Tag: Science Fiction

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2)

Oh poor Galadriel Higgins. El’s affinity for super destructive magic, her desire to be semi-anti-social, and her torn feelings for one Orion Lake really put her in an interesting spot coming into her senior year at the Scholomance.

Now that graduation is upon El, she has set it in her mind that she will get out as many students as possible. As she begins to enlist more and more of the student body in her seemingly hare-brained plans, they all begin to understand just what a powerhouse El really is. To make matters worse, it appears that the school is beginning to turn on her.

I absolutely love this series, and was super excited to be given the opportunity to tackle an early copy of book 2. The Last Graduate really does take off right where A Deadly Education ended, and Ms. Novik has really honed her masterful craft of deft first-person narration. El really is the embodiment of snarky power, and the wide variety of characters, each with their own foibles, really make for an enjoyable experience.

There is so much more I would love to gush about this book, but I would give away far too much.

Once this book drops, I’ll definitely be picking up the audiobook. Anisha Dadia did an absolute masterful job with the first book, and I really can’t wait to hear her doing book 2.

Victories Greater Than Death (Unstoppable #1) by Charlie Jane Anders

I cannot get over this book. I picked it up because Ms. Anders has some serious Sci-Fi chops, the premise sounded interesting, and, duhhh, it’s YA Space Opera. What I got, however, was unlike anything I have ever read.

The basic story is that our protagonist, Tina Mains, is not just the typical teenager. She contains a interplanetary rescue beacon in her chest and is fully aware that, some day, it will be activated and her destiny as an alien disguised as a human will be unveiled.

As you can imagine, the time arrives and it is so much bigger than Tina could have anticipated. It turns out that Tina is the disguised copy of the galactic legend Captain Thaoh Argentian, and the Royal Fleet is relying on restoring Captain Argentian to help save the galaxy. Naturally, things don’t go as planned and Tina is really just turned into “Space Wikipedia.”

The very real threat, however, is not stopping, so Tina, her best friend Rachel, and an incredible crew of various alien races now have to figure out a mysterious puzzle and beat the horrible Compassion to gaining potential god-like powers.

There were several things about Victories Greater Than Death that struck me. First off, I’m not sure I have read a work that was so incredibly inclusive and sensitive to, well, just about everything. I understood, from the acknowledgements, that Ms. Anders employed a crew of sensitivity readers, and that is incredibly apparent. Even in the face of some pretty harsh speciesism, the story manages to be incredibly respectful.

The second thing that struck me was the incredible thought given to the people and places of Victories Greater Than Death. Alien races are presented with history and character/physiological traits that are oft referenced and really fine-tune the characters in a deft and refined way. Where many authors use an aside to describe alien morphology, Ms. Anders weaves these traits into the presentation of inter-character conversations.

Thirdly, was the action description. I have mentioned before how in awe I am of authors who can orchestrate battles where nothing seems to get lost in the telling, and Ms. Anders is a total natural. There is some serious action in Victories Greater Than Death, and it is presented in white-knuckled, amazingly detailed glory. This is a writing trait that I absolutely adore.

Lastly, for YA, Victories Greater Than Death tackles some seriously heavy subjects without getting preachy or letting the emotional themes detract from the greater story. In fact, it is these themes that really help propel the story as well as bond the reader with the characters. This is literary magic not often wielded well.

The one thing that I’m disappointed in is that I am now going to have to wait FOREVER for Unstoppable #2 to come out.

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Persephone Station by [Stina Leicht]

Space Opera is a genre that has been around for almost one-hundred years. In this century of epic space battles and the triumph over good and evil — of which I read a lot — I have finally found a story that had a super-unique approach, and that is the total gem that is Ms. Leicht’s Persephone Station.

Billing this novel as Feminist Science Fiction is incredibly apt, but I feel it does not fully encompass the level of unique inclusion presented.

Persephone Station is the story of Rosie, bar owner in the singular town of West Brynner on the seriously backwater planet of Persephone. Rosie’s Monk’s Bar caters to a wide variety of regular clients, but it is in the back room where the action happens: where the elite criminal class mingles with the sorts of folks who wish to procure services from them.

Rosie has a unique tie to the planet of Persephone and it is this tie that predicates the involvement of our other main protagonist: Angel de la Reza. Angel is an ex-marine who gathered up a rag-tag group of ex-military, some mercs and a damn good sniper to handle jobs coming out of the Monk’s Bar skirting around the Serrao-Orlov Corporation who recently obtained ownership of the planet.

What happens next pits Angel and Rosie — on different fronts — up against the incredible machine that is Serrao-Orlov in a frantic effort to protect both their own necks and the secrets hidden on Persephone.

This book was just a blast to read. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop, but I got a definite Kelly’s Heroes and Magnificent Seven vibe from it. Angel’s team does not mess around when it comes to the job, but the amazing banter and personality quirks are what really make this story so remarkable.

It’s the nuance and the slow unfolding of both the story and the backstories of the characters that I enjoyed the most in this work of Ms. Leicht’s. Hell, even the ship computer systems were a delight to read.

Persephone Station is one of those books that is going to end up on a lot of “best of 2021” lists, and I really wouldn’t surprise if it ended up on the nomination lists for the Hugos or the Lammys.

It’s an amazingly entertaining journey that I heartily recommend. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Stay Younger Longer (Terrafide #3) by Ryan Hyatt

*** This book was provided to me by the author for a fair and honest review ***

Stay Younger Longer (Terrafide Book 3) by [Ryan Hyatt]

Mr. Hyatt appears to love to wear his readers out, and Stay Younger Longer is absolute proof of it.

Dick White is a journalist in the midst of an ongoing personal crisis who, despite copious idiocy and self-medication, has been given the opportunity to break open the story of the century: the secrets behind the anti-aging drug Euphoria.

It turns out, though, that Dick isn’t the only one interested in the “so-called” cure that has been hinted at. I’d love to say that shenanigans ensue, but that is horribly misleading. Basically, Dick gets himself in and out of a ton of crazy situations and barely escapes with his life a lot.

In context with the rest of the Terrafide books, I was glad that I read this one last. Unconventionally, Mr. Hyatt released these books in semi-sideways order. Stay Younger Longer came first, followed by Rise of the Liberators which outlines a bit of what is going on in regards to the military aspect of things, and then The Psychic’s Memoirs which really puts everything in perspective as to how this all got started. I accidentally read the series in story chronological order and it was very enlightening to see the progression. There are a few instances of story weirdness, but the subject matter more than makes up for any anomalies.

As I have said in previous reviews, Mr. Hyatt is masterful at story and character building. You really want to like Dick White and his semi-dystopian Los Angeles, but you also really don’t want to like him. Dick is an anti-hero who kind of tries to do the right thing, but is more driven by his vices than his sense of righteousness. There are large swaths of this story that deal with Dick just getting into bad social situations that may seem extraneous, but I think they are there to show us just where his brain is really at.

The Los Angeles of Stay Younger Longer is a dystopian future that I really can see us achieving easily. There are a few fantastical elements, but the majority of it is just downright believable. The fact that this book was released in 2015, and some of the elements that are “true” today, six years later, is oddly prescient.

Bottom line, read this book. Hell, read the entire series. I really hope there is another book coming to help fill in some of the questions I have, but I’m happy with where I’m currently at.

Rise of the Liberators (Terrafide #1) by Ryan Hyatt

*** This book was provided to me by the author for a fair and honest review ***

Rise of the Liberators (Terrafide Book 1) by [Ryan Hyatt]

Ray Salvatore is an out of work Marine who is about to lose his house in the midst of the Greatest Depression. Ray is completely screwed and very desperate about his lack of control over his situation.

Out of the blue, Ray is called up with an opportunity to take care of his family for life, and, head up a new military secret weapons project. All he has to do is wage a little war.

The secret project that Ray gets involved in is the Liberators: huge armored mecha that are unlike any military hardware on Earth. Ray’s job is to get up to speed on the ins and outs of the system(s), and then lead a group of moderately misfit Marines in learning how to effectively use the Liberator.

Questions abound, but Ray is focused on the task at hand and trying to whip his soldiers (often unconventionally) into shape to take on Iran.

While I really enjoyed this book and the character and scene building, there is a story split about halfway through the book introducing a new character, a new situation, and an entirely new set of technologies and problems. While this story arc does circle back to the primary one, I think it would have better been developed as a complimentary story (Terrafide #1.5, perhaps), and not in the primary novel.

That being said, Mr. Hyatt is exceedingly good at building up semi-dystopian urban environments. There are a lot of unique characters to juggle in Rise of the Liberators, and Mr. Hyatt does so deftly. Having already read Terrafide #2, I knew a little of what to expect from where Rise of the Liberators was going, but it was a damn enjoyable ride.

I mean, who doesn’t love giant robots?

A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe (The Dryad’s Crown, #2) by David Hopkins

A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe: Book Two of the Dryad's Crown by [David Hopkins, Daniel Decena, Francesca Baerald]

Mr. Hopkins has done it again. While the serialized releases of his Dryad’s Crown series are excruciating because of the waiting, A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe really made the wait worth it.

Previously we were introduced to the semi-mysterious Silbrey, her family, and her near-insane past. She, and her two children have settled down in a farmhouse next to a forest that seems to provide some comfort to Silbrey and her restlessness.

Gydan, Silbrey’s daughter begins to hear voices that beckon her to come into the woods and provide rescue. I’ll just leave the recap there, because it gets really really spicy after that.

A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe turns out to be the story of one wallop of an extended fight, and an opportunity of discovery.

In the conflict that breaks out, you can definitely see the framework of Mr. Hopkins’ tabletop role playing game experience. The staging and posturing was perfect, and, unlike other authors who try to choreograph combat, there was always a clear vision of how the fight was positioned. This is a difficult skill to execute without muddying the scene with “lost” combatants or just general chaos.

Now that we have a second book in The Dryad’s Crown, a grander story is slowly starting to unfold. I cannot wait to see where it takes us.

As I said in my previous review, the worldbuilding that Mr. Hopkins has melded together is one of wonder. To make things even more amazing, this tale occurs in a world of his design, Efre Ousel, which he has amazingly created as “open content” in the hopes of fostering a collaborative community of storytellers with the goal of building on each others’ work. The potential gives me shivers.

There is already a wiki and a D&D 5e compatible campaign setting. I just can’t wait to see what the community comes up with.

The Horror of Supervillainy (The Supervillainy Saga Book 7) by C. T. Phipps

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The Horror of Supervillainy (The Supervillainy Saga Book 7) by [C. T. Phipps]

Once again, dropped right in the middle of a well-established series. The Horror of Supervillainy, however, really worked out incorporating new readers.

Designed as a complete homage to the comic book world of superheroes and supervillains, The Supervillainy Saga series plays fast and loose with character development, tangible timelines, and, most importantly, recaps. Mr. Phipps starts the story with a foreward that explains directly to the reader just what comics have inspired this book, and how our main character, Gary Karkofsky, got into his current situation, and, briefly, what that situation is. Kudos for the recap, it has a super “True Believers” feel to it.

Jumping into the story, we find Gary, aka Merciless: The Supervillain without Mercy™, attempting to maintain a conversion from villain to hero, and, oddly, getting hired by a talking raven to go rescue the President’s daughter from Dracula. Yeah, that’s one hell of a setup.

From there, the hilarity ensues.

Gary is one of those perfectly balanced characters. By his own admission, his alignment is Chaotic Neutral, and that just allows for a whole lot of fun to happen. Couple this with Gary constantly spouting smart-ass pop culture references while being accompanied by companions from other timelines/dimensions, and it really falls into that familiar comic book scenario. Having had a significant comic book habit for a very long time, it is absolutely obvious that I am the target audience for such an adventure.

And now, of course, I’ve fallen for it. Mr. Phipps has succeeded in piquing my interest in the previous six books. Mission accomplished, sir.

What really gets me is the very serious tone and plotting that happens around all the goofiness in this novel. There is some very fantastical superhero-y things going on, but there is also some very serious morality issues being addressed. Maintaining that balance with the high “fun factor” of this book is no small achievement.

I guess, from here, I’ll be off to find out a bit more about Gary.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Sorrowland opens with our protagonist, Vern Fields, out in the woods giving birth to twins all by her lonesome. Yeah, that’s an opening that will grab your attention.

If that were not enough, there is a malevolence — Vern calls it the Fiend — in these woods that harrows Vern and taunts her with offerings of baby-symbolic death: constant dead animals with accompanying baby accessories.

What we learn of Vern in the first half of the book is downright horrifying. She is a 15 year-old Black albino, very visually impaired, and raised in (and escaped from) a Black-centric compound/cult/commune known as the Blessed Acres of Cain.

I hate reviewing books where I feel like any little bit of detail I give could give away a major plot surprise, and Sorrowland is definitely this kind of story. There are minutiae galore, but, in an amazing display of story organization, Mx. Solomon has a wonderful little path for each and every one of them. The “everything in its right place” person in me adores this.

Ok, back to Vern. Over the next few years, Vern raises her two children — Howling and Feral — in the wild woods with zero human contact aside from the continued harrowing by the Fiend. Howling and Feral grow bigger and become more wily and rambunctious in their free environment, but Vern senses that she is going through some changes.

All the while, she is in constant fear of being discovered by someone who will drag her and her children back to the Blessed Acres of Cain. Back to the horrors of Ascensions, daily “vitamin” shots, and general tyranny under the gaze of her husband who is the leader of this commune.

And that’s it! That’s all I’m letting you know. Just let me tell you that shit definitely escalates from there.

I’ll be brutally honest, when I started it, I wasn’t really in the right headspace to appreciate the nuance of how this story was setting up. It wasn’t until I realized that there was a much bigger tale here than one of just mere survival that I was totally missing. Mx. Solomon deftly sets up a grim tableau and then proceeds to stack piece after piece upon the stage in a slow build of mystery, intrigue and mild horror until it seems that no outcome will be remotely acceptable in the “happy ending” category.

For me, Sorrowland is a story about the myriad aspects and facets of self-reliance. Never before have I experienced a character that so defines the concept of “grey area” in personality and actions as Vern Fields. I often found myself shaking my head at her sheer obstinance, but, as I began to realize that Vern only trusted Vern (and sometimes not even that), her methodical approach in a fuzzy world was what she equates with survival.

Don’t even get me started on electricity food.

The Psychic’s Memoirs (Terrafide #2) by Ryan Hyatt

*** This book was provided to me by the author for a fair and honest review ***

I’ll tell you one thing, The Psychic’s Memoirs jumps right into it as a detective drama. Above all, I think that’s what it is at it’s genre-jumping core.

Ted Kaza and Lydia Jackson are LAPD detectives who are investing the disappearance of a girl who just happened to very accurately predict the earthquake that hit Los Angeles six months ago and basically destroyed the city. The “powers that be” want a word with Miss Alice Walker, and she’s nowhere to be found.

The next genres come tumbling into play quickly thereafter: superhumans, multi-verse theory, global espionage, political uprising and last, but not least, alien invasion and mecha (major bonus for that).

I’m not going to share too much about this story because if you aren’t hooked by chapter seven, then you probably won’t finish it. I was a tad worried as each new outrageous situation unfolded, but it really works for and with Mr. Hyatt’s style.

This is a dystopian future book that seems somewhat less dystopian and a tad more scary at the same time. I find it quite realistic that there could be violent clashes in the street with ragtag gangs up against police and military forces while the average Angeleno is just going about their normal day-to-day.

Mr. Hyatt’s writing style is very well thought out, in my opinion. Scenes are very well set and the attention to situational details really enhances the personality quirks of the primary characters. Above all, you really get to understand what bothers each of them. That’s not something I think I’ve seen in many other books, but it’s incredibly humanizing.

Another thing I really appreciated was the way that interpersonal relationships were portrayed. Not every potential conflict had to be that way, and there were a couple of very interesting surprises on that front that threw me for a slight loop. Again, very humanizing.

I will say, The Psychic’s Memoirs does go “meta” at a certain point. At first I thought it was a nice little easter egg, but it turns out to be pretty core to the story. I haven’t decided if the device is hilarous, genius, or lazy. I’m not sure I’ll ever decide.

Regardless, The Psychic’s Memoirs is a solid read. It’s fast-paced, and really pushes the reader along with a lot of action and intrigue. This is obviously just the first part (or second, actually) of a broader story involving Kaza, Jackson, Walker, and others, so I hope I get to read more of it soon.

Orange City (Orange City, #1) by Lee Matthew Goldberg

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

It’s been a wee bit since I delved in the world of urban dystopian fare, but Orange City delivers it in spades. Imagine Man in the High Tower (with a Stalin slant) mixed with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Max Barry’s Syrup. That’s pretty much what Mr. Goldberg deftly delivers in Orange City.

The basic premise of the book is that there is a huge secret city ruled by “The Man,” a seemingly monstrous oligarch who leads over the corporations and keeps the citizens working and cowering in fear of being cast out into the Empty Zones of the Outside World.

Everyone in the city has a role to play, and that is where our protagonist, Graham Weatherend comes into play. Graham was snatched to the city a decade ago to be put in the position of advertising executive. When his company gets the account for Pow! Sodas, everything starts to change for him: mostly chemically.

Mr. Goldberg finds a very unique voice and builds a terribly frightening world in Orange City, and I just could not get enough of it. The absurdity of this society under the fist of a potential madman combined with a seemingly endless supply of color themed entertainment venues with all of the decadent vices you can imagine really paints a fantastic picture of a “work, play, die” ethos.

This is a city where people go from the top floors of industry to being limblessly cast out onto the streets of the Zones in a matter of hours. A city where there is not even the precept of individual privacy.

I enjoyed Orange City because of the insanity of it. Page after page unveiled new facets of what I can only describe as mild terror. Much like Graham, I can’t wait for the next flavor.