiction

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.

Revelation Space (Revelation Space 1) by Alastair Reynolds

Stars: 4 out of 5

I love when I discover a new space opera series that I haven’t read before, and there are several books already written. This means that if I like the series, I can binge it at my heart’s content. I’m happy to say that Revelation Space is another binge-worthy contender. 

The author created a very complex and fascinating world with several characters that have different motivations and come from extremely different backgrounds. We are also presented with a complex interweaving story that eventually brings all of those characters to one place and time.

This is an interesting take on space exploration and the age of our universe. Unlike a lot of other science fiction franchises, like Star Trek for example, who are teaming with sentient alien species and stories of first contact and collaboration, human in the world of Revelation Space seem to be almost alone in the galaxy. Sure, they have encountered a couple other sentient races like the Shrouders or the Pattern Jugglers, but they are so alien that any hope of communication and understanding is short lived. But they found ruins, and plenty of them, on multiple planets. It’s almost like the galaxy used to be a crowded place teeming with intelligent life… that died out long before humanity made it to the stars. It’s like humans were too late for the party and found only the remnants of the buffet.

What happened? Why did all those civilizations disappear? Will the same fate befall humanity as well? The quest for the answers to those questions is what is at the heart of this story.

As I had mentioned before, we have a diverse group of characters in this story as well. And while I didn’t like all of them, I must admit that they were all interesting and well-done. They had distinct personalities and motivations. More importantly, there was always a reason behind their actions, even if that reason wasn’t immediately apparent. I love characters who behave and act in accordance with how they are established, because that makes them believable. 

Again, that doesn’t mean I liked all of them. Sylveste was a particularly self-absorbed condescending prick. I really can’t fathom what Pascale saw in him. Granted, he sort of redeemed himself in the end, but you could argue that he had to do it to prevent an extinction event that wouldn’t have happened hadn’t he been so pigheaded and single-minded in his obsession.

My only complaint is that the author overuses dialogue (or should I say monologue?) to infodump the reader on different events and concepts. It works the first or even the second time, but it gets rather old after a while. I also noticed that the characters constantly summarize previous events for other characters, even though the reader just witnessed them a few chapters ago. I mean sure, this book is 500 some pages long, but give the reader some credit, we haven’t forgotten what happened 100 pages ago.

The world itself is complex and fascinating, and this book only scratched the surface of it. I can’t wait to dive into the next books and uncover other pieces of the puzzle.

Light Chaser by Peter F Hamilton

 Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is a dystopian novel, even if it takes the reader a while to recognize that. After all, we have a modern spaceship piloted by an AI and a crew member who is tasked with visiting a umber of worlds populated by humans. She trades trinkets and harmless technologies or medicines in exchange for memory bracelets that certain inhabitants of these worlds wear throughout generations. Since her ship travels at speeds as close to light as possible, Her trip between planets might take 5 years, but for those planets, over a thousand years pass between visits.

That’s where the dystopia comes into play. Because even though Amahle visits these planets every thousand years or so, nothing changes on them. The medieval planet is forever stuck in those dark middle ages. The industrial and steam revolution planet doesn’t advance past those innovations. Even the most evolved planet at the end of her loop, where she unloads her stock of memory bracelets, hasn’t made any significant breakthroughs in millions of years. Everything stays forever the same. More than that, there is no interstellar travel in this human-populated space, apart from those Light Chaser ships.

When Amahle finally discovers the reason why, at first she refuses to believe it, then she is terrified, then she decides to do something about it. 

I thought this was an interesting take on slavery. Because make no mistake, the entire human race is enslaved by an unknown alien race. Just because humans have no idea that it is happening doesn’t make the fact any less appalling.  It was also an interesting study on the nature of our memories – what is real, can our memories be manipulated, can erased memories be recovered? And of course, it’s also a study of trust, love, and the feeling of safety. And also about hope and ingenuity.

It’s a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I questioned the author’s decision to start the book with the ending, then rewind the story to show us how the characters got to that point, I think it took away from the suspense of the story – we already know that the characters will succeed and survive until that final confrontation, so there is no tension when they are put in danger in the rest of the book. 

I think telling the events in the normal chronological way would have added a lot more tension to the story, since we would have had to discover everything along with Amahle, without knowing where the story was going. We would have been a lot more invested in the discovery and the struggle itself, and the ending would have been a lot more satisfying. 

Anyway, if you want a fun book about space travel, love, and reincarnation, I would highly recommend this one. Plus it’s only 172 pages long, so it’s a fast read for a rainy afternoon.

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

Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

Stars: 2 out of 5

If you are looking for a book with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and driven by memorable characters… this is not a story you are looking for. If you are looking for a mismatched bag of great ideas loosely wrapped into something resembling a story with characters that have the depth of cardboard, then by all means, give Plague Birds a try.

This was a very disappointing read. I was lured into this book by the excellent cover (I mean, seriously, look at this thing, it’s gorgeous) and a blurb that promised an interesting story set in a unique world. The world is unique, alright, and that’s why this gets 2 stars instead of 1, but the interesting story never materialized.

Instead, I felt like the author had a basketful of interesting concepts that  he really wanted to play with and include in the story, but he couldn’t quite figure out how to weave them into a coherent narrative, so he just tossed them all in, shook it a little and left the end result to chance. So we get villages governed by AI, cannibal monks in a monastery dedicated to preserving the knowledge of a lost human race, a forest that becomes sentient by torturing people who venture into it, and so on and so forth. Yes, those are fascinating and often horrifying concepts that were interesting to explore, but what they add to the main story is unclear.

Speaking of main story. I am still not sure what it was. What was the end goal here? Was it to discover the through behind the death of Crista’s mother? Was it to reach the city of Seed? Was it to catch the villain killing plague birds? The stakes are not clear, and there is no sense of urgency, so the story meanders along with Crista seemingly without purpose. Yes, they need to stop the Veil, but there isn’t a ticking clock to create a sense of urgency. They can hunt those people for hundreds of years without anything bad happening for all we know.

And I could have forgiven this lack of cohesive story if the characters I was forced to follow were interesting. Not the case here. I am still not sure I know Crista even after spending this journey with her. Despite this being told in first person from her point of view, the author does a very poor job actually showing us her thoughts, motivations and inner workings. 

This goes for all the other characters as well. In fact, this book is all tell and almost no show. We get flashbacks and infodumps galore. People react in ways that often puzzle me because the author never explained what made them tick. Though in the case of the main villain, I am not sure even the author knew what made him tick, because his motivation is thinner then rice paper. I mean, he could have killed Crista several times over, but he chose to mess with her mind and/or even help her instead. Why? Never explained.

Another big disappointment for me was that this book reads like a YA story. With all the typical YA shortfalls and tropes. Including insta-love (or should I say insta-lust?). Yet it’s not classified as YA on NetGalley or Goodreads. Had I seen that before I had requested this book, I would never have bothered. I have nothing against the YA genre. I just don’t read it.

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

Terminal Peace (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse 3) by Jim C Hines

Stars: 5 out of 5

This was an excellent ending to what turned out to be a very good series. I will definitely check out other books by this author, because as far as introductions go, the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse knocked it out of the park.

This book effectively resolves the main issue of the first two books – the seemingly unresolvable Prodryan treat. How do you prevail over a species who considers all other species as inferior and the whole universe as their own playground, ripe for the taking? Where conquest is woven into the very DNA of a Prodryan? The only way to beat that is genocide, at least according to the Krakau Alliance. And we found out exactly to what lengths the Krakau are willing to go to accomplish that in the previous two books. But Marion “Mops” Adamapoulos and her crew might just have another solution…

I loved how unpredictable these books are. Every time I think I know the course which the story will take, the author manages to surprise me with a completely different resolution. I admit that I still have doubts about the feasibility of the solution proposed at the end of this book, but I admit that it’s beautifully accomplished. What solution? you might ask. Well, read the book to find out.

Mops also had a big obstacle to overcome in this book. One that is very personal and very terminal. It was both uplifting and bittersweet to embark on this journey with her and to see her slowly come to grips with her own condition and her place in the big picture. Mops grew a lot as a leader and a human being throughout the series. 

So did all the other characters as well. I was particularly impressed with how far Kumar came from the obsessive-compulsive cleaner he’d been in book 1. The great part is that he is still obsessive-compulsive, but he had matured as a person and discovered some inner depths that I frankly didn’t know he had. That’s the great thing about this series – the characters evolve and mature, but they fundamentally stay themselves. The growth is believable. They still act in character and the decisions they make are believable based on what we know of them. 

I admit that up until almost the end was wasn’t sure what kind of solution our crew would find to the Protryan problem short of full-on genocide or chemically altering an entire species which would also be a different kind of genocide. As I had mentioned earlier, the solution is quite beautifully done, even if I have doubts it would last long-term. I would be interested to see how it works out, if the author decides to revisit this world again in his later works. 

There are a number of characters I would like to follow up on, including Mops and all the Librarians on Earth. We end this book on a hopeful note, with a real cure for feral humanity. This is huge. How would that work out? A whole civilization to rebuild and hordes of feral humans to cure and re-educate. That’s a big task. Also, how will this new alliance work? How would the Prodryans interact with other species when they aren’t trying to conquer them?

All in all, this was a very good story – fast paced and full of twists and turns and engaging characters. And the Jynx are furry little balls of awesome.

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

Blood Binds the Pack (The Ghost Wolves 2) by Alex Wells

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am ashamed to say that it took me almost 2 years to finish this book. According to Goodreads, I started reading on August 20, 2020… Well, I finished it on July 30, 2022. It’s not the longest I had dragged a book on my currently reading list, but it comes close.

And you know what? I am not sure why it took me so long. I loved the first book. I devoured it in two days. I was fascinated by the world, the magic, the characters… Especially Hob and her band of ragtag Wolves and the Bone Collector.

And therein lies the problem, I think. I liked Hob. I wanted to follow her and maybe also find out what happened to Coyote and how he would cope with the changes. Unfortunately, I got very little of that in this book. In fact, I got almost zero on Coyote at all, which is really disappointing. I mean he is back with the Wolves and helping Hob, but we don’t dwell over the profound changes he underwent at the end of the last book or the consequences for him. It’s the same old Coyote, just with a lust for blood… That was disappointing. And I get that there is a bigger story there and that Coyote is only slightly important to it, but it was still disappointing.

The book is divided between three main POVs (with the inclusion of a couple unimportant ones here and there). We follow Mag, Shige, and Hob. Unfortunately, I couldn’t care less for Mag even in the first book, and she gets a lion’s share of page time in this one. Shige isn’t much more interesting to me either. Listening to him whining about his upbringing and his fate and not doing anything to change it gets old fast. And listening to him dwelling in his jealousy for his brother who had actually left is even more irritating. As far as I’m concerned, he could have died in that desert and I wouldn’t have shed a tear.

So this leaves only one POV I was excited to read… and Hob gets very little coverage. Of the three narrators, we stay with her the least until the final battle. I would be excited every time I got to Hob’s narratives, but they would end up way too quickly and I would have to slog through Mag’s troubles with the miners or Shige’s ineffective meddling with TransRift while he was becoming the Weatherman’s puppet… and my interest would disappear to the point where I would put the book down for a few months. And that’s why it took me two years to read 416 pages.

I still think it’s a decent book. I just wish we had learned a bit more about this strange world and that the characters I liked had a bit more screen time. But if you like Mag or Shige, you should breeze through this book pretty quickly and enjoy it.

Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

Stars: 3 out of 5

This book had so much promise! Ghost ship in space! Damaged protagonist! Horror of the psychological and other kind! I couldn’t wait to start it. And for the first three quarters of the book it was really great. I honestly thought that this would be one of the best horror books I’d read in 2022… then the ending botched it all, at least for me.

Then again, I am not a fan of evil corporations doing evil things because they are evil. It’s been done to death by now in books, movies, and video games. Let the corporations rest. Find another villain for your stories. Thanks.

Also, this story was truly frightening as long as we didn’t know what really happened to the Aurora. I was terrified for our characters when they first boarded the ship and started exploring. The obvious signs of violence and the fact that we didn’t know what had cause everyone to go mad was really scary. The ending killed that, in my opinion. As soon as I knew what was behind everything, I didn’t care anymore. As I said, it’s one thing to watch a group of hapless people battle against an unknown entity, and another to see them battle against a corrupt space corporation. I’ve seen the second scenario too many times before.

I loved Claire though. She is a very relatable protagonist. I couldn’t help but root for her the more I learned about her past trauma. And since she has psychological issues of her own, she makes the perfect unreliable narrator here – we never know what is just in her head and what is affecting everybody else. And she doesn’t know it either, which adds to the angst. 

Unfortunately, the other characters were a lot less defined. In fact, most of them were just placeholders: the self-assured jerk, the innocent young girl, the nerdy hacker, the evil corporation goon, the entitled rich guy. I honestly couldn’t care less about any of them. 

I was also not sold on the burgeoning love story. I think it was shoe-horned into the main story just to make the reader care more about the characters. Well, it did the opposite to me. The whole courtship felt so forced that it turned me away from the characters. I think I rolled my eyes every time they interacted. It wasn’t needed. Claire had enough motivation trying to save her team without adding a love interest into the mix. 

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. It felt a little bit too convenient and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. I understand that the author wanted to give a HEA to the characters and an emotional payoff for the reader, but to me it felt flat. 

All in all, it was a good read for most part. I mean, I finished it in one day. But it could have been so much better.