Category Archives: Soft Science Fiction

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.

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.

Mai Tais For the Lost by Mia V Moss

 Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This was a meh book for me, even if it was very short at barely over 100 pages. 

I think the problem was that I went into the book thinking it would be a murder mystery. After all, we have a private detective, we have a murder, and we have a (sort of) investigation of that murder. Sadly, none of it is executed very well. 

I’d say that it’s good Marrow is the only private detective in that hab, because she sucks. If she had competition, she would go out of business in a heartbeat. All she does in these 100-some pages is get drunk and high and go from one party to another. Oh sure, call them “wakes” for her murdered brother, if you want to. I’ll call them pointless waste of pages. 

No seriously, what was the point of showing us these parties? To introduce the other colorful characters Marrow grew up with? To show us just how decadent and selfish the rich are? One party would have been enough for that. And if it was to make us care for some of those characters, I’m afraid the author failed. By the end of the book, I can’t remember anything about them apart from their weird names. Besides, the author doesn’t even mention if they lived or died at the end of the book, though it’s implied that they were left in imminent danger somewhere along the way.

Now let’s talk about Marrow herself. She keeps telling us that she’d been ostracized because she come from “the Poor” and was adopted into a rich family, but from all the interactions I had seen with her brother’s friends, they seem to be pretty accepting of her, even affectionate. So the “show” doesn’t support the “tell,” which to makes me doubt a lot of other assumptions Marrow has. She also sucks as an investigator. All she does during this book is get drunk or high and stumble into pieces of evidence conveniently left for her to find. Great detective she is not.

I also found the murder mystery itself rather lackluster. We really don’t get any resolution there, just more questions and loose ends. Yes, we saved the habitat from a corporate assassin, but other than that, there is no emotional payoff…

Like I said, I probably came into this book with a wrong set of expectations, and was left disappointed.

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

The Exiled Fleet (The Divide 2) by J. S. Dewes

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I thought the first book was excellent (and you can read my review if you are interested), because it introduced us to an unusual world full of flawed but engaging characters who were faced with an impossible situation. It was literally life or death. The book was fast-paced and very readable. 

I’m happy to say that the second book lives up the expectations set up by the first. Rake and the Sentinels have stopped the progression of the Divide and saved the galaxy, but the fact remains that the Legion abandoned them at the edge of nowhere. Their reserves are dwindling, morale is low, and Cav is once again faced with an impossible task – invent a warp drive from scratch to move the giant derelict ship towards the only existing warp gate and into the galaxy proper. If he can’t succeed, all the remaining Sentinels (that’s four thousand people) starve to death. No pressure.

I thought the stakes were high in the first book. Well, they are even higher here. Especially for Rake and Cav. Because it doesn’t matter that you managed to save as many Sentinels as you could from the collapsing Divide. If you can’t get them back into the inhabited part of the universe and find a base of operations.

As I had mentioned in the first book, the author has a talent for creating very relatable characters. And I’m not just talking about the main protagonists, but also about most of the supporting characters. Some of them are only introduced for a couple pages, and I’m already in love with them. Like all the Corsairs and grumpy Gideon.

In this book, most of your characters will have to face the consequences of their past actions and inactions. Rake will call on a life debt she’d never planned to have. Cav will discover an earth shattering truth about his past. and Jackin… let’s just say that we learn a lot more about who he was, and how he ended up with the Sentinels.

All of them will have to deal with the past and also find a new purpose and a way to move on. Because no matter how monumental a task escaping the Divide was, what awaits them is even bigger. Because the universe is about to get a lot smaller, and a lot of races will fight over the available real estate. Humanity has to present a united front or be wiped out. And right now, humanity is anything but united. Rake and Cav have their job cut out for them. But at least now they have a lot more allies and resources. 

I can’t wait to see where this story will go from here. I really hope a certain character is still alive, and that our heroes will mount a successful rescue in the next book.

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

Fated Blades (Kinsmen 3) by Ilona Andrews

 Stars: 5 out of 5

Excellent modern take at the Romeo and Juliette myth, only if both Romeo and Juliette decided to join forces  and kick ass.

Once again, I am happy to announce that you can’t go wrong with an Ilona Andrews book. They all range from good to excellent, no matter what series you pick up. Though I have a particular soft spot for Kate Daniels and the Innkeeper series. 

I somehow missed all the other books in the Kinsmen series (an oversight that I will rectify as soon as I get a hold of the first two books), but I loved this entry into the series. Oh, and by the way, you don’t need to have read the previous books to enjoy this one. I went in fresh and ignorant of the world of Rada and enjoyed it immensely. Each book is meant to be read as a standalone, from what I gathered.

Anyway, here is the set up. The Adlers and the Baenas are the only two secare families on Rada, and they had a blood feud going ever since the first colonization. The reasons for that feud have been lost to the sands of time, but the families still hate each other on sight and try to kill each other on occasion. So imagine the leaders of these two families, Ramona Adler and Mathias Baena, being put in such a situation that to save their families and their reputations, they have to become allies. Sparks fly and enemies dies.

What I like about Ilona Andrews books is that her characters are always alive, especially the protagonists, and most of the supporting characters as well. They are vivid, they jump out of the page at you, and they are believable. Both Ramona and Mathias are very strong individuals who had to become the heads of their respective families at a very young age. They aren’t just figureheads. They are smart, business savvy and efficient. They are also deadly when it comes to wielding their secare weapons. And they had been married to their work basically, and rather unhappy in their personal lives, even if they didn’t realize it until the proverbial shit hit the fan and their spouses eloped with each other.

I like that they respect each other even though they are sworn enemies. They recognize each other’s strengths and combine them in order to get the results they want – get their families’ research back and eliminate a treat. And the rest of their relationship sparks from that place of mutual respect. They are strong and independent and well adjusted individuals that don’t need each other to be happy. They choose each other. Now that’s how a real relationship should be.

This book is a breeze to read. It’s fast, it’s witty, and it flies by in a whirlwind of dance and secare blades. I wish it was a bit longer because I devoured it in a day.

My only complaint is that the main villain of the story (I am talking about the in-laws from hell), was a little bit caricaturesque. How could a successful politician, even non-Rada native, be so ignorant about kinsmen politics? That’s not very believable. But that’s a very small gripe towards what is otherwise and excellent book.

Thank you, mighty authors, you did it again!

Dead Space by Kali Wallace

Stars: 5 out of 5

I have been lucky with my scifi books in 2021 so far and Dead Space continues the trend.

It is an interesting murder and conspiracy mystery written in a very claustrophobic setting – a mining facility on a small asteroid, what can be more claustrophobic than that? But what makes this story so engaging is the protagonist.

Sometimes you think that you have your whole life ahead of you. You have dreams, you have a job you love, you are on a mission that will change the world… and then you watch your whole life crash and burn around you in a single agonizing moment. This is what happened to our protagonist.

To say that Hester is broken is an euphemism. The terrible explosion that destroyed her brilliant future left her with a body that is half organic and half machine… something that has never been done before to that extent. She is in constant pain from human joints rubbing against unyielding metal and a human brain trying to make sense of input submitted by a robotic eye, but that is only scratching the surface… Hester also has severe psychological trauma after her ordeal and PTSD is only part of it. And the fact that she is now stuck in a thankless job she is way overqualified for, on a dismal little asteroid far away from Earth, trying to pay off the gigantic medical debt that only keeps growing… well, you can understand that her view of the world around her is rather bleak.

I liked Hester, even though being in her head was rather hard sometimes because of how hopeless and jaded she sounded, but honestly, can you blame her? But even despite her bleak state of mind, she still tries to do her job as a crime analyst the best she can. And when another survivor of the crash that destroyed her future is murdered, she does everything she can to understand what happened.

I also love that once she understands that the situation is far worse than a simple murder, she does everything she can to keep the people she works with safe, even if that means going on a walk on the surface of an asteroid in an EVA suit and facing her biggest fear – the open vacuum.

The ending wraps up the main mystery in a quite satisfactory manner and gives us a couple more answers about what happened to Hester’s ship along the way. And Hester grows emotionally and psychologically during this ordeal, and might I say, gets a little bit of closure in the end? And even though her situation is just as bleak by the end of the book, she has made peace with it, because she knows that her biggest creation is free in the universe to do what she created it to do – explore.

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

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan 2) by Arkady Martine

Stars: 5 out of 5

First, a necessary disclosure: this is book 2 of a duology, so I would strongly recommend reading book 1 (which I reviewed here) before you jump into this one. Can you read it as a stand alone? Probably… but you will miss out on a lot of context and dramatic events that brought our characters to where they are in this book.

The story picks up two months after the end of the first book. Lsel Station got what they wanted – the Teixcalaan Empire is now at war with the mysterious aliens that had been disappearing their ships in the darkness of the void. Mahit is back on Lsel, but the place she grew up in doesn’t feel like home anymore, especially with the secret she is carrying about the sabotage of her imago machine and the unorthodox method she used to repair it.

And back in the City, the new Emperor is now forced to win a war she didn’t want, while also fighting the clock and dagger fights with officials of different departments that didn’t particularly want her on the throne… like the ministry of War, who she needs to fight this war instead of her.

We get to follow some of the characters that we came to know and love from the first book, like Mahit and Three Seagrass, who end up in the middle of the action once again, trying to find a common ground with an alien species so different that they don’t even have a language per se and who don’t consider individual deaths as anything of consequence.

We are also introduced to new characters, some of which we briefly saw in the first book, like Eleven Antidote, the 90% clone of the late Emperor. I must admit that I absolutely loved his POV in this book. He is eleven years old, but he is not a typical child. He’s been brought up and educated as a clone of the Emperor, so he never had a real childhood. He is also very smart and precautious, and he likes to think things through and solve mysteries. And I loved the courage and determination he showed when he acted to right what he was convinced was a wrong, even though he was going against the orders or the current Emperor by doing so.

Another wonderful new character is Twelve Cicada, who is the second in command to Nine Hibiscus, the fleet commander charged with wining the war against an enemy who can appear in and out of subspace and spit a substance that dissolves ships along with the pilots. I loved the relationship between these two and how they complemented and tempered each other. And I found highly satisfying the fact that Twelve Cicada was the one to find a solution to this conflict in the end.

This book touches several important themes. What exactly is the price of civilization and isolationism? Can you be a person even though you aren’t “civilized” in the eyes of your opponent? To Teixacaalisim, everyone else is a barbarian, including other humans, so the encounter with something even more alien has them unsettled and unable to react properly.

Who are you in the end as an individual, when your home station feels like hostile environment, but the Empire you longed to belong to all your life threatens to swallow you whole and kill your individuality? That is the question Mahit grapples with in this book.

And finally, is destroying a whole planet a price an Emperor is willing to pay to maybe end a conflict before it becomes a war of attrition? Or is that an act too atrocious even for Teixcalaan? What legacy do you want to leave for your descendants? That’s the problem Eleven Antidote grapples with.

There are multiple layers in this book, so it’s hard to address them all without spoilers. My advice is, read this duology. Go by the first book and read that while you wait on the second one to come out in March 2021.

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

The Fractured Void (Twilight Imperium #1) by Tim Pratt

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I admit that this was a fun and lighthearted romp of a novel.

As far as first books in a series go, it fulfilled its function rather well – it introduced the world and the characters that live in it without it ever filling like an infodump.

The world is fascinating. We have different planets, and a lot of different alien species that have learned to co-exist in a way that seems very natural. The way they operate, talk and interact with each other never feels forced. Also, all alien species described fit well into their environment, like the “squid” people who live on two planets that are covered by oceans.

This is what attracted me the most to this book. I love when the author knows their world. He doesn’t have to give us an infodump on it for the reader to see that. The little hints thrown here and there along the story show the reader that there is much more history to explore and that the author knows what’s going on. There is background there. Things happen for a reason. I would love to explore this galaxy a bit more in the next books.

But the worldbuilding is only part of the magic formula. The other ingredient is the characters. And I admit that this part didn’t work quite as well for me.

I liked the Duval Devils alright, even though they seemed a little over the top in their piratey brashness from time to time. They seemed like a group of misfits at first, posturing in front of each other and trying to look cool. But I admit that they gelled as a team somewhere halfway through the book, probably because they finally had a common goal and a common detestable person to hate. I think Tib was my favorite character in this book. She is smart, she is efficient, and her sarcasm is right up my alley.

I really didn’t click with the duo that was opposing them. I know Azad and Severine were supposed to represent two strong female characters, but… I don’t know… I think Azad’s complete lack of scruples or any moral compass at all did her no favor. She has all the markings of a psychopath, and I have never been particularly found of those. The author kept them alive for a reason, so my guess is they will play a part in future books, but honestly, I could care less.

The author takes home the 2020 award for creating the most detestable character of the year, and he isn’t even a villain in a true sense of the term. Thales is a despicable, nasty piece of work. He is a megalomaniac with a huge chip on his shoulder who never forgets any offense, real or perceived, towards his fragile ego. I admit that I cheered a little when our good captain punched him in the face. And I definitely felt good when he got what he deserved at the end of the novel.

My problem with this book is that it feels like a big prologue rather than a first book in a series. The set up for the real conflict happens in the last two chapters and in the epilogue. Yes, it was fun to see the Duval Devils wheezing around the known galaxy assembling parts for the wormhole device, but it’s only set up. The bad guys are introduced only in the last chapters, so the end of the book feels rather anticlimactic. Yes, Thales got what he deserved, but the damage is already done, and the REAL STORY starts now. Only it doesn’t because the book ends.

I like this book well enough to pick up the next one in the series, because the writing was fun and light and there was a good balance between action and exposition. Hopefully, I will like the characters of the next installment better than this one.

PS: I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stars: 4 out of 5.

 

Mona’s life has been a mess ever since a car accident took her unborn baby from her. Since then, she’s been drifting town to town, shitty job to shitty job, with no idea what to do with herself. Until she goes to her father’s funeral and discovers that her mother, who killed herself when Mona was seven years old, had owned a house in a little New Mexico town called Wink. At first glance, Wink seems like a perfect little American town where everybody is happy and friendly, and time stopped somewhere in the 1970s. Only nobody ever leaves, and walking outside at night is strongly discouraged…

 

This is a difficult review to write because a huge part of what makes the book excellent is the mystery behind the town and the identity of some of its inhabitants. So I can’t dwell on the story too much as to not reveal any spoilers. Let me just say that the idea is original and the execution is very well done. For more details, get the book and read it for yourselves. You won’t regret it, I promise.

 

So since I cannot talk about the story, let me talk about Mona Bright. I love me a strong independent heroine and I’m happy to say that Mona is one.

Yes, She had an unhappy childhood with a harsh and distant father and a mentally unstable mother, so human interaction doesn’t come easy for her. She chose to be a cop because her life until then was more about weapons and hunting with her father than about dolls and socializing with other people her age. She isn’t good at that, at socializing. But she is very good at shooting things and making split second decisions under pressure. She tried to create something she never had – a happy family with a husband who loved her and a little girl she wanted to love and cherish like her mother never cherished her. Only that dream was cut short by a drunk driver running a red light.

 

By the time she learns about the property her mother owned in Wink, Mona really has nothing to lose, so it’s easy for her to pack all her possessions into the trunk of her car and drive to the middle of nowhere to a town that doesn’t show on any maps except a few local ones, and all that in the hope that this house and this town would give her a glimpse into her mother’s past. All she wants is to see that time when her mother was a happy, accomplished scientist, not a broken ruin scared of her own shadow.

 

My description might have made you think that Mona is all doom and gloom and maybe not someone you would want to follow for 300 pages, but you would be wrong. Yes, Mona is not exactly the soul of a party and she tends to lean on the pessimistic side, but she never lies to herself. And she doesn’t bend. When threatened or attacked, she gives as much as she gets.

 

And when what she finds in Wink leaves her with more questions than answers, she doesn’t hesitate to dig deeper, even if what she uncovers suggests things that should be impossible. In fact, I would argue that Mona is the only person who could have done what needed to be done in Wink because she was the only one willing not to play by the rules…

 

I loved this book. It was fast-paced and interesting and never predictable. And I’m glad that the author chose to leave it as a standalone. The story is done. What happens to Mona after Wink is entirely up to her, and just like the ending suggests, the possibilities are endless.

 

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5? Two things. First, the fact that the author chose to tell this story in third person present tense threw me off at the beginning and made it harder to get into the story. I got used to it eventually, but this stylistic choice can be a turn off for some readers. Second, I found some of the POVs rather useless to the story. A character would hijack the story for a small section to never reappear again until the grand finale.

 

But overall, I would strongly suggest this book to all my friends and readers who love a good science fiction mystery or urban fantasy, because this can kinda sorta be considered both and neither. Just get the book and find out for yourselves.

Welcome to Outcast Station by Jeanne Adams and Nancy Northcott.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This book is composed of two distinct novellas which tell two distinct stories. The only thing that connects them is the location – Paradise Station, better known as Outcast Station, a backwater space station orbiting a backwater planet.

The Accidental Plague by Jeanne Adams tells the story of Bvax Scientist Ravinisha Trentham, who has lived all her life as an outcast simply because of the planet she was born on. Her compatriots once conspired to overthrow the global governmental system and the rest of the planets haven’t forgotten about it, even 60-some years later. It doesn’t matter that Ravi doesn’t embrace the same beliefs, she looks like one of the outcasts, so she is treated like one.

Even though she finished her apprenticeship as a Bvax Scientist with flying colors; even though she was the best in her class; the dispatch to Outcast Station is the best she could hope for. But, as Jeanne Adams slowly shows us in her story, even outcasts can build a place they can call home. Ravi’s story is one of hope. She begins by being sneered at and belittled, but proves her worth, helps the station and finally becomes a respected member of the small community.

The protagonist of The New Badge by Nancy Northcott is the complete opposite of Ravi. Hank Tremaine was a successful marshal on one of the inner planets… until he crossed the wrong person and landed at Outcast Station as punishment. While for Ravi this assignment is a chance to prove her worth, Hank considers it more like a prison sentence – unpleasant, but if he keeps a low profile, he might be paroled sooner rather than later.

Hank is fully resolved to do his job and keep his head down and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, trouble finds him as soon as he lands on the planet. Now Hank is faced with a moral dilemma: agree with his superior officers and do a half-hearted investigation, or dig more and incur their wrath, thus  annihilating his chances of getting transferred out of this back-end of the known space early.

While the two novellas have no common characters, they cover very similar themes: The courage it takes to stay true to your convictions despite the circumstances, even if abandoning them would make your life easier. The realization that there are bad people, but also good people even on a backwater station like Paradise, and that friends and allies can be found in the most unlikely places. And finally that home is what you make of it.

I liked the world of Outcast Station and the characters that inhabit it. I especially liked the concept of The Accidental Plague that with humanity spreading throughout the galaxy and interacting with other species, there is a need for a strict disease control and prevention protocol. After all, a space station is a very fragile ecosystem where viruses and pathogens would spread like fire. Without strict control and rapid response protocols put in place by Bvax scientists, a thriving station could transform into a tin can full of dead bodies in a matter of weeks.

So why did I give this book four stars instead of five? Because there are several plot lines in both stories that are started, but never resolved. Like the whole conversation between the station master and an unnamed individual about some shady deals going on (smuggling maybe?), and a couple others.

Now I haven’t read any other books by these authors, so I don’t know if those two novellas are part of a bigger series where all those questions are answered. To me, this is a standalone volume, so I would have appreciated to have all the loose ends tied when I turned the last page of the book.

This little complaint aside, I enjoyed both stories and wouldn’t mind revisiting Outcast Station again if the authors decide to write more.

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