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Book Review: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O'Keefe

Title: Velocity Weapon

Author: Megan E. O’Keefe

Series: The Protectorate #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stara

The Overview: Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe. Now, separated by time and space, Sanda and Biran must fight to put things right. -Goodreads

The Review:

Overall, Velocity Weapon was an entertaining read. Probably in the upper half of scifi novels I’ve read lately. It’s very character-driven and political, involving two worlds on the brink of war. I appreciated the slightly more complex ideas and thought the non-human characters were handled especially well. I also liked the initial suspense – it had a lot of interesting and dynamic plot points to keep the pages turning. If I can say nothing else about the book, it was consistent from start to finish…

… which may have been why the novel ultimately left me feeling underwhelmed.

I definitely don’t mind a slow-burn plot that takes a while to unfold all of its mysteries. I do mind, however, when that slow burn doesn’t eventually escalate, as was the case with Velocity Weapon. It kept the same plodding pace through the entire novel when everything about the story supported a careening finish. Unfortunately, the height of interest for me hit at about the halfway point and never really went back up from there.

The good news is, at least it was consistently good. If you like the book right from the beginning and know what to expect, chances are you’ll continue to like it well into the second novel.

Series status: I set down the second book in favor of other series I was more impassioned about. However I can see myself picking it back up eventually because the series is written well and has a lot of merit.

Recommendations: pick this scifi up for a slow-burn, character-driven political novel.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Title: Fugitive Telemetry

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Murderbot #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating:  4.5/5 stars

The Overview: “No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.” When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?). Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ll be the first to admit that I love Murderbot so much that anything published in the series immediately gets a baseline rating of three stars… anything I find particularly amusing above and beyond expectation launches it up from there. The full-length novel had all the Murderbot attributes but, after some distance from my initial impressions (and review), I don’t think the extended plot did the story any favors. It was a bit repetitive and could’ve benefitted from a more generous edit. Coming back home to another novella in Fugitive Telemetry was exactly what the series needed to refresh itself back absolutely superb rather than just merely awesome.

I loved this one. Probably my second favorite after Rogue Protocol. As always, Murderbot was a scream (the humor kind), but what struck me in this one was how much the character has grown. It’s definitely still an antisocial introvert, but you can now read between the lines to see that it actually is finding a bit of begrudging comfort out of its “relationships” and gets a little butt-hurt whenever someone snubs it over a prejudice. My favorite scenes here were the ones involving it trying to work with the humans on their very inefficient terms. Hysterical.

The mystery was very satisfying and the pacing was spot-on. I had to stop myself from devouring too fast because who knows when we’ll get another one. Martha Wells has truly created a unique voice that is as memorable as it is funny.

Recommendations: I’m a huge fan of everything about this series and plan to continue recommending it as often as I can. Murderbot is my spirit animal. I don’t care how much I read, I’ll never get tired of his sardonic nature. The series is especially recommendable because the installments are so short – they give people a chance to try them out without a huge time commitment. I don’t know about everyone else, but I was sold on the very first line…

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Title: Colonyside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: Planetside #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: A military hero is coming out of disgrace—straight into the line of fire… Carl Butler was once a decorated colonel. Now he’s a disgraced recluse, hoping to live out the rest of his life on a backwater planet where no one cares about his “crimes” and everyone leaves him alone. It’s never that easy. A CEO’s daughter has gone missing and he thinks Butler is the only one who can find her. The government is only too happy to appease him. Butler isn’t so sure, but he knows the pain of losing a daughter, so he reluctantly signs on. Soon he’s on a military ship heading for a newly-formed colony where the dangerous jungle lurks just outside the domes where settlers live. Paired with Mac, Ganos, and a government-assigned aide named Fader, Butler dives head-first into what should be an open and shut case. Then someone tries to blow him up. Faced with an incompetent local governor, a hamstrung military, and corporations playing fast and loose with the laws, Butler finds himself in familiar territory. He’s got nobody to trust but himself, but that’s where he works best. He’ll fight to get to the bottom of the mystery, but this time, he might not live to solve it. -Goodreads

The Review:

When Michael Mammay publishes a new book, I am so there. His writing, characters, and plots have drawn me in like few others, and Colonyside was no exception. I’m thrilled to have another Planetside novel to add to my collection.

Butler’s character profile is one of my favorites. His no-bullshit attitude is incredibly appealing (for the same reasons I love Corey’s Avasarala from the Expanse series) and I appreciate that his character seems to have grown and adapted a bit since the first book. I LOVE how analytical he his. His perceptions of the world and how other people tick is a constant through-line of the series. Psychoanalyzing people’s motives is something that always fascinated me, and he takes it one step further by using that analysis to influence and manipulate to get the outcomes he wants. It’s extremely satisfying. Because I’m so enamored with it, I eat up every page, but I could see how that constant evaluation might get a bit repetitive for other readers. It certainly worked for me though.

Of the three Planetside novels, this one was the most relaxed, probably because the stakes weren’t as high. But I didn’t mind that because the plot was fast-moving and the mystery interesting. The first two books had a fantastic payoff at the end (shocking me out of my seat), but this one lacked a bit of that for me, mostly because I predicted where it was going. I missed that element of surprise, but other than that really got into the characters, the setting, and the politics.

Recommendations: Planetside is one of my all-time favorite scifi novels and a very high recommend for any fan of the genre. The audio version is superb – R.C. Bray’s performance really elevating the character (my full audio production review is available on AudioFile.com). I enjoyed it so much I endorsed it for an Earphones Award. The series continues to delight and entertain me with each installment and I’m hoping it’s not the last we’ll see of Carl Butler. 

I’d like to thank Avon and Harper Voyager, Netgalley, and Michael Mammay for the chance to read an early copy of Colonyside!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: To Sleep in a Sea if Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christoper Paolini

Title: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Author: Christopher Paolini

Series: N/A

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds. Now she’s awakened a nightmare. During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move. As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human. While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

A decent sci-fi. I didn’t hate it. But I do have some thoughts.

Paolini has definitely blossomed as a writer. He always had the storytelling basics, but time and experience has done his craft well. I particularly liked his character construction. So many different personalities and a great dynamic between all of them. I’d be hard-presses to pick a favorite, and I love that.

I wouldn’t say the book was particularly original – I feel like I’ve read many different versions of at least the first 25%. But as the story progressed it started to get more and more creative. It eventually presented enough fun ideas and characters to keep my interest, and soon I was on board. There were one or two plot decisions that surprised me, which is always a bonus.

It is a bit of a drawback for me that it took so long to get going. While many of the scenes boasted action and a fast-paced momentum, the overall plot progression of the book was sluggish. If the scenes themselves hadn’t been so interesting, I could’ve easily gotten bored, and even wondered if I was starting to several times. There was an entire plot point (involving a blue staff) that caused a lot of story repetition. I thought it could’ve been removed completely without any negative effects (or at least merged with other sections). As it stands, I feel it drew the book out a lot longer than it needed to be.

Another criticism is the required “just go with it” attitude I needed to adopt while reading it. Particularly regarding the decisions and reactions of authority figures along Kira’s journey. A lot of what went on felt rather implausible considering what was at stake, even with the concession that most of it happened on the fringes of human-settled space. But still, a lot of things seemed too convenient and narrowly-focused to actually work. That said, it does take place during an alien invasion, so perhaps a lot can be chalked up to everyone being too busy with that to deal with this one aspect. I did appreciate that Paolini at least attempted to incorporate the on-goings in the highly populated worlds to keep me connected to the large-scale stakes of the conflict.

Recommendations: fans of Paolini’s work will likely enjoy this book for similar writing styles and voice. As far as sci-fi recommends go, it ranks somewhere in the middle for me – not the most original I’ve read, but better than many of them because of the fun characters. After compiling my “other books you might like” section, it occurred to me that despite the light adult content, the book still reads more YA (minus the romance) and would probably appeal to fans of that genre more so than scifi lovers. 

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Mirage by Julie E. Czerneda

Mirage by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: Mirage

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Web Shifter’s Library #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Relationships get complicated when you don’t know who—or what—you really are. Esen must find a way to rescue a hapless group of chimeras, beings who are a new and unique blend of species she knows, when she can’t become one herself. When Evan Gooseberry tries to help, he is shattered to learn he himself isn’t entirely Human and begins to suspect his new friend Esen isn’t what she seems. Complicating matters, a mysterious contagion has killed the crew of the ship that brought the chimeras—and Evan—to Botharis. Everyone’s been quarantined inside the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture, including over a hundred disgruntled alien scholars. The risks climb as Skalet and Lionel continue their quest to solve the disappearance of Paul’s mother’s ship, the Sidereal Pathfinder, only to find themselves caught in a tangle of loyalties as Skalet is betrayed by her own Kraal affiliates, who infiltrate the Library. All of which would be quite enough for one Web-being’s day, but Paul Ragem hopes to rekindle the romance of his first love. A shame Esen hasn’t told him who’s hiding in their greenhouse. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m a mega Czerneda fan, and Beholder’s Eye (the first Esen novel) has long been a go-to scifi recommend. It was my first Czerneda… heck, it was one of my first sci-fi’s, and I’m sure that plays a role in how thoroughly I’m enjoying this revisit, even 15 years later. Since that first read, I’ve read all of the sci-fi trilogy sets she has on the market, and one thing has become abundantly clear: Czerneda is having more fun than ever.

Her writing always had a good bit of situational humor (my favorite kind), but this latest trilogy really amps up that component, making the books an absolute riot. The tone actually fits in nicely with the latest generation of sci-fi that boasts a lighter, feel-good atmosphere (hi Becky Chambers), so she’s on trend, and recommending her just got even easier.

Good humor aside, she includes some of my favorite creature creations (aliens) across the genre, which is still true now that I’ve read a LOT more sci-fi authors. With a background in biology, Czerneda’s aliens are always well thought out and expertly executed. The fun element comes into play here as well – the ways the aliens interact with the main characters is always great for some laughs.

She also has good characters. I like that Esen isn’t written from a human-minded POV. She’s a Web-Being with thought patterns and tendencies different than our own. Thank goodness we have Paul (human) to keep Esen grounded. ;P Czerneda also has excellent perspective immersion… which can sometimes be so well done that it sacrifices clarity for creativity. All of her books include these signature interlude chapters that take away all context and throw you into the depths of an alien perspective. They’re quite ambiguous and I often find myself retreading them to figure out what’s going on (not that reading them over helps much). Even when seriously studying them for the chance to become a beta reader for another Czerneda project, I struggled with these passages (which is probably why I just missed out on the opportunity). These passages also exhibit a clipped, to the point writing style that makes an appearance to a lesser degree in the rest of her works. Her writing is very stylized, and she often seems more interested in the cadence and mood of the delivery than she is in proper sentence structures (a liberty I don’t mind in the least as it makes the books feel more conversational). In recent books, that unique style has gotten more refined, to the point where the pacing of the scenes rockets (not to be confused with the pacing of plot-advancement, which is ironically a bit slow). It makes for an engaging read, just don’t blink or you’ll miss something.

Overall, this was a good bit of blue blob fun, and I can’t wait to see what Czerneda has in store next.

Recommendations: don’t start here! Go back and begin with Beholder’s Eye or even a different great series starting with Survival. Both hold sacred space on my bookshelves.

I’d like to thank DAW Publishing, Julie E. Czerneda, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Mirage!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

Title: The Cruel Stars

Author: John Birmingham

Series: The Cruel Stars #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong. The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying. These five flawed, reluctant heroes must band together to prevail against a relentless enemy and near-impossible odds. For if they fail, the future itself is doomed. -Goodreads

The Review:

Although wildly entertaining, The Cruel Stars didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

It started out with a bunch of POV introductions, one at a time, that took up a good 20% of the page count. The language was a bit thick at first, and there were a few info-dump scenes where the entire conversation served no purpose but to tell the reader stuff about the character. Needless to say, it took a moment to get going.

But get going it did, and I found myself interested in most of the characters. The concept is that these slightly remarkable individuals will have to come together to save the galaxy from an elitist threat. So the culminations of events that eventually converged them together kept my interest really well. There was also a good balance between slow character development moments and action scenes (after the first 20%). When the inciting moment finally hit, I was hooked.

Up until the last few chapters, I had the book at a 4-star rating. But the way the events unfolded left me wanting. For starters, the “remarkableness” of the individuals involved didn’t play a huge role in the final conflict. What’s more, all of the interesting dynamics that had been building the whole book were reduced down to a surprisingly simple outcome. It was too simple for my tastes, taking the expansive feel of the story and reducing it down to a minuscule gunfight within a few mile radius. At least, that’s how it felt.

I loved the concept of the enemy – a group of human “purists” who are out to destroy any who have been genetically or cybernetically altered. But Birmingham didn’t really explore that much in this first book. There was a single sentence in passing that speculated on whether or not the alterations were destroying what makes people “human” at their core (implying it could eventually cause them to destroy themselves) that my mind ran with. It gave the hated enemy a really interesting ground to stand on because, theoretically, they could have an outside perspective of corruption that those ingrained in the system can’t see (or they could just be evil fanaticists… it’s hard to tell). But it got me asking questions: What does the “enemy” know that the POVs don’t?! Is there more depth here? But the problem is that none of this was explored in the text, it’s just my own conjecture.

I love profanity in books. Seriously. A well-placed f-bomb can completely elevate a scene, and I especially love when it’s used for comedic effect. But for it to work, it has to be incorporated with a certain amount of consciousness. Swearing is it’s own art form, and and based on its use in Cruel Stars, Birmingham was essentially fingerprinting with mud. The placement was random and in such great volume that it only served to make the characters sound crass and uncreative. Even its placement within each sentence made the language clunky and awkward.

So for some pacing issues, an over-simplified climax, an under-realized concept, and the chaotic use of profanity, I came away from the book disappointed in enough key elements that I probably won’t be continuing the series, but also still kind of glad I’d read it.

Recommendations: the book advertises that it’s similar to both the Expanse and Battlestar Galactica, but I thought it channeled Serenity more than anything else (if we must compare. Although it did have some similarities to the BG tangent Pegasus, but the comparison is thin). I probably wouldn’t recommend this unless you’ve already read a bunch of other titles in the genre and just want some mindless action with a little humor mixed in. I was a lot more critical in this review than I usually am, but at least the book provoked something from me. And despite my objections, it was still enjoyable to read. Do with that what you will haha.

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by Niki Hawkes