By this point in the Murderbot Diaries series, I'm used to the short length of these stories. I appreciate that there's still an overarching plot that the books are driving toward, but the bite-size adventures of the sentient AI robot are also entertaining by themselves. Now that the series is in a good groove by book three, I was glad to see the introduction of a foil to compare and contrast the main character's interactions with the humans.
The rogue SecUnit continues to find himself deeper into the shady dealings of humans, but with each interaction, he's finding it harder to hide who he is and what he's doing. That these "missions" he gives himself are a significant amount of effort for someone who would much rather be lazy and just watch vids all day seems contradictory until you realize that it's great character development—even if it's subtle. Raising the stakes with each book also helps to make this one the best one in the series to date. There has to be a point soon when things become fully out of the SecUnit's control.
It's always interesting to me how the characters that have stuck with me through the series (aside from the main character of course), are the other AIs and robots. In Rogue Protocol, I immediately fell in love with Miki, who showed the other side of human-robot relations as a pet/mascot. The contrast between Miki and the SecUnit was a fantastic plot device and I would love some kind of spinoff with those two characters (or characters like them). Unfortunately, the abrupt ending to this book left me a little disappointed, as I felt there needed to be more time with the characters to get their full range of emotions after the climax.
A great book filled with contrasting human-robot relations, I give Rogue Protocol 4.5 stars out of 5.
Dune is the first book in a series by Frank Herbert (something I didn't know until after I had started reading). This was a wonderfully imaginative book with interesting characters, conflict, and world building.
You follow Paul as he travels to the planet of Arrakis. You similarly follow those close to him, notably his mother, Jessica, as they all grow accustomed to the unfamiliar landscape and the politics that encompass it.
While the language of the characters originally threw me off, I grew accustomed to it and it helped immerse me in the story and characters. Seeing the dynamics and customs of not only the Atreides family, but also natives of Arrakis, was interesting and better as they intertwined with each other.
Also seeing the various themes of the story was also appealing (thanks English class!) as they intersect with each other in ways I've never seen before.
This is a great book and I recommend it, even if Sci-fi isn't your normal genre.
Reviewer's Grade: 11
Dune is a sci-fi series written by Frank Herbert depicting detailed politics with twists and turns. The first one begins with the story of a boy called Paul, the son of a duke. His journey begins on Arrakis, a desert planet filled with a valuable resource called spice. When the duke’s palace is attacked, Paul must flee and find refuge in the desert. This book was entertaining for me, but it goes a little heavy into politics and there are a lot of things you need to pay attention to in order to understand the story. I lost interest in the overall series after the first 4 books as it just gets so weird with mystical stuff in the world. The genre it fits into is not scifi, but a mix between fantasy and scifi.
Gideon the Ninth is about the rebellious Ninth House acolyte, a prodigious fighter, who is forced to become the protector of her most hated enemy Harrowhark, the necromancer of the Ninth House. The two of them travel to the First House, to compete against the necromancers and cavaliers of the other houses for the treasured position of Lyctor. They must battle bone monsters, hidden murderers, the laboratories of the dilapidated castle, fellow competitors, and their burning desire to murder each other to, maybe, make it out alive.
I hadn't read sci-fi/fantasy for a long time before I read this book, and this was a brilliant example of everything I'd been missing. The characters are hilarious and likable, the stakes are high, the magic system is somewhat complicated yet explained brilliantly without long periods of exposition, and the undercurrent of science fiction is always present and contrasted beautifully with the fantasy. The idea of a a hyper-advanced society with spaceships and planets is bound to the aesthetic of necromantic power and fighting primarily done with swords, creating a world that has all the fun elements of imaginative science melded with magic. Beyond this, the story is also really tight. There's not really a moment that the book sits you down and explains everything. It just grabs you and goes and it's up to you to catch up, which is a nice change of pace. But, as I've mentioned, the shining gem of the story is likely the characters. The cast is large, but memorable in its own right. If you can't remember the names, just a few sentences of them speaking will clue you in to their distinct personality. And the gem of the story is probably Gideon herself, who's always hilarious and fun and somewhat tragic, and has a great comradery of hatred with Harrowhawk. The character development, the plot, the world, the magic system, and the mystery of this book make it easily one of my favourite books of this year.
A few years ago, someone suggested that I read the Remembrance of Earth's Past series, so of course, I added it to my Overdrive wish list so I could eventually listen to the audiobook. I'm usually down to read some hard sci-fi since it's a niche genre I enjoy. I was intrigued that this book came from China because I don't usually think of hard sci-fi when I think of that country. In fact, I hardly think of literature that wasn't written hundreds of years ago.
It's been about five months since I read this book, so this review is a long time coming. I still vaguely know what this book was about and what science was explored within its prose, but that's about it. Nothing stuck with me other than the sense that it was a bit of an Ender's Game ripoff. I would have liked to connect with the characters a bit more, but The Three-Body Problem seemed too bogged down in trying to get its complex science across to spend enough time creating characters that I liked.
Ultimately, much like the Broken Earth trilogy, I can understand the hype this book had received, even if it didn't fully grab me when I listened to the audiobook. I'll continue this series if for no other reason than it presented an interesting idea that I'd like to see to completion. Perhaps the fact that I'm listening to a translation of the original Chinese story is what's reducing some of my enjoyment of this book, which isn't necessarily the book's fault. I think the world is big enough for other non-Anglo cultures to tell stories like this, and for this reason alone, I would recommend fans of hard sci-fi at least give The Three-Body Problem a chance.
Interesting hard sci-fi concepts from China, I give The Three-Body Problem 3.5 stars out of 5.
After reading Exhalation , I found myself in search of more stories by Ted Chiang. This led me to Stories of Your Life and Others. Partly because this collection included many of Chiang’s earlier stories, not all of them were great pieces of literature like the ones in Exhalation. I could tell that Chiang was still trying to find his voice as a writer as he explored many science fiction topics common to the genre. While not all of the stories are fantastic, there are enough good ones to warrant reading this collection.
What’s a little disappointing is how some of the ideas Chiang explores in this book are truly interesting topics, but the execution of these stories feels a little too erudite for the common reader. I appreciate Chiang’s later ability to humanize these ideas (as shown by my love of Exhalation), but he just wasn’t quite there yet with these early works. Still, there are a handful of award-winning stories in this book, including “Tower of Babylon” and “Hell Is the Absence of God.” Chiang’s ability to combine science and religion is second to none, and these stories prove as much.
One story in this book stands out from the rest. It makes sense that “Story of Your Life” was the titular choice for this book. For those unaware, the movie Arrival (2016) is based on this short story (and is a pretty close adaptation). Even if you only read “Story of Your Life,” I think you’ll get something out of this collection. It is by far the most approachable of these stories, and it deserved all of the awards bestowed upon it when it was originally published in the late 1990s.
A good collection of Ted Chiang’s early works that contains a few sparkling gems, I give Stories of Your Life and Others 4.0 stars out of 5.
I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with The Stone Sky. It took me some time to get used to the way the author wrote the Broken Earth trilogy, but by the end of the second book, The Obelisk Gate , I had bought into the premise. The fact that this book had a lot to live up to with the foreshadowing presented in the second book might be why I’m disappointed with the result. After all, I was looking forward to some epic moments involving the moon, which didn’t seem to materialize for me. Now that I’ve finished this trilogy, I’m starting to wonder if the reason it didn’t quite fully click for me was because I was reading it via audiobook. There seemed to be a lot that I missed that would leave me confused about who the characters were, what they were doing, and why they were doing it. Perhaps if I had dedicated time to focusing on these audiobooks instead of listening while I was doing other things, I would have liked the series more. As it stands though, I probably couldn’t tell you what the point of this book was without going back and rereading it.
Ultimately, the Broken Earth trilogy is well written. The language might be a little too poetic at times and the fantasy setting introduces a lot of terminology that was difficult to keep track of, but I can see the appeal of it. The magic system is truly unique, even if the explanation for its origins made less sense than if it was just an unexplainable magic force. I do appreciate that most of the loose ends were wrapped up and either explained or made into moot points by the series’ conclusion. And while the resolution of this trilogy felt a little cliché, at least it provided an ending that most would come to expect from this type of sub-genre.
A pretty good trilogy wrap-up that might need a second read-through, I give The Stone Sky 3.5 stars out of 5.
Children of Blood and Bone takes place in Orisha, a place where magic used to thrive before a ruthless king came to power. The king was afraid of magic, so he killed the people who used it. The story follows a girl named Zelie who goes on a quest to restore magic in Orisha. I really enjoyed reading this book because there were lots of plot twists and it was very surprising. I also really liked the setting! The only thing I didn't like very much was that it was slow paced. This is one of my favorite books!
In the post-apocalyptic Stillness, where nothing is Still, N. K. Jemisin creates a cast of interconnected characters, an intriguing plot, and a fantasy world that masterfully entails factions, a magic system, and history that is weaved into the current time of the book. Jemisin goes through three different perspectives, but still maintains a sense of total engagement and interest for the reader. We follow the stories of these three, and with each learn how much of a curse each blessing can be. This series is very real and doesn't shy away from concepts that would be expected from societies in such a situation, but at the same time, is surprising in a number of ways. I really enjoyed this book; I gasped internally several times throughout, from plot twists, reveals, and realizations, and enjoyed almost every part of The Fifth Season.
Neil Gaiman's novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane gives an interesting perspective on the nature of childhood and the truth of reality. A folktalishly fantastical novel, this book follows a man as a he thinks back on his childhood and the magical and sometimes terrifying experiences he had as a kid. I at first found this book a little confusing because I didn't quite understand the time switch and whether or not it was meant to be serious or mystical. However, reading this book is very enjoyable as it gives very homely vibes and contains interesting mysteries to uncover. With an open ending that leaves the reader wanting, this is a great quick read for fans of Neil Gaiman or just general fiction enthusiasts.
Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most iconic science fiction novels of all time. Featuring an imaginative universe filled with strange aliens and even stranger planets, Dune provides a sense of adventure and wonder to every reader. It follows the story of a young noble as the Emperor gives his family control over the planet responsible for generating the most valuable resource in the universe, spice. But this advantageous appointment is not without its risk, and soon rival houses come to try and take control of the planet. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys any kind of science fiction, and it is a must read for every Star Trek and Star Wars nerd out there.
Reviewer Grade: 11
Noemí Taboada is a beautiful socialite who loves wearing opulent purple gowns, riding in a convertible and smoking French cigarettes. A woman of her station, as the novel relates, "was expected to devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting." Instead, this strong-willed, intelligent and brave woman seizes an opportunity not realizing it could lead to her demise. Neomi’s father receives a disturbing letter from his niece and recent newlywed Catalina. The frenetic message suggests a mysterious doom awaits Catalina, who may need psychiatric help and a divorce, a scandal the businessman wants to avoid in 1950s Mexico City. So Neomi negotiates her way into a chance to attend graduate school – rare in a country when women could not vote – in exchange for heading to the isolated High Place, a distant Victorian mansion once funded by now-depleted silver mines. Once there, she must find out if the letter is nothing more than “female hysteria” as Neomi’s father assumes, or something more sinister.
Moreno-Garcia does a wonderful job sprinkling in the antiquated language of classic Gothic horror to pace this atmospheric creeper while Neomi’s dread about the Doyle family and its hideous patriarch mounts, as does her dueling desires to stay and garner graduate school or flee for her own sanity. The oppressive feel of dead, rotting High Place hints at a history of violence, madness and even darker secrets as the 320-page novel’s protagonist soon finds out. Once there, she meets the drugged Catalina’s menacing and alluring husband, who worms her way into her dreams, which are becoming an evermore disturbing mix of lust and horror. Her only ally is the family’s youngest son, who seems a decent fellow, but hides secrets of his own. Follow along as the amateur sleuth learns more about High Place, its exploitive colonial past and its unique power as the novel – equal parts Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft –speeds toward a satisfying, albeit gory conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror
I've read this book so many times, and I always love it. It tells the story of the child prodigy Ender Wiggin, who starts the book at only six years old. In a dystopian world that's in the midst of a war with the alien Buggers, Ender and other highly gifted children are taken to Battle School to prepare them to fight in the Third Invasion, when Earth plans to invade the Buggers and hopefully beat them once and for all. Ender is smart, creative, and compassionate, while also sometimes being cruel in moments he needs to protect himself. He's such a well-developed and dynamic character, and I can always find myself relating to him, whether it's as a gifted child, as he questions who he is, as he grows up, or as he misses home and the way things used to be. It's easy to feel for him, from outrage at the officers to treating him unfairly to warmth in your heart when he builds relationships despite his forced isolation. He faces the trials of Battle School, but he also faces the trials of childhood and growing up. The book tackles themes of lies, control, isolation, free will, family, childhood, compassion, enemies, and prejudice in ways that are always very well-done. It balances action and shocking twists with character development and philosophy into a narrative that flows beautifully and keeps you engrossed from the first page to the last. Everything about it is exceptional, and I don't think I could ever get tired of it. I would recommend to anyone, any gender, any age, because it is certainly very near the top of the best books I've ever read.
(note: there is a small amount of language)
Reviewer grade: 10
I chose to read Dune in anticipation of the coming movie, and as a much appreciated suggestion from my father. Dune follows the adventures of a young boy Paul as he enters manhood. He fights to keep the planet of Arrakis, and then goes on to fight for the title of emperor. It addresses a group of people, the Fremen and their religion of turning Arrakis, the desert planet, into a beautiful land through terraformation. This book draws you in and keeps you hooked, telling a story of becoming a man, while also making it a book worthy of praise, always surprising you with one twist or another.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is set when the protagonist returns to his childhood town for a funeral. He drives aimlessly down a lane and arrives at the Hemstock Farm, where he starts to remember part of his childhood. Throughout the book, the protagonist recalls his fanatical past, which he forgot about Lettie Hemstock and the Hemstock farm. The author does a fantastic job of describing the protagonist and blending the fantasy world in perfectly. This book always surprised me, although some parts can be a little confusing, but personally, I found this book to be an interesting read and would give it 5 out of 5 stars.
My librarian uncle introduced me to Ted Chiang recently, and I was so intrigued by such an award-winning author who wrote exclusively in short stories that I had to check out one of his books. Exhalation is a collection of these stories, and I can see why Chiang is lauded as a writer. It seems that modern science fiction is too focused on new technologies and how they can lead to utopias or dystopias. In Chiang’s stories, I saw some stark realism that took well-tread topics of the genre and examined them through a lens that was extremely realistic to how society would function with such advancements.
It was refreshing—a sigh of fresh air, or exhalation, if you will—to read stories about parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and time travel that didn’t stick to the same tropes that have made science fiction almost boring in comparison. In the end, Chiang is so concise with his language as to create these universes anchored in our reality and uncover all the intricate ways in which new technologies would change it without delving into the fluff of a full-blown novel. And perhaps that’s what makes these short stories work: focusing on how people interact with new technology, instead of just society at large.
These stories' personal nature hits home, mostly because they were pulled from current technologies and extrapolated into the fringe sciences that are on the cutting edge. For instance, we already record much of our days, so how does our memory change if we have a perfect record of the past? Additionally, how many technologies are made widely available as entertainment first, and how many interest groups pop up as fans of these technologies until they are eventually made obsolete? These and many other thoughtful topics are only some of the reasons I would recommend any fan of true sci-fi read this book.
A collection of some of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever read, I give Exhalation 5.0 stars out of 5.
Science fiction often seeks to answer the moral and ontological questions that we’ll soon face in future technological landscapes. When I picked up Autonomous, I was expecting an examination of artificial intelligence and the ability for robots and machines to eventually become sentient. Unfortunately, that was only about half of the book that I ended up reading. The fact that there were two dueling scientific topics in this book made its message muddled, let alone misleading. It really should have been branded/titled as a book about pharmaceuticals and the patent system that holds the healthcare system hostage.
While I’m sure the pharmaceutical elements of this story are accurate (at least in a fictional context), this wasn’t the reason I wanted to read Autonomous. Granted, telling two parts of the story—from the POV of the pirate chemist and from the POV of the law enforcement sent to catch her—was a good way to reveal the plot so that each POV doesn’t know what the other side knows. That being said, the AI element of this story seemed to be relegated to a sub-plot in the law enforcement POV that ended up being disappointing to me.
I’ll grant that realistic characters may not be likable characters, but in the end, I was not too fond of any of the characters in this book—with the AI being the one exception. I didn’t care for the chemist’s messy past just as much as I didn’t care for the clearly homophobic law enforcement officer. Would the “romance” in the story have been different if the AI’s origin was different? Sure, creating morally gray characters makes the story more real, but it ultimately just made me irritated with these individuals. And since the story didn’t know which scientific concept to pursue, the whole idea of the AI being “autonomous” could have been cut, and the plot really wouldn’t have changed at all, leading me to my initial statement that the title of this book is misleading.
A misleading title for a book about pharmaceutical piracy, I give Autonomous 2.5 stars out of 5.
This time-travelling story of love and genocide centers on two rival agents battling to secure the best possible future for their warring factions. It opens with a blood-covered Red, the last woman standing on a battlefield heaped with corpses. She finds a letter that starts with “Burn Before Reading” from Blue, her rival whom she has spent lifetimes trying to thwart. So it starts with a taunt followed by a challenge scratched in a lava flow and a message woven into the DNA of a tree cut down by marauding armies. These spies never meet but these compromising letters – certain death if discovered by their superiors – build upon a mutual understanding that evolves into love. Who better to understand someone weary and confused by merciless, contradictory orders than their rival? Or is this an attempt to turn the other into a double agent? Or lay a deadly trap? This novella deftly avoids the confusion that spoils average time-travel yarns by making each of the chapters into a vignette, told from either Red or Blue’s perspective, until a satisfying, meaningful conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella
We all struggle to figure out who we are. It’s no different for a robot that’s managed to secretly override its governor unit and develop self-aware independence. The artificial construct, made up of regenerative organic and artificial parts, privately calls itself Murderbot out an emerging sense of guilt it tries to squash by watching hours of mindless TV. But even that distraction cannot keep a socially awkward, self-conscious entity from developing feelings about the humans it serves. That internal conflict is so realistic it is easy for the reader to forget it is an artificial construct narrating. Murderbot’s deadpan humor keeps the 2017 novella from bogging down and raises it well above a familiar action/corporate malfeasance plot. The novella is the first of a five-part series, all available through PPLD, with a full-length novel, Network Effect (May 2020) continuing Murderbot’s journey of self discovery and soap operas. A sixth series entry is scheduled for April 2021.
Honors: 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2018 ALA/YALSA Alex Award, 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, 2017 Philip K. Dick Award finalist.
It can be difficult to judge a book, especially one as critically acclaimed as Ringworld, with 50 years of scientific and societal progress between when it was written and today. On the one hand, there are many scientific concepts explored in this book that we almost take for granted in modern sci-fi. On the other hand, the stink of 1970s misogyny doesn’t age very well, and this book is a prime example. Even today, sci-fi authors are still trying to dig out from the sexist tropes that books like this perpetuated throughout the genre. It’s a complicated, uphill battle, but we’re trying to be better than this.
For 1970, I do have to admit that the science presented here is relatively revolutionary. Unfortunately, the descriptions were occasionally a bit dry and felt more like reading a textbook than a sci-fi adventure. I could appreciate how Niven described the indescribable scale of something as massive as the Ringworld. Additionally, the alien races were well-rounded and had complex physiologies and backstories that made the group dynamic entertaining to read. However, the only thing well-rounded about the women in this book were their bodies.
Aside from the considerable age difference between the two romantic leads being an acceptance of pedophilia, it’s clear that Niven only thought of women as objects. This is disappointing because the story could have been more interesting if the female characters had any agency other than being driven by pleasure or luck. I have to recognize that this book is still a snapshot of its temporal circumstances, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse it in today’s society. Acknowledging that it’s from the 1970s, modern works should be more aware of these flaws when using such a pivotal science fiction book as a base for today’s books.
Some great science with not-so-great misogyny, I give Ringworld 3.0 stars out of 5.