Review: Vengeful (Villains #2) by V. E. Schwab

40139338Verdict: Glorious.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Published by Titan Books, September 25, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Eli Ever and Victor Vale were only medical students when their mutual discovery that near-death experiences can, under the right conditions, manifest extraordinary abilities.

They were best friends, and rivals, and then enemies. They were dead, then alive, and then—Eli killed Victor, once and for all.

Or so he thought—but Sydney Clarke felt otherwise, and used her own superpower to tip the scales. Now, a trio hides in the shadows, while another takes advantages of post-death life to take over the city of Merit.

If there can be life after death—will there be calm after vengeance, or will chaos rule?

I adored this, thankfully. I had been looking forward to this book ever since it was announced ages ago because Vicious is by far my favourite book Schwab has written. This seems like a series she has written for herself as a reader and it shows, there is just something gleefully, unapologetically Schwab here, that I for one happen to adore (and I am obviously not alone in this).

This series is set in a world where specific near-death experiences lead to people becoming super-powered. The first book follows two former friends (Eli Ever and Victor Vale) with super powers as they plot and set their powers and other people’s powers against each other. This book follows directly after the ending of the first one. Again the book is told unchronologically and leads towards an inevitably and action-packed conclusion. Unchronological storytelling is one of my very favourite things in books, so I was always going to enjoy this.

I had an incredible amount of fun reading this. I do think that sometimes the characters do not feel like real people, which in the end I did not mind because it fits the overall mood of this book. Especially the two newly introduced female characters are over the top in the best way possible. Marcella’s behaviour in particular filled me with giddy glee and I loved the way she chews the scenes – I could practically see her every move. I am often a fan of over-powered women in my speculative fiction and her and her unapologetic egotism just really tickled me.

I also have some theories and therefore really hope that there will be further installments of this series to prove me right. I find the world Schwab has created here wonderful and there is so much potential for further stories set in it. She left just enough loose ends to make me hope for more and resolved enough for this book to stand on its own.

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I read this as part of Sci-Fi Month: you can find further information and other people participating here.

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Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

25667918Verdict: Not for me.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Novella

Published by tor.com, 2015

Find it on Goodreads.

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

I think I will have to accept the fact that Nnedi Okorafor’s writing is not for me. This is the second book by her I tried to read after DNFing her earlier Who Fears Death. I want to like her books because I think she has fascinating thoughts on what she calls Africanfuturism and I like her social media presence a whole lot but I struggled with this book.

This short novella follows Binti, the first of her people (the Himba) to be accepted into Oomza University. Leaving her disapproving family behind, Binti starts her journey towards this university planet when her ship is attacked by a group of aliens called the Meduse who have been at war with other humans for ages.

In theory, I should have adored this. I like books about identity and Binti’s identity and her relationship with those around her are one of the foci of this book. But while I appreciated Okorafor’s ideas, ultimately I thought the exploration of these themes was pretty flat. Obviously, this might be due to the format of the story and possibly something that would be remedied if I read the rest of the series but of these pages I had, I was not the biggest fan.

Another problem I had, but one that is definitely a me-thing, was the way in which maths was used. Binti is a genius-level balancer and can solve complex mathematical problems in her head – and somehow that helps her solve her other problems? I am not sure I followed this train of thought at all (I haven’t done proper maths in years). This points to a problem I sometimes run into when reading science fiction: I want to understand the science or at least feel like it makes a reasonable amount of sense, something that I don’t demand of fantasy for example; magic does not have to be rooted in the real world.

Ultimately, this was just not a book for me. I wanted to like this so much because I have heard so many people rave about this and I do think that this is very much a case of wrong book for the wrong reader.

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I read this book both for Novellas in November and for Sci-Fi Month, both of which are run by people whose blogs I adore.

 

 

 

Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

38362809Verdict: Strange, hard work, really really cool.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Published by Little, Brown Book Group UK / Orbit

Find it on Goodreads.

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

I am really unsure about my feelings for this one, except for this: it is pretty damn cool. And I cannot wait to see where Tade Thompson takes this story next.

Rosewater is a town in future Nigeria, built around an alien biodome which opens once a year to heal everybody in the vicinity of the opening. Since the aliens have landed, some people have started developing powers. One of those superpowered individuals, and possibly the strongest, is Kaaro, the main character of this brilliant novel. We follow Kaaro’s story, unchronologically and confusingly. I actually had to start the book over because I tend to not read chapter headings and had not realized that the book is set in different timelines.

Tade Thompson does not make it easy for the reader to follow the story – every timeline is told in present tense, even when Kaaro remembers doing something. There is a in-story reason for this stylistic choice (my favourite kind of stylistic choices are informed by the narrative, so I adored this) but this doesn’t make it any less confusing. The reader is along for the ride and either figures stuff out on their own or they don’t. For me, that worked really well – I like when authors trust their audience this way. And while I am still not completely certain to have grasped everything, what I understood of the story was quite brilliant.

I really liked how the framing of the story from Kaaro’s perspective colours the book – especially because he is not a particularly great person which only becomes obvious after a while. He does not feel the need to be a good person or to save the world or to do anything really, and as such he makes for a very interesting protagonist. The way other characters react to him shows more of his personality than his own narration  – which I just found so cool.

So yes, I thought that this was a lot of work but I found it very rewarding in the end. I enjoy Science Fiction that feels different and books told in interesting perspectives, so this was always going to work for me.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2) – James S. A. Corey

12591698Verdict: I liked this both more and less than the first one.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Published by Hachette, 2012

Find it on Goodreads.

For someone who didn’t intend to wreck the solar system’s fragile balance of power, Jim Holden did a pretty good job of it.
While Earth and Mars have stopped shooting each other, the core alliance is shattered. The outer planets and the Belt are uncertain in their new – possibly temporary – autonomy.
Then, on one of Jupiter’s moons, a single super-soldier attacks, slaughtering soldiers of Earth and Mars indiscriminately and reigniting the war. The race is on to discover whether this is the vanguard of an alien army, or if the danger lies closer to home.

I am buddy reading this series with my boyfriend – which is something we have not done before but which is enhancing my enjoyment of this series immensely. But that meant that I had to take about a month’ break in the middle of the book so that he could catch up – and then he sped up and finished the book around 200 pages before me (which is just rude).

This book starts some time after the events of the first book – and the structure mirrors that one a bit too closely I found. In the prologue we are introduced to a chronically ill girl who is abducted, serving as one of the main characters main motivation. At least this time, that person is her father and I am a lot more interested in family dynamics than into some dude’s weird obsession. What worked best for me where those newly introduced characters, especially the two women. I loved spending time with Bobby, a soldier from Mars with a pretty severe case of PTSD. She is wonderfully drawn in a superhuman way which I just adored. I also loved Chrisjen Avasarala – an aging beaurocrat with a knack for the game of intelligence. I love that her abrasive nature is counterbalanced by her lovely relationship to her husband. But, Holden still annoys me to no end and his tendency to act before thinking (acknowledged in the text as a flaw) drove me up the walls.

I also found the story to be meandering and antagonists ill-defined. I do hope this will change over the course of the next books, because I am so intrigued to see where this goes next.

Mini-Novella-Review: Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) – Martha Wells

36223860Verdict: So much fun!

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Novella

Published by Tor, May 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

I just adore this series. I had so much reading this second book and cannot wait for the last two books to be released. Martha Wells has created a wonderfully vivid world here, with a character at its core that is brilliant, funny, and relatable – and a murderbot. Murderbot is the main draw to this series of novellas: a rogue bot who pretends to not care about anything but its soap operas, it nevertheless cannot help but help other people on its way to solve the mysteries of its past.

For a book this short, Martha Wells deals skillfully with many different things: found family, helping others, the role of society, and maybe most importantly the question of what makes somebody a person. We saw glimpses of how sexbots are treated in this world where their intellectual capacity is huge but their freedom is nil. I hope there will be more exploration of these themes in the last two books, as there is so much Martha Wells has to say on this subject.

One thing that I keep circling back to trying to review this, is an observation on myself rather than on the book. In the book it is explicitly stated that Murderbot is genderless. In the first book (I spoke about this in my review for that) I kept picturing Murderbot as female and I am not sure why that is and what that says about me. This time around I did not picture it as female and I am glad of that.

Review: The Sum Of Us – Susan Forest & Lucas K. Law (editors)

34666135Verdict: Surprisingly great.

My rating: 3,5 out of 5 stars

Date read: April 22nd, 2018

Published by Laksa Media Groups, September 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

The world of caregivers and unsung heroes, the province of ghosts . . .

Who are THE SUM OF US?

If we believe that we are the protagonists of our lives, then caregivers—our pillars—are ghosts, the bit players, the stock characters, the secondary supports, living lives of quiet trust and toil in the shadows. Summoned to us by the profound magic of great emotional, physical, or psychological need, they play their roles, and when our need diminishes . . .

Fade.

These are their stories.

Children giving care. Dogs and cats giving care. Sidekicks, military, monks, ghosts, robots. Even aliens. Care given by lovers, family, professionals. Caregivers who can no longer give. Caregivers who make the decision not to give, and the costs and the consequences that follow. Bound to us by invisible bonds, but with lives, dreams, and passions of their own.

Twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors explore the depth and breadth of caring and of giving. They find insight, joy, devastation, and heroism in grand sweeps and in tiny niches. And, like wasps made of stinging words, there is pain in giving, and in working one’s way through to the light.

Our lives and relationships are complex. But in the end, there is hope, and there is love.

This was such a constistently good short story anthology. I have been struggling with anthologies recently so much that I started to consider not reading any anymore. This one, however, was really mostly good. I struggle with reviewing anthologies in general and while I thought this was really worthwhile, there were no stories that became new favourites and that I want to gush about.

The collection of speculative works looks at the concept of caregivers from many different angles; some of which I just adored. I loved the idea of a retirement home for former super villains and their henchmen (and henchwomen) and thought this story was executed wonderfully (The Dunschemin Retirement Home For Repentant Supervillains by Ian Creasey). Bottleneck by A. Am. Dellamonica was action-packed and interesting enough that I would love a whole book set in this world.

As always, there were some stories that did not quite work for me – I mean what is it with stories set in societies that closely resemble beehives? There were two of those here and while the first one did in fact prove to be charming after a while (The Mother’s Keepers by Edward Willet), the second dragged and did not offer anything new I found (Am I Not A Proud Outlier? by Kate Story). Also, this is a premise I have no definitely have read enough of.

So overall, worthwhile but not groundbreaking. I even now struggle to recall most of the stories and I think this will prove to be even more the case in a few weeks time. But I enjoyed it while I read it, which sometimes is enough.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Laksa Media Groups in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

28962996Verdict: Brilliant premise, clumsy execution.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Date read: April 20th, 2018

Published by Orbit, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer — before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.
Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

I have complicated feelings on this and as is customary in such cases here are my thoughts, first in listform and then more elaborated (it feels like I haven’t done one of those reviews recently).

Pros:

  • That premise.
  • The plot.
  • The world.

Cons:

  • The characters.
  • The narration.

I adore the premise of this: six clones who are crewing a spaceship filled to the brim with cryo-sleeping humans all wake up newly cloned with no memory of the last 26 years and a broken AI and have to figure out who killed them all and what is going on and why the space ship is turned around. I do love a good closed room mystery and the added sci-fi twist was wonderfully done. I found the plot exciting and the worldbuilding mostly wonderful. I loved the way this book created very specific rules and laws and stuck to them. I have many thoughts on the ethics of the technology described.

I was also never bored with this book and mostly sped through it (and I have been having the worst reading month). I found it in places funny and in others heartbreaking.

But. And this is a big but. The characters are dreadfully realized in such a way that for a good chunk of the book I thought this must surely be intentional (I had a whole elaborate theory that is kind of spoilery – especially because it turns out the opposite was true). It doesn’t seem to have been intentional though. Wolfgang in particular did not in the slightest resemble any human being I have ever met – and yes I understand why his backstory might give reasons for that, but it didn’t work for me. There is also a part fairly early on where Wolfgang challenges another clone to some sort of macho test of physical prowess, while they are starving and a murderer is among them. Which is weird in and of itself – but then the medical doctor on board has a thought along the lines of “knowing what she did about testosterone this seems to be normal behaviour” … and I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think that is normal behaviour.

The narration also did not work for me. We jump between the characters by way of a semi-omniscient narrator but still the information needed is hidden from the reader in a way that did not feel natural and got annoying pretty fast. I think I would have prefered to have stuck with one of the clones, Maria preferably, because she is by far the most interesting character and I think it would have worked a lot better for the story progression.

But, I did enjoy this a whole lot. It was just what I needed to get out of my reading funk and it kept me glued to the page, eagerly trying to find out what was going on. I thought the way the story was structured and the backstories integrated was wonderful. And the world IS brilliant.