Category Archives: Space opera

The Immortality Thief (The Kystrom Chronicles 1) by Taran Hunt

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Surprisingly, this book pulled at all of my heartstrings. Even though it’s monster horror in space, it made me care about the characters. Well, at least the main ones. 

I mean, you can’t help but feel sorry for Sean, who survived the destruction of his whole city and saw his family and everyone he knew lying dead at the hands of the Ministers. I understand why he clings so desperately to Benny, even though they have absolutely nothing in common apart from that tragedy that defined their childhood. It’s not a healthy relationship and clinging to it is slowly destroying both of them.

I was also impressed by the sheer capacity for compassion Sean has, even after everything he went through. Or maybe because of it? He saw so many people die that now he tries to do everything in his power to help other in need, because he doesn’t want any more deaths. And once he is stuck on the ship full of monsters with two people who, in his eyes, are responsible for the Kystrom massacre, he doesn’t immediately classify them as enemies. He has the moral strength to overcome that anger and see them for what they are – people.

I also liked Tamara and Indigo and how we progressively got to know more of them and get glimpses of humanity from the emotionless Minister and the battle-hardened soldier. They have to collaborate to survive long enough to recover data that is vital for both their races survival. In the case of the Ministers, that meaning is very literal.

The setting itself is the stuff nightmares are made of – a derelict ship left by a dying star. So vast, so dark and silent… and full of monsters that are very very hard to kill, because the scientists who created them were experimenting with immortality. And now those monsters are angry with their creators. For creating them in the first place, for the horrors they were subjected to during that creation, and for abandoning them to die on this ship without a second thought. It reminded me a bit of the video game Dead Space, which I never could finish because I’m a chicken.

There is a lot to love about this book, but there are a few flaws as well. The flashbacks, even though they serve a purpose of explaining Sean’s frame of mind, get annoying after a while. I wish the author could have found other means of passing the information to the reader. The characters other than our main trio are two-dimensional at best, and Benny was so devoid of redeeming qualities it was almost caricatural. 

The story also started dragging towards the end. It was like the author kept putting away the resolution and throwing more and more obstacles in our characters’ way. They had already been through so much though, that I experienced danger fatigue. I just wanted them to be done with this ship one way or another.

All in all though, I really loved this first book in a new series and I will check out the next one, especially considering the twist at the end.

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

Grimspace (Sirantha Jax 1) by Ann Aguirre

Stars: 3 out of 5

This was a decent first book in a new series that kept me interested enough to read it in a couple days. I hadn’t realized that it was also a romance however, so that skewed my perception a little, because the older I get, the more cynical I get and the less tolerance for romantic tropes I have.

Our protagonist is likeable enough, and I truly feel for her. The trauma she went through, not to mention mental and psychological torture, as no joke. No wonder she is a hot mess for most of this book, unsure of what really happened on her last flight, wracked with guilt because everyone died and she survived. In fact, I would have loved for the author to explore this aspect a bit more in the book. As it is, the other characters kind of shrug it off. Yes, it’s horrible, now get over it and take us places. That was rather irritating.

Speaking of other characters, none of the other members of the Folly’s crew are developed sufficiently for me to care about them. In fact, they feel more like placeholders than real people. The butch mechanic with a foul mouth but secretly a heart of gold. The pacifist doctor who cares more about his experiments than people. The strange alien boy that suddenly imprints on our protagonist, etc. 

In fact, that last character was woefully underutilized. There could have been such a good story there. We could have explored their relationship, and how Jax would have had to cope with having someone dependent on her for his survival. As it stands, this storyline is downplayed, and the character is promptly disposed of, so we don’t get to witness character growth for either of them.

That was my other issue with this book. There are a lot of plotlines that were introduced… and them simply dropped after a few pages without rhyme or reason. Like the whole story with Baby-Z. Again, this was a storyline that was woefully underutilized. It could have served as a bridge of sorts between Marsh and Jax, having them care about an alien baby they inadvertently hatched. It would have made their developing relationship more organic. Instead – baby is gone and forgotten a few chapters later.

You could argue that those sudden deaths are there to reinforce Jax’s belief that she is toxic and that she destroys everything and everyone she touches, but that is the simple way out. 

That’s the biggest problem for me – this book seems to always take the path of least resistance when it comes to resolving its storylines, whether it’s the relationship between Jax and Marsh, or her guilt about the crash and death of her previous pilot and lover, or the situation with baby-Z. 

And let’s not even mention the ending of this book, because it’s laughable in its simplicity and wishful thinking. I’m sorry, but a megacorporation won’t fall apart just because of an unsubstantiated broadcast. Not when it has a monopoly on fast space travel. Yes, it’s a giant PR blunder, but that’s what the Corp has a PR Department for. Oh, and call me a cynic, but Jax and her friends wouldn’t have walked out of that building alive, or if they did, they wouldn’t have remained so for long.

All in all though, this book interested me enough to check out the rest of the series, mostly because the glimpses I got of the world are interesting and I want to learn more about Grimspace and why certain people can navigate it. And I also managed to cross another book off my TBR list.

Spacer’s Bet (The Aliya War Universe 0.5) by Bonnie Milani

Stars: 4 out of 5

I haven’t read any of the original books in the Aliya War series prior to this one. So this was my introduction to the series and the universe the author created, and I must admit that I am hooked. 

The world is interesting and well thought-out. I love the idea that instead of terraforming different planets, humanity would modify themselves in order to survive in different environments encountered outside of Earth. Like being able to “shell-up” to survive up to 15 minutes in the hard vacuum for the Miners. It was sad to see that just because humanity spread into the galaxy, the backstabbing and us vs. them mentality wasn’t eradicated. This is not Star Trek. This is a harsh and ruthless world where humans don’t hesitate to enslave other humans if the occasion presents itself. 

The characters are usually what makes or breaks a book for me. It can have the best story in the world, but I won’t enjoy it if I can’t connect with at least one of the characters. I’m glad to say that all the characters are wonderful in this. I loved Iz and Kans, and Tahoma, and especially Kristen. I think there was criminally too little of him in this story though. 

The bond between the siblings rang very true to me. I could feel and understand Iz’s frustration with her brain-addled brother, but also a mixture of guilt, love, worry and everything else that comes with being an older sister who thinks that she is the reason Kansas is the way he is. Even though that’s not true. She didn’t cause the accident that killed their habitat. In fact, she is the one who went into the vacuum to save her little brother, even though she was also hurt herself. Even though she was only eleven when that happened. But guilt is a tricky thing that doesn’t obey the arguments of reason.

I must admit that I was a bit frustrated with her by the end of the story though. Her absolute pigheadedness grated on my nerves. You are in a hostile environment that you have never experienced before. You don’t know the dangers, yet you persist on charging blindly along and ignoring the advise of the natives. I wanted to slap her silly a few times, and I’m convinced that half of their problems on Earth could have been avoided had she listened to anyone other than herself. 

Speaking of hostile environment and fish out of water moment, I loved how Iz’s and Kans’s reaction to being on a planet for the first time in their lives was handled. The things that we take for granted, like the fact that we can go outside and be able to breathe, are new to spaces who spend their lives on ships and space stations – enclosed spaces. For them, all this open space and sky is a source of panic. The feeling of the wind on their face makes them shell up because in space that sudden movement of air means a hole in the hull and precious air leaking into the vacuum.  And the idea of eating meat from a butchered animal is a source of disgust. 

I am not sure I was totally onboard with the budding love story between Tahoma and Iz though. I felt like it was not necessary, and it didn’t feel natural. It was just kind of shoe-horned in there. The story worked fine even without adding this particular relationship. Especially since the author didn’t really do anything with it in the end. 

Like I said before, this is my first book by this author and in this series, but I will definitely check out the next one.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Terminal Uprising (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse 2) by Jim C Hines

Stars: 5 out of 5.

The second book in the series didn’t disappoint either. It continues the story started in book 1 and amps up the stakes! 

The story picks up a couple months after the events of the last book where Mops and the crew of Pufferfish almost single-handedly saved the Krakau homeworld. Did they get thanked for that? Of course not. They are on the run, declared criminals in the Alliance. Their ship is falling apart and their future seems bleak. They really have no choice but to accept the highly illegal mission Admiral Pachelbel gives them in exchange for funds to keep the spaceship flight-worthy. Even if this mission brings them back to a place none of them wants to come back to – Earth.

We finally get to go back to Earth and the ruins of human civilization. And it’s made even more painful by the fact that we now know that humanity hadn’t destroyed itself, that the Krakau were directly responsible for destroying a whole civilization, then keeping it quiet for over 200 years.

It’s very interesting to see our ragtag band of characters confront this place of their biggest fears, but also grow and mature both as individuals and also as a group of people who had been thrown together by circumstances, but end up becoming a surrogate family. They count on each other, they understand each other’s flaws and strengths and they protect each other. That is wonderful to see in a book.

And of course, all the ingenious and non-standard ways they come up with to resolve some pretty dire situations is a delight to read about. Not to mention the dry and often dark humor that permeates this book and helps the reader and the characters survive some pretty horrible things.

I also loved the Librarians! It was a very nice touch to discover that not all humans turned feral. That a very small percentage of the population was immune to the Krakau venom. And that those survivors banded together not only to keep each other safe, but also to try and preserve all the knowledge of the human civilization for future human or whomever discovers Earth in the following centuries. It was also wonderful to see that the Librarians even had a program for helping feral humans.

It was wonderful to see those “non-altered” humans interact with our “cured” humans, because until that comparison, I didn’t fully realize just how different they were physiologically. Yes, if you look at it from the real humans’ perspective, the feral humans are basically zombies – lower body temperature, black blood that coagulates almost as soon as it touches the air, unable to feel pain, so they keep going even when the body is broken, and guided only by they most primal instincts. And restored humans keep all the physical attributes, but regain their intelligence on top of it. No wonder the rest of the galaxy fears those unkillable savages!

The story itself is also well-done in this book. This is the case where we can ask ourselves how far is too far when trying to save the world. Does the need of the many really outweigh the need of the few? Where is that thin line that separates us from the monster we are fighting against? I won’t spoil it any more than this. Just go read the book!