Tag Archives: book reviews

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Stars: 5 out of 5

I have never read The Martian (though I have watched the movie, of course), so this book was my first encounter with Andy Weir. I must admit that I am in love. Who knew that science stuff could be so fun to read about?

This is also one of the best first contact stories I have ever read, and I am not talking about astrophages here. But saying anything else on that subject will spoil one of the best aspects of the book, which I absolutely don’t want to do. So let’s talk a little about other good aspects of this book instead.

The second best aspect of this book is the mystery. We wake up with our protagonist at the beginning of the book, and we are just as clueless as he is about where he is and what is happening. And we experience the sense of dread and wonder and excitement of discovery along with the narrator. We experience the dawning horror of his situation as well, when he discovers that his teammates are dead and that the fate of all humanity now rests with him.

I love our protagonist. He can come across as a goof sometimes, but I like the fact that he just doesn’t give up. He was the backup guy, the expert on astrophage, sure, but not very versed in spaceship navigation or technology. He had two other astronauts to rely on for that… only they didn’t survive the trip to their destination. A lot of people would just give up by then, go into a severe depression or decide to end it all here and now, especially once they remember that this mission was a suicide trip anyway.

Not our protagonist though. Even with more holes in his memories than a block of Swiss cheese, even realizing that he can’t rely on anyone but himself, he still decides to continue with the mission and to do everything in his power to find a solution to Earth’s astrophage problem.

I also like his unyielding optimism. The fact that he can take pleasure out of such small things and a tasty breakfast burrito after days of liquid meals, or enjoy a small discovery when a memory comes back or an experiment yields results. That sheer joy of discovery and curiosity about the world around him is something that a lot of us lack in our day and age. This is also something that helps him come to the first contact situation with an open mind and curiosity instead of fear in his heart.

I cannot speak about all the science in this book, since that has never been my strong suite. It might be accurate or it might not, but I don’t particularly care. It was simple enough to understand and it force me to suspend my disbelief too much. Honestly, that’s better than a lot of science fiction books out there.

I liked the fact that it was interesting, that the story moved at a steady pace but still gave us time to get to know the characters and get to truly care about what happened to them. Oh and the ending was very satisfying, at least in my opinion. So a solid 5 stars for this one.

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

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.

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates 1) by A. K. Larkwood

Stars: solid 5 out of 5.

This book has it all – wonderfully weird and detailed world (or worlds?), wonderfully flawed and detailed characters, and a story that keeps you reading. I often struggle with fantasy books because they are so formulistic and predictable, well The Unspoken Name is neither, I’m happy to say. I will definitely be looking forward to more books in this series.

The world described in this book is wonderfully complex and broken. It’s a multitude of worlds, actually, instead of a single one, connected together by a Maze with portal-like Gates leading in and out of it. Some worlds are thriving with life and culture, some are dead and decaying… some are somewhere in between. There are hints at a war between gods that destroyed worlds and shattered the Maze, as well as killing some of them (and the races that worshiped them as well).

And the races populating these worlds are as diverse as their environments, and they worship different gods as well. In fact, magic exists in this world (the existence of portals might have hinted at that), but it is tied firmly to the deity which grants the magical talent to the practitioner… and it exerts a heavy price. See, holding and channeling that much divine essence eventually kills the mage, how soon depends on how often they use that magic and how much power they spend at once. So yes, magic can be deadly and devastating, but most mages will think twice before unleashing it. After all, who wants to end up with goo for insides because you used too much divine power?

I also loved Czorwe, our protagonist and her journey of self-discovery in this book. Her whole life until about the second half of this book has been one of self-negation in the service of someone else. She grew up knowing that she would be sacrificed to her god when she turned 12 and fully accepting that outcome. Then when a mage persuades her to leave with him instead of going through with the sacrifice, she dedicated her whole life to helping him achieve his goals. She never questions why she is doing this, never thinks about what she wants for herself. For the first part of this book, she is just a tool molded and wielded by someone else’s will. Just like she was back in the temple when she was the bride of the Unspoken Name.

I love that this passivity and total disregard of her own desires progressively changes when she discovers someone who she cares about and genuinely wants to help. She finally acts for herself and discovers that she is capable of a lot more than she thought and that she is worthy of love and affection for who she is, not what she can do. I hope that we will see more of Csorwe and her friend in the next books.

And I will definitely be looking for the next books in the series, because even though this book answered one of the mysteries it introduced, there are a gazillion more that can be explored. Not to mention that the Unspoken Name is not done with his runaway bride, not at all.

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

The Last Watch (The Divide Series 1) by J. S. Dewes

Stars: 5 out of 5

I think I found my new favorite scifi series, and I have been looking for one for a long time.

This book has it all, at least in my opinion – great worldbuilding, multifaceted characters, high stakes, and non-stop action.

Worldbuilding: I love when the author progressively introduces me to their world and does it right. You won’t find any infodumps here. You won’t have characters rehashing events or concepts that they SHOULD already know just for the sake of telling the reader what’s going on. No, sir, no ma’am. We get thrown off the deep end along with Cav, one of our protagonists, who was just sent to the Divide, or the butt of nowhere to serve along with the Sentinels, another bunch of criminals and misfits that the rest of the world would rather forget. It is stressful and confusing at first, but the puzzle of this world gets assembled one little piece at a time, and I found myself fascinated by it. I really want to know more about this world and the aliens and what lies beyond the Divide, if there is anything.

Characters: Cav is a genius in some things, and a complete idiot in others, like human interaction and keeping his mouth shut. He was a spoiled prince who just wanted to stick one to his uncle and rebel against his control… and never thought all the consequences through. That’s one of his biggest weaknesses – he doesn’t respect authority and he doesn’t think about consequences. But he isn’t a complete moron either. He learns, he adapts, and he definitely becomes a better human being by the end of the story. I was really rooting for him throughout the book.

But my biggest favorite is Adequin. She is such a wonderfully complex and flawed character. She tries her best to keep her derelict ship from falling apart and her crew of misfits from killing each other and themselves. She thinks that she isn’t cut for command, because she was just a pilot, but when shit hits the fan and thousands of lives depend on her, she picks up the mantle and does the impossible to keep as many of these people safe as she can.

There are a lot of other supporting characters that stand out, and you can’t help but like them for their quirks and flaws that make them so alive, it’s refreshing. Unfortunately, not all of them will make it to the last page of this book, and I admit that I felt the death of some of them rather deeply.

So we have an interesting world and great characters, which would already rate a book very high in my opinion, but add to that a great story, and you have me hooked. I know book one has barely come out, but I am so ready for the next one!

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

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

“Loved loved loved it!” were my thoughts when I finished this book as I ran around my living room excitedly, happy that I got the chance to read this excellent book before it was officially published (thanks for the ARC, Netgalley.)

This is one of those rare books that managers to portray strong female characters without making them bitchy, slutty, or catty, and without having them hate on any other females around them and lust over anything with a dick that walks into their line of sight. Unfortunately, I have read a lot of authors who think that this is what a “strong female character” is supposed to be.

I have also read, or tried to read and failed horribly, a lot of feminist and “break the patriarchy” novels that assume that to be a strong woman, you need to hate on anything that has a Y chromosome. I’m very glad that it is not the case with Persephone Station. Men are mentioned in this world, but their presence is not important to the story. And I am very glad that the main villain in this is also a woman. Too often we see this trope when a strong female protagonist has to go against a grotesque caricature of a male villain that is painted as such a horrible human being that you have to wonder how his mother didn’t smother him in his crib.

Here we have a smothering of female, male, non-binary, and genderfluid characters that all have flaws and motivations and are all portrayed as believable human (and alien) beings. And I love the fact that they fit perfectly in this world the author created. That human, alien, or artificial, they are all perfectly three-dimensional.

I also loved the strong friendships portrayed in this book. The crew of Kurosawa is a group of broken misfits that love each other and support each other like family. I admit that I cried when Kurosawa crashed, because this ship had the Firefly vibes with the same warmth of a found home and family.

So after all this gushing praise, why didn’t I give it a full 5 stars? I have a couple minor gripes about the story.

Firstly, I think the Emissaries could have been developed slightly better. I mean, at one point Vicinia says that their colony isn’t sustainable without imports from the human settlement… And I wondered why? They are native to Persephone. They lived on that planet way before it was colonized… so this statement makes absolutely no sense. So yes, I would have loved to see a little more of the planet and native Emissary settlements other than the one we saw and that was specifically adapted for humans.

My second gripe is with the ending. I don’t want to put any spoilers, but the solution to all their problems seemed very deus ex machina to me, and it literally was. It felt a little bit too simple and anticlimactic to me after the very tense and nerve-wracking events that lead to it.

These two points non-withstanding, I loved this book. I would definitely read the sequel if one is in the works, because I think this world has potential to become a series. There are still many stories to explore. Who is Zhang? What will Kennedy do now? What will happen with Persephone now that the existence of the Emissaries is known? How are Rosie doing?

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 Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Stars: 5 out of 5

This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in 2020, and I have read over 90 books so far this year.

Here is the premise: multiverse travel is possible thanks to the technology discovered by a brilliant inventor on what is called Earth Zero. Unfortunately, in order to traverse the space between worlds and survive the integration into the new reality, the traveler needs to be dead on the other side. So basically, you can only travel to worlds in which the local version of you is already dead, otherwise it would be like trying to push yourself into a space that is already occupied. The results are… bloody and definitely fatal to the traversee.

So even though scientists are biting at the bit to go and explore different versions of reality, most of them come from wealthy backgrounds, which means they are alive in almost all those realities. So people from disadvantaged backgrounds make the best traversees. People who live in poverty and hunger, in war thorn villages, and places ravaged by disease.

Cara, our protagonist, is one of those people. She is dead in all but a handful of the 300 or so worlds that can be visited from Earth 0. She is worth something to the company she works for precisely because she is so worthless to the rest of reality that it’s a miracle she survived at all.

I loved Cara as a characters. She is deeply flawed and has a huge chip on her shoulder. She is convinced that she is worthless, that she is scum, that doesn’t deserve love, affection, or even happiness. Part of it is because of her upbringing, part of it is because she studied how all of the other versions of herself died, part of it is because she has a secret she is ashamed of.

This perception of unworthiness taints Cara’s view of everything in the world as well as her relationships with people she loves. And it’s infuriating and painful to watch sometimes. She immediately assumes the worse in any situation and acts on that assumption, often creating conflict where there wasn’t any or hurting people who didn’t mean any harm to her.

A lot of times I just wanted to shake her and tell her to just stop assuming and actually TALK to people. Especially when it comes to her relationship with Dell. She loves Dell, but she had decided that Dell doesn’t reciprocate the feeling, that she is either indifferent or flat out hates her instead. And she decided that without even talking to Dell about it. Really? A lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings could have been averted if those two had sat down and talked things through at least once.

It was very interesting and satisfying to see Cara grow as a person. She starts the book as someone only looking out for herself. Someone who is trying so hard to fit in with the citizens of the City that she is shunting everything that remind her of her roots. It’s very fulfilling to see her realize that those roots make her who she is now. That she is worthy of love and admiration as a person she is, not just as a commodity that can hop between worlds.

I like that by embracing those roots she realizes that there is only so much that her moral compass would let her do, and when she stumbles into a dangerous plot and has a choice to make between going along and living in comfort and being ashamed of herself for it, or going with her conscience and trying to stop the people responsible, and probably die in the process, she chooses the later.

There are a lot of important themes in this book. What is the value of human life? What length would you go to to pursue your dream? Can people change, and more importantly, can your perception of people change based on their actions?

And the most important message of all, I think – you can find happiness if you accept yourself fully, flaws and all.

2020 has been a difficult year for all of us, and I found that message of hope was extremely timely and uplifting.

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

Stars Uncharted by S. K. Dunstall

Stars: 5 out of 5

I loved the Linesman trilogy by this author, so there is not surprise that I absolutely loved this new book as well. It’s different than Linesman, darker, more ruthless, but excellent in its own way.

I love the way the authors paint the world they create by small touches interspersed in the narrative. No big info dumps needed. The reader gets just enough information to understand what’s happening. and when we get more information than that, it’s woven into the plot organically. Nika lives and breathes modding, so it’s natural that she will be thinking and talking about that. Josune has been an explorer all her life, running after an elusive dream that borders on obsession, so she will know everything she can about Goberlings discovery and disappearance…

I also loved the characters. They are all unique and vivid. Nika and her mod obsession, Josune who isn’t afraid to make hard decision on the spot, Roystan who would do anything for the crew who became his family, even whiny little Snow showed some surprising depths. And Jacques, oh Jacques… please come cook for me every day! From all of them, Carlos was the least fleshed out, but mostly because he didn’t have as much to do.

As I said, this world is ruthless, and an individual is often powerless when big corporations own everything on a planet, including the police, hospitals and news outlets. So our protagonists go through some horrible ordeals and are forced to do some terrible things. I am glad that even through the bleakness, this story never looses its heart. After all, it’s first and foremost the story of lonely individuals thrown together by circumstances who manage to form a dysfunctional, but close knitted family.

I hope this book doesn’t stay a stand alone because I would love to see what our crew does next. And Josune’s promise to destroy Eaglehawk needs to be kept.

Dahlia black by keith thomas

Stars: 2 out of 5.

What attracted me to this book is its comparison with World War Z (the book, not the awful movie). I loved WWZ and its (then) new take on the zombie apocalypse. I loved that the author chose to tell the story of what happened AFTER the end of the world as we know it. That it was as much a tale of fighting the zombies as one of rebuilding a life in a new reality where they existed. So another story about civilization coping with a world-changing event and rebuilding after it – I was all in. 

Unfortunately, the only way this book IS like WWZ is that it’s a collection of fictional interviews and diary entries. It is also very, unimaginatively boring… I kept hoping that there would be some emotional reward or grand revelation if only I kept reading, but I turned the last page and the only thought in my head was, “why waste 288 pages on THAT?”

The whole story can be summed up in four steps. 1. There is a mysterious Pulse from space that alters human DNA. 2. About 30% of people are susceptible to the Pulse and change, becoming the Elevated. From those, about 1/3 die during the “transformation. 3. The surviving Elevated disappear from our reality into a parallel dimension during the Finality. 4. The other 70% of the world’s population learn to keep on living.  That’s it! Why drag this into 288 pages of boring accounts? Why rehash the discovery of the Pulse for 100 some pages? 

I guess the biggest problem with this book is that the author chose the wrong people to be his “voices” telling this story. His fictional book writer interviews scientists, members of the White House, the President, and other fellow journalists. None of them were the boots on the ground when all these events happened. They observed and reacted from afar. What made WWZ so great was that we read the accounts from people who survived those zombie attacks. So it felt like we were right there with them when the horror was unfolding. Here, we have several degrees of separation between the events and the people who tell about those events. So guess what? I don’t feel engaged. It’s a snooze fest instead.

Plus, all the major events the Pulse and the Elevation triggered are just summarized by the author. Give me the eyewitness accounts of the massacre of the Elevated Camp, don’t TELL me in a half-page summary that it happened. I don’t want to read 10 different interviews with Dahlia Black about her accidental discovery of the Pulse. I got the gist of it the first time around, thank you very much! You want to keep me engaged? Give me more eye witness accounts of the transformations. Give me survivor reactions. Don’t tell me that the world collapsed and is slowly rebuilding itself. SHOW me. Unfortunately, the author failed to do just that.

I also didn’t quite understand the need to insert this whole side story about the Twelve. It brought nothing to the main storyline and felt absolutely useless. 

To summarize, WWZ this is NOT. And definitely don’t compare it to the brilliant weirdness of the Southern Reach trilogy. This is just plain boring.

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

The last policeman by ben h. winters (the Last policeman book 1)

Stars: 5 out of 5

Wow, that’s the most different pre-apocalypse book I ever read.

What do you do when the end of the world is coming in just 6 months and there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it? A huge meteor is on collision course with the Earth and it will hit, it’s a 100% probability, the only uncertainty is where the point of impact will be. But even that doesn’t really matter, because what isn’t destroyed during impact, will slowly die in the nuclear winter that will follow as the catastrophe puts enough debris in the atmosphere to obscure the sun for decades. So 6 months to expiration date for the human race.

How do you cope? Some people walk out on their jobs and go through their bucket list. Some people find fate and religion, or join a cult. Some commit suicide (there is a lot of those). Officer Palace is dead set on solving a murder. Despite the fact that nobody seems to give a damn about it anymore, despite the slowly crumbling infrastructure, and even faster crumbling social structures. He will solve that murder because this is what keeps him sane while the days count down to the final big impact.

I loved the main character in this story, how obstinate he was in solving this murder, despite anything and everything. How desperately he clings to police procedures, rules and regulations. Because that’s what helps him cope with the end of the world.

I also loved the other characters we encounters, each one representing a different way of coping with the inevitability of death. Some drink, some do drugs, some just give up and wait to die, and some cling to any sliver of hope they can find, even the maddest one.

I also liked that despite certain violence in this book, the world didn’t dissolve into bloody chaos. People are still mostly decent to each other. Things are still getting done. Some people still come to work, mostly because what else would they do? Sit at home and wait to die?

It’s that air of melancholy that surprised me the most about this book. Yes, Henry solves his murder case in the end, but does that really matter? Does any of it matter when the Earth will die in 6 months? And the sad part is – he knows that it doesn’t matter to anyone but him either.