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Mini Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha WellsTitle: All Systems Red

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Murderbot Diaries #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Overview: In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth. -Goodreads

The Mini Review:

Murderbot might be my spirit animal.

I loved this novella. It had a fun plot and, more importantly, it had a killer main character (pun intended) who will speak to your inner introvert like no other. And it was funny. I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much at a SecUnit POV, but the situational humor and dialogue delighted me at every turn. Good humor will spark a higher rating in me every time, and it almost feels like a bonus that everything else was so good too. Overall, All Systems Red had all the components I look for in a sci-fi and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next!

Series status: I plan to read all the things… in fact I may hound for ARCs and purchase hardcovers for my collection.

Recommendation: All Systems Red seems to me the epitome of the best the genre has to offer, so whether your looking to get into sci-fi or are an established reader seeking your next good read, All Systems Red earned its spot as a staple in my recommendation arsenal.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Title: Ancillary Justice

Author: Ann Leckie

Series: Imperial Radch #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been systematically devouring as many of these sci-fi series as I can get my hands on (fueled by James S.A. Corey, Ann Aguirre, Martha Wells, and Rachel Bach, to name a few), and I’d been saving Ancillary Justice for a rainy day. I was certain I was going to love it… but unfortunately it fell a little short of my expectations.

For the first third of the book I thought I was having an issue with my ability to concentrate. I found the writing really dense and it was often difficult to figure out what was happening. Sometimes rereading passages would help, but more often than not I felt like I was missing something. It distanced me from the story and made me feel disconnected from the characters. Around the 30% mark, it finally started to draw me in with a few action scenes and got better from there. By the time I finished, I was glad I’d read it, but holy cow that was a rocky start. My conservative rating is a reflection of that and the fact that the book lacked some depth.

The potential for political intrigue was one of my biggest motivators to keep reading. The dynamics were so interesting early on that I really thought it was going to expand into something profound. All the ingredients were there, they just didn’t get manipulated enough for any sort of payoff. It lacked a nefarious edge to really get me down and gritty with the story, so I came away feeling like I’d just read a whole lot of fluff (with potential).

I did have some positive takeaways: The book started with a great concept and maintained a strong voice throughout. It also boasts one of the more fascinating POVs I’ve come across (non-human, which was a delightful surprise). Those items alone saved it to a “I liked it” rating.

I’m kind of an outlier when compared to the mass majority of stellar ratings, but I do have a Goodreads friend who had similar issues with this book, but explained them a lot better [see his review]. He talked about his theory for it’s success based on people being fascinated by the various stylistic elements and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m one of those people – I really love when an author can show me something I’ve never seen before. But the rest of his points were spot-on with my impressions of this book (nice review!).

Recommendations: I’m not as wide read with sci-fi as I’d like to be (yet), but I’ve definitely read several I liked better than Ancillary Justice. Despite that, it’s still recommendable for its interesting concept, characters, and overall story. It’s not the first book I’d hand you in the genre, but it would certainly come up in conversation. Keep this one in mind after you’ve read my other sci-fi recs first. ;)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

November 7, 2017

Title: Persepolis Rising

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #7

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview:In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace. In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it. New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever… -Goodreads

The Review:

The only thing I hated about Persepolis Rising is how long it’s going to make me wait for the next book.

I always come away from an Expanse novel reeling. Sometimes from massive events, but often just from the profound depth of character. This series continues to illustrate what it is to be human and I can’t help feeling deeply affected by the sentiment within each novel. A short interaction between two characters in this book (maybe 3 pages worth?) had the power to become one of the most memorable moments of the series for me. It’s those little moments made bigger by the depth of their history and meaningfulness of the nuances that makes this series so stellar. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

As far as “stuff happening,” the lack of which was my only issue with Babylon’s Ashes, Persepolis Rising delivered on plot advancement and regained much-needed momentum for the series. I’ve been trusting the authors to evolve it into something, well, expansive at some point, and they’re delivering with flair. Other than a segment in the middle (where I had an oddly difficult time concentrating), Persepolis Rising offered a snowball ride to a great story climax that has me almost angry that I can’t pick up the next book immediately.

Recommendations: The Expanse is easily my favorite space opera/science fiction series on the market. The series has a lot of action, great characters (like, really great), and tons of memorable moments. I’d hand it to people looking to get into the genre. But at this point I would beat longtime scifi fans over the head with the first tome if they haven’t given it a try yet.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: To Guard Against the Dark

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #3 [A Clan Novel]

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The final book in the hard science fiction Reunification trilogy, the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Clan Chronicles.

Jason Morgan is a troubling mystery to friends and enemies alike: once a starship captain and trader, then Joined to the most powerful member of the Clan, Sira di Sarc, following her and her kind out of known space.

Only to return, alone and silent. -Goodreads

The Review:

I laughed, I cried, I loved the journey.

The main things I look forward to in Czerneda’s novels are: awesome aliens, great relationships, and situational humor. To Guard Against the Dark had a perfect combination of all three and, in my opinion, was a fitting way to bring the saga to an end.

Series-enders have a tendency to take themselves too seriously, getting so caught up in building a good story arc that they sometimes forget all the little things that make them special. Czerneda couldn’t have delighted me more with her inclusion of all of my favorite elements (Drapsk, more Drapsk, and Huido) in this novel. It was so much fun! The balance of sentimentality and humor was phenomenal. She got it right. :-) Venturing in, I was worried the story would get too existential, focusing on my least favorite elements of the series, the Watchers and the M’hir (usually represented in the Interludes). Even though those elements played a significant role in the finale (and are the basis behind the entire saga), I found them much less ambiguous than in past novels. Finally we get some answers! 

The publisher is advertising that you can jump right in this series without having read anything else, but in my opinion what makes it special and interesting is that it’s a true merge of stories from her Trade Pact Trilogy (to be read first) and her Stratification Trilogy (which I think needs to be read second even though it’s a prequel trilogy). The whole saga is a great journey with incredibly memorable characters; very well worth reading. I’d recommend it if you like sci-fi that focuses more on characterization and aliens than space exploration, military, and technology (for the record, I like both). My recommendation is especially strong if you like aliens because no one does creature creation better than Czerneda! Side note: I would like a stuffed animal Drapsk for my Birthday, please.

I want to thank Berkley Publishing Group, DAW, and Julie E. Czerneda for a chance to read and review an early copy of To Guard Against the Dark. What a fitting end!

Other books you might like (including more Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

Title: The Last Colony

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Old Man’s War #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.

That is, until his and Jane’s past reaches out to bring them back into the game–as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is the point in the series where the story needed to make me fall in love with it as much as the first book did. Coming off a decent, albeit underwhelming second novel (Ghost Brigade), I wanted Last Colony to evolve into a series I could endorse as passionately as The Expanse. Alas, while I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, the book did leave a few points to be desired.

My biggest complaint is the lack of description. Scalzi has all of these interesting alien species, but I’m at the halfway point in the series and couldn’t begin to tell you what they look like. I love myself some xenobiology, but I feel the author has taken what should be a selling point to the series and glazed over it with ambiguity.

At least Last Colony saw the return of my fav, John Perry, and an interesting convergence of storylines from the first two books. The humor came back in force and played a huge factor in my overall enjoyment.

At the end of the day, while I’ve concluded there are some weaknesses to this series, all the strengths add up to give me an easy sci-fi,  perfect for a light reading mood. My Fantasy Buddy Reads group on Goodreads has called it “hefty fluff” or “fluff-plus” and I don’t think it inaccurate. I would definitely recommend it anyday for someone in the mood for a bit of fun.

Other books you might like:

 

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Title: Old Man’s  War

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Old Man’s War #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding... -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m so glad I finally started The Old Man’s War series – it’s every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Filled with humor, action, exploration, and a touch of sentimentality, if you’re looking for your next great sci-fi read, this may be it! The book is essentially about John Perry, a 75-year-old man who signs up for the Army to fight an intergalactic war. John’s POV was my favorite element of the book. His “wisened” outlook on life and general mannerisms were a delightful contrast to the hard-assed whippersnappers who usually star in good sci-fi. The POV definitely elevated an already good story to a fantastic one, but lord save me from old-man jokes (okay, fine. I laughed at all of them).

I also really love to the type of science fiction the book was: a perfect blend of technological advancement, alien interactions, and militaristic elements. The best part is, I think Scalzi has only just scratched the surface of it’s potential in this first book. The first half of the novel moved at a significantly slower pace than the second half, which was great because it felt more organic, giving the latter parts of the book higher impact by contrast. So rest assured, if you pick it up and wonder if it actually goes somewhere, the answer is an emphatic yes – and hang onto your seats when you get there. Incidentally, the slower sections were my favorites.

I mentioned a bit of sentimentality at the beginning of the review. There is a, shall we say “softer” element near the end of the book that I didn’t necessarily care for. It’s the only thing that pinged against my rating, even though it really wasn’t a big factor in the whole scheme of things. I liked the idea, but thought it was a bit too heavy-handed. I’m hoping it will smooth out a bit in the second book (which I will definitely be reading ASAP).

Overall, Old Man’s War was one of the most interesting science fiction I’ve read. I think it fits the bill as both a must-read for seasoned sci-fi lovers and a great introductory novel for new readers of the genre. If you loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game as a young adult (as I did), Old Man’s War is its perfect evolution.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes