Category Archives: science fiction

Travel by Bullet (The Dispatcher 3) by John Scalzi

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I liked this novella – it’s perfect for a lazy afternoon when you don’t particularly want to commit to a longer book. It’s fast-paced and engaging, and still manages to deliver a decent portion of worldbuilding.

And what a fascinating world it is. Imagine a world where murder doesn’t exist anymore. And by that I mean that a murder victim will reappear in a place they consider safe and will be unharmed, though will retain the memory of the murder. Oh, that doesn’t eliminate death in its entirety. Accidents still happen, and illness, but murder? in 99.99% of the cases, the victim will be alive again. 

It’s interesting to see the changes that this brings to society. And to see the good and bad that this brings in humanity. 

On one hand we have government sanctioned dispatchers whose sole job is to murder people who would otherwise die a permanent death so that they have a second chance. For example, someone is in a bad car accident and is moments from dying. The doctors can’t save them fast enough. If the dispatcher murders that person, they have a 99.99% chance to reappear at their home safe and healthy, like the accident never happened. Sure, there is that little 0.01% chance that they will fail to reappear, but that’s better than certain death, don’t you think?

On the other hand, we have people who use their power and influence to make others compete to the death to gain their favors, be it a lucrative construction contract, a job position or a refence that the other person needs. It is immoral and frankly horrifying. So what if the murder victim will technically survive? Both the muderer and the victim will still keep the memories and the trauma of the event.

This is my second foray into this series, since I read the first book, and I must admit that I’m loving it. The concept is original and I enjoy watching where the author will take it. I will definitely also check out the second book that I somehow missed.

My only complaint about this particular book is that the main characters is a bit bland. We really don’t get to see what makes him tick. I still don’t know what his motivation is in doing what he is doing.  But since I love the concept so much, I am willing to forgive a blah protagonist.

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

Paradise-1 (Red Space) by David Wellington

Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

I was fully onboard with this book for the first 50% or so of the story. Granted, one of the main characters was too stupid to exist, and some of her choices were that of a braindead child. But the story moved along at a good pace, things were happening, there was a big mystery about, so was happy to overlook an annoying character or two. But then the book kept going… and going… and going with no end in sight. Episodes started repeating themselves without bringing anything new to the story, and I was quickly losing interest. 

As I had mentioned, the characterizations in this book are… rather lacking. And forget about character growth. I think the only character that has any is Rapscallion, and he is a sentient robot. Which tells you everything you need to know about the other characters. So if you are looking for a character driven story, move along. This ain’t for you.

But the mystery of what the heck is happening around Paradise-1 and why all ships sent there stop responding was compelling enough to have me turning the pages for about half of the book. And I admit that the idea of an alien contract that can invade our minds by planting a destructive idea is rather horrifying, because our bodies have no defense against a virus that isn’t biological in nature. I also really wanted to discover what was on Paradise-1 that needed to be guarded so fiercely, and why was it worth so many human lives and so many ships to try and get it.

Unfortunately, this book is at least 300 pages too long, so the story started repeating itself. We get to yet another ship that’s infected with different version of the Basilisk. We encounter yet another crazy AI and see the horrors that happened to the human crew. We don’t learn anything that we didn’t know by reading the first half of the book. The characters flee the ship, or are saved, or take the ship over… then the action switches to yet another encounter with another infected ship. Honestly, I think the story should have ended after their attempt to run the blockade to land on the planet. The 200 pages after that were just filler, with a few exception, like actually encountering the Basilisk, and even that could have been incorporated into the story differently. 

Oh, did I mention that the book ends on a cliffhanger? No? Well, it does. 700 + pages end with no emotional payoff whatsoever. We still don’t know what happened on Paradise-1 and why it was so important to get there. The story ends mid-action.

I guess the reader would have to pick up the next book in the series to find out what happened to the colony on Paradise-1, but guess what?  I won’t be along for the ride. I am not willing to sit through another overlong book and follow annoying characters just to find out that the story isn’t finished and there is another cliffhanger. No thanks, I’m out.

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

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I rarely read fairy tale retellings, because I think that retellings are rather pointless. I’d rather read the original and decide for myself what the morale of the story was, instead of reading about what the reteller thinks the story was about. So I’m really glad that I didn’t know that this was a retelling of Pinocchio when I picked up the book, or I would never have given it a try. And I would have lost out on a wonderful story.

And honestly, you don’t have to know anything about the original Pinocchio book to enjoy this story. Yes, there are parallels, but In the Life of Puppets stands on its own two feet pretty well and doesn’t rely on knowledge of the original.

It’s a story of Victor Lawson, the only human in a world of robots. And of his quest to save his father. And him and his friends have some adventures along the way. 

For a fairy tale this book has surprisingly a lot of heart. Because the characters, human and robot alike, are fully realized individuals with their own quirks and dreams. And their interactions are hilarious at times, and at times very touching and heartfelt. Nurse Ratched is my favorite character. Yay for sociopathic nurse robots with a heart of gold. 

The world our group of misfits travels through is wonderous and terrible at the same time, like it should be in good fairy tales. And all of the characters grow and progress along the way, especially Victor, who has to come to terms with a lot of hard truths. Like the fact that his father was the engineer of the extinction of his whole race. Or that you can still love someone even if you can’t forgive them for what they did, even if you aren’t sure you have the right to forgive them.

Or that you can love someone even if they don’t remember you from time to time. This last one hit particularly close to home, since I am dealing with a relative slowly loosing his battle with Alzheimer’s. That is a truly horrible disease that transforms a loved one into a completely different person. A bit like what happened to Gio once he was taken back into the City of Electric Dreams.

And even though the situations our characters find themselves in are horrible at times, the overall message of this book is one of love and hope, which makes it a very heartwarming story. I would definitely recommend this to adults and young adults alike. It’s rare that I read a book in one sitting and come out of it with a content and warm feeling.

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

Centers of Gravity (Frontlines 8) by Marco Kloos

DNF at 45%.

I love me a good space opera from time to time. Heck, I’m both a Star Wars and a Star Trek fan. I watch and read plenty of scifi. Problem is, I want my space opera to be, if not smart, then at least entertaining, with a good story and relatable characters I want to invest my reading time into. Not the case here.

The characters here are absolutely lifeless. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are not characters at all, but cardboard cutouts with a series of threats needed by the author to progress the story. Heck, even the protagonist is so bland that I can’t remember his name a week after I gave up on this book. We don’t know his motivations, we don’t know his needs or wants, or even his fears. Yes, we are told that he is married and misses his wife, but it’s told in such a clinical manner that there is no sentiment behind it. The side characters are even less defined.

My other problem is that there really isn’t much of a female representation in this book. And the little we have are either guys in skirts, or a guy’s wet dream. Which we often see in books written by men, unfortunately. It takes talent to create tridimensional characters, especially those of the opposite sex. And effort. In my opinion, the author simply didn’t put in the effort here. Which might be okay for some if action is all they had come for. Unfortunately, action is usually not enough for me.

Speaking of action, this book takes way to long to set up the stage for it. The first 30-40% is basically set up where nothing happens. Characters fly through space. Characters talk. Characters walk. Characters make plans. It can be made interesting if the characters were interesting which is not the case here. 

The writing is… serviceable when it comes to description and action scenes, but sucks when it comes to dialog. All characters sound the same, which, since they have no personality to speak of, is not surprising. But the dialog also doesn’t sound natural. People don’t speak like that, even in the future. This is when I’m glad that I don’t listen to audiobooks, because good luck trying to instill life into those conversations. 

In summary, this is definitely not for me. I mean, the action might be phenomenal in the second half of the book, but I didn’t care enough to stick around for it.

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

Lost in Time by A.G. Riddle

Stars: 1.5 out of 5.

Pfew, glad I’m finally done with this book. It’s not particularly long, but boy it dragged. 

Truth be told, I only picked it up because the blurb promised time travel and dinosaurs. Unfortunately, there is precious little of them in this story. And that timeline is completely ignored for the last 50% of the book, much to my disappointment. Also, how can you make a story of survival at the time of dinosaurs boring? I thought that was impossible.

The characters are also nothing to write home about. And what I mean by that is that they are lifeless. They are just concepts with a few distinct traits and flaws to differentiate them by, not real fleshed out characters. Adeline is the worst offender in this department. Too bad she is the one we follow the most in this book. By the time the author completely drops Sam’s story at the time of the big reptiles and focuses solely on Adeline and her valiant attempt at making her life even more boring than it was, I was sorely tempted to just DNF this book. But I had already read about 67% of the story, so I felt bad for my time investment and wanted to at least see this through and find out what this murder mystery was all about. 

Spoiler alert – it makes no sense whatsoever. Turns out the murder is not really a murder, so all the pain and suffering for Sam and Adeline was for no good reason at all. Also, that whole plot twist with Adeline’s time travel served no particular point either. 

And the ending… don’t start me on the ending. Are we really supposed to think that his little utopia island of theirs is supposed to be a paradise on earth? These people are effectively prisoners there until they die. How long before some of them decide they had enough and stage an insurrection? 

Also, what was the point of this story? The murder wasn’t really a murder, so the driving factor behind all this is moot. The end result is also deeply unsatisfying. 

The writing stile was also very dry and impersonal. That coupled with one-dimensional characters made it very hard to stay engaged in the story or to care about what was happening at all. I don’t think I will pick up another book by this author.

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

The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon

Stars: 2 out of 5.

This book tried to marry two different ideas in the same story – a climate disaster story and a story about people with a special ability that ties them to a different world/dimension. I think the author wanted to pay homage to Stephen King and his many books that did the same thing.  Lisey’s Story comes to mind. That was one creepy and fascinating book.

Unfortunately, where Stephen King managed to marry the weird and the mundane into a seamless buildup of creepiness, this author failed, in my opinion. 

I think it stems from the fact that the power the Rainmaker family has is never truly explained or explored other than as a tool to rain disaster and death on an already ravaged country. That and the fact that it is described almost like a drug, an addiction, makes it really unpredictable and unattractive. 

Also, it is never truly explained how that power is tied to the horrible draught that is killing a vast part of the States, of if there is even a connection. And if there isn’t a connection, then what’s the point of this power in the story?

My other issue with this book is that all the characters are unlikeable, especially Ash. I mean, I was pretty interested and invested in her story while she was on a quest to assemble her device and make it rain… Until at about 61% in the book where she unleashes rains of blood and horrors upon this town, kills several people… and has absolutely no remorse about it. That’s where she lost all my support, as well as my desire to continue following her story.

I also don’t understand why everyone else is making excuses for her behavior. Oh, she is so special. She can make rain out of a clear sky… Yes, she can also unleash venomous creatures that attack everything in sight along with that rain. Oh, and by the way that rain will turn into a deluge that will make matter so much worse. 

Of the other protagonists we have Ashe’s father, who is a coward who’s response to a traumatic even had been to hide his had in the sand for almost a decade. Her mother who turned her whole life into an obsession. An ex-addict turned into Ash’s insta-groupie. And a psychopatic killer. Honestly, not a single one of them is likeable or even relatable enough follow into the story. 

I think I would have enjoyed this more if Ash wasn’t such an unrepentant addict who made excuses every time she messed things up. Or if the supernatural element was better tied into the rest of the story.

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

Neptune’s Brood (Freyaverse 2) by Charles Stross

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

First, I need to point something out for those who just finished the first book in the series. The sequel has absolutely no ties to the first book, apart from happening in the same universe, so be warned if you expect to learn more about Freya – she isn’t even mentioned in this book. My husband launched into this book right after he finished the first one, and he didn’t enjoy it as much precisely because of this. He said the disconnect was too big at the beginning of the book – it is the same universe, but all the characters are new. 

I, however, started book 2 about a year after I read book 1, so I didn’t mind the fact that we are told a completely different story a few thousand years in the future from the events of the first book as much. Sure, I would have loved to find out more about Freya and her sibs, but I was happy enough to explore this new evolution of the world introduced in book one.

And it’s a fascinating world where humanity (at least a variant thereof) spread into the stars and created a vast society of colonies almost everywhere in the universe close to their point of origin (Earth). I found the structure of their society fascinating. When warp drive or hyperspace or faster than light travel don’t exist, interstellar travel takes dozens, sometimes hundreds of years. Even laser uploads via laser arrays, the fastest form or interstellar travel, takes dozens of years. It’s fascinating to read about a society that thinks in scopes of centuries and even millennia when founding a new colony or engaging in any type of financial transaction.

The whole financial and economical system is very interesting as well, and, as far as I remember, this is the first science fiction story in which this aspect of a society is explored in so much detail and is so integral to the story. In fact, it’s a little bit too integral to the story, and the endless explanations on how slow money works and different fraudulent manipulations thereof were a bit tedious to go through after a while.

The biggest problem of the book, at least for me, was the main protagonist, Krina. She is a very passive character that reacts more than acts on her own. For the duration of the book, she had been a victim of the circumstances, kidnapped, altered, thrown into the deep end of a water planet, etc. And when she finally gathers enough power to have her own agency… the story ends. That was very disappointing, especially when you compare Krina to Freya from the first book.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, even if I could have used a little less exposition about the different financial instruments. This is definitely a series worth your time and effort.

Infinity Gate (Pandominion 1) by M. R. Carey

Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

This is another example of a book where the idea sounds great when you read the blurb on the back, but the execution is sorely disappointing. Honestly, the most I can say about this book is meh.

The idea of a technology that allows humans to travel the multiverse is amazing, and there are so many ways a story like that could go! One of the best examples so far was The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson . Now that story had a heart. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t. 

Oh, it has plenty of interesting ideas. The worlds of Pandominion are fascinating, and the idea that in some version of our Earth, primates might not have evolved to dominate the land is intriguing. The fact that most of those diverse races manage to coexist peacefully is also wonderful to see. 

However, a long story like that can’t win on worldbuilding and concept alone. It needs engaging characters to carry the narrative and keep the readers engaged. And the characters in this book are extremely unlikeable. They are selfish to the extreme, unable to take responsibility of their own actions. They make often horrible decisions and commit atrocities and manage to justify it. I couldn’t stand most of them. The only character I could more or less relate to was Paz, because she was mostly an innocent bystander at the beginning, and any actions she took afterwards were fueled by her sense of right and wrong. But we meet Paz a lot later in the book, and for the first 35% I really had nobody to root for, so this story was almost a DNF for me.

Also, we have an empire that spans countless parallel universes and includes a diverse variety of “selves”, who manage to coexist even though some of them evolved from primates, others from wolves/cats, and even others from herbivores. But that empire itself is a repressive regime, where the only political actions seem to be strike first and annihilate the (possible) treat and ask questions never. Are you telling me that with all the bright minds available in all the multiverse, the Pandominion couldn’t come up with a better form of government?

Why is it that this mighty and very technologically advanced empire didn’t even try to communicate with the machines when they stumbled upon the mechanical civilization? Seriously, not a single attempt at communication was even considered. Or, you know, just leaving them alone. There are infinite Earths in this multiverse, so why not just blacklist this particular one and go explore somewhere else? No, the solution is to invade and annihilate. Without provocation, mind you. And they wonder why they get pushback? Or that they are being destroyed in response?

Finally, even though this book is about 500 pages long, it doesn’t even resolve part of the story that is hinted at in the first chapters. It just sets up the stage and brings all the main characters together. Yes, I understand that this is the first book in a series, and that there is an overarching story. But you need to give the reader some kind of payoff for investing hours of their time into this book. At least one story arc should have been satisfyingly concluded by the end of this book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. And honestly? I won’t stick around for book 2 to find out what happens to the Pandominion.

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

System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries 7) by Martha Wells

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Disclaimer before I get into the meat of this review. In order to understand what’s happening in this book, you must have read Network Effect. This story picks up almost immediately after the ending of that book, and the events in NE have a direct impact on what’s happening in this story. Of course, I’m assuming that not many people would start a series on its seventh book without reading the previous six, but you never know.

As I said, the events of this book are a direct continuation of Network Effect. They are still on the planet with the alien infestation. The corporation is still there as well. And Murderbot… Murderbot is not okay. Oh, he is fine physically speaking, but his mental state is in shambles to say the least.

And you know what? I’m really glad that the author chose to portray it this way. She could have easily just swept the events of Network Effect under the rug, and left Murderbot continue like nothing happened. To be his sarcastic and highly efficient paranoid self. But that would have diminished the impact of what had happened in those ruins. 

Murderbot had been through a horrific and traumatic experience. He was almost assimilated by a malignant alien entity, not to mention the mental violation that took place. If he had just shrugged this off, it would only have reinforced the point that SecUnits are just machines, because only a machine could walk away unscathed from something like that. 

But Bot is more than a machine, and he has a severe case of PTSD, even if he doesn’t understand what’s happening to him. He thinks he is broken, that something in either his organic parts or his programs is malfunctioning. So we get this very hesitant Bot, who second guesses all of his hunches and reactions, who doesn’t trust his own risk assessments, and who spends so much time checking and double-checking his conclusions that he seems slow on the uptake. 

This shows us an oddly vulnerable side of Murderbot. He isn’t used to being this hesitant. He isn’t used to not being in control of the situation or of his own reactions to those situations, and he isn’t used to not being able to have several plans of attack/retreat going at once in his head.

I also loved that Bot’s attitude towards the humans he is with (the ones who came with him and ART’s crew) has drastically changed in this book as well. Yes, he can still be sarcastic about them, but he truly considers them as friends, not just charges he has to keep alive often despite their best efforts. Bot even starts to trust them to accomplish things without his input or help. He relies on them more and he thinks of them a lot more fondly then before. This is huge character growth for Bot, and I am very happy about that.

My only complaint is that due to the limiting factors of the setting, we don’t get nearly enough interaction with ART prime or Three, which I was really looking forward to. But seeing how this book ends, I have hope that we will get a lot more ART in the future. I would also like to know what will happen to the SecUnits Bot freed in this book. It would really be interesting to see how each of them evolves.

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

Steelheart (Reckoners 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Brandon Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors, because the amount of work he puts into creating distinctive new worlds with wonderful internal logic is amazing. When I pick up one of his books, I know I will discover a complex magical system that works in the parameters of his world. I know that there won’t be any deus ex machina, and that all the actions and consequences will make sense. So his books are a pleasure to read.

The premise of Steelheart reminded me a little of the TV series The Boys, only taken to the extreme. Imagine that all of a sudden certain people had super powers. Only with those super powers comes an absolute sense of self-entitlement and complete disregard for human life. The results is… apocalyptical, so say the least. The world as we know it is no more. Powerful Epics rule their domains (be it a city, a town, or another piece of land) with savagery and not a care for the normal humans who happen to live on their soil. Sometimes they engage in bloody battles with each other to try an conquer what they consider a better piece of real estate. The victims are again normal humans caught in the crossfire. 

And there really is nothing normal humans can do about it, because most high Epics have unbelievable powers and are virtually unkillable, unless you know their particular weakness and can simulate all the circumstances that trigger it. That weakness is unique for each Epic and often doesn’t even make sense.

This is a bleak and violent world, aptly impersonated by the city of Newcago, where the buildings and even the soil they stand on have been turned to steel, and the sky is shrouded in perpetual night. Where people live in underground tunnels and scuttle away from Epics like rats. Enter David and the Reckoners – normal humans who have one goal in life – killing Epics. 

I lot of reviews I read found David an annoying character, but I must disagree. Yes, his bad puns and inexistent social skills are sometimes painful to read, but this makes sense for his character. All his life, he’s been driven by a singular purpose – to kill Steelheart and avenge the murder of his father. So everything he did was to advance that goal. He is extremely smart and driven, but he is also somewhere on the autistic spectrum, in my opinion. So interacting with people seems awkward, even painful to him. And deciphering their emotions is harder than gathering intelligence on Epics. Let’s also not forget that he is only 18 in this book, so basically a kid that grew up in less than ideal circumstances. Yes, his infatuation with Megan was a bit cringy at times, but that’s what you would expect from a socially inept teenager towards his first crush. I loved David.

I liked the other members of the Reckoners. They are each one weird in their own way, but they make this teamwork work. Their banter and interactions were fun to read about. It was also fascinating to watch them study an Epic, figure out their weakness, then implement a carefully crafted plan to eliminate them… Then the plan would inevitably go wrong and lots of improvisation would issue. 

I loved that there is a hint of an explanation of why all the Epics are such awful human beings. I hope that this idea will be explored further in the future books, and knowing Sanderson, it absolutely will. And I will be along for the ride.