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Book Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Title: A Memory Called Empire

Author: Arkady Martine

Series: Teixcalaan #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation. -Goodreads

The Review:

I have to take a moment to explain how excited I was to dive into this book. I was expecting rich culture, a complex plotline, and fascinating characters. And while I think all those components made an appearance, they weren’t nearly as amped up as I was hoping they’d be.

In fact, 85% of the story was pure dialogue and explanations. It TOLD me about this cool alien world and society, but it often neglected to SHOW me. And that feels like a colossal opportunity wasted. Incidentally, I felt the exact same about Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh – cool concept (so many good ideas to play with), interesting characters (who lacked depth), and sluggish plots (where not much happens, but we discussed a shitload). Maybe that’s the M.O. of this specific sub-genre though and I’m just not equipped to appreciate it. Or maybe I’m just too impatient and many of these things will develop as the series continues. Whatever the case, I tend to expect sci-fi’s to have more action, world-building, or at the very least, some deep character connection. None of which were abundant here…

I thought the political intrigue and overall mystery of the story were interesting, but it took so long to learn new things about it that, by the time I got to the last 10% of the book, I was so disengaged and bored that I no longer cared. It was a major struggle to finish. And for whatever reason, the eventual revelation felt over simplified for such a seemingly sophisticated society.

Part of that declining interest had to do with the main character. She thought about a lot of stuff, but she didn’t make me feel anything, and I remained totally at arm’s distance the entire time. Coming off of Tiamat’s Wrath by Corey, my expectations were definitely inflated. For a book largely focused on character immersion and very little else, the characters need to shine, and for me they just didn’t.

Series status: I’ve bookmarked the sequel on Goodreads, but I honestly don’t think I’m going to pick it up. It just didn’t tickle my fancy.

Recommendations: if you’re in the market for a sci-fi with a cool concept and a shit-ton of dialogue and discussion, this is a good pick (I’m being snarky, but I acknowledge that sometimes a talky novel is just what the doctor ordered). I personally craved more action and world-building (seeing it, not hearing about it), so I was left wanting, but I can see the intellectual appeal this novel might bring to some.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review by Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Title: Tiamat’s Wrath

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: Expanse #8

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!! (you heard me.)

The Overview: Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper. In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess. And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule — and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose – seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough… –Goodreads

The Review:

I can’t remember the last time I actually yelled at a book.

Coming back to this series felt like embracing family after being gone a few years… like coming home. In my mind, these characters are real people. Their development is so on-point, I always feel their triumphs and defeats poignantly. These authors are brilliant. And I have to say, they really set out to shred my soul with Tiamat’s Wrath. Holy shit.

Truth be told, I’ve been really apathetic lately with books. This is the first novel in a loooong while to evoke a reaction from me. To the point where, yes, I yelled when a few things happened and may or may not have sobbed at one point. I read so much, that kind of emotional investment only comes along once in a blue moon. And it’s these types of books I save my solid 5-star ratings for. Before Tiamat’s Wrath, I hadn’t handed out one since last July. O_o

This book was amazing. It may not have had a lot of action or moving parts, but the depth of character immersion and overall plot advancement was phenomenal. Every moment counted. Every conversation important. Every action riveting. It’s in close competition with Nemesis Games as my favorite of the series. They’re kind of hard to compare though – that one had a ton of moving parts and grand, epic events that blow your mind with the shear scale and implications of it all. This one was much more understated – an emotional roller coaster of internal turmoil that drew you in because of the human element. It was a slow burn, but every moment was fire… at least to me.

They’re definitely gearing up for a finale, and I think it’s going to be a fucking monster. Tiamat’s left me poised on the edge of a cliff, and if I could jump into a freefall right this moment to see what happens next, I wouldn’t hesitate. This is one of those anticipated series finales we’ll all have to cancel plans for… grab some tissues and maybe one of those squishy stress ball thingies and seclude ourselves in quiet corners and wait for all hell to break loose… then deal with the agony of it ending. Needless to say, I have a lot of expectations riding on the final novel, but I’m so confident in these authors that I’m truly not worried (just stressed at what they’re going to do to me).

Series status: highest priority sci-fi… omg gimmie the final novel!!!

Recommendations: if you have ANY interest in the space opera genre, there’s no better place to start than The Expanse series. It will take you on a wild ride, gut-punching you all the while… it’s awesome lol. If you haven’t checked out the novellas by this point in the series, you might want to pick up Strange Dogs before diving in (although I found merit in all of them, so consider that an endorsement). Overall, this is my first pick whenever someone wants an exciting, character-driven series. And if anything, my opinions of it have only gotten stronger with each installment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Stardoc by S.L. Viehl

Stardoc by S.L. Viehl

Title: Stardoc

Author: S.L. Viehl

Series: Stardoc #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil leaves Earth and accepts a position as a physician at Kevarzanga-2’s FreeClinic. Her surgical skills are desperately needed on a hostile frontier world with over 200 sentient species–and her understanding of alien physiology is nothing short of miraculous. But the truth behind her expertise is a secret which, if discovered, could have disastrous consequences between human and alien relations… -Goodreads

The Review:

I freaking loved this book. And it is somewhat tragic that it sat on my shelves collecting dust for 16 years before I finally picked it up (16 years!!!! I can’t even wrap my head around that fully). The story may not have been the most original, creative, or exciting, but I tell you what – it was EXACTLY what I’ve been craving and I enjoyed it to pieces.

I love sci-fi books of all kinds – from the heavy militaristic battle novels filled with endless technical jargon to the fluffy feel-good space operas, but the ones that always seem to make me phone home are the ones with the most creative alien creations. I guess you could say I prefer the xenobiology sci-fis, and the more convincing the genetic makeups, the better. Not only did Stardoc include a vast array of aliens, but Viehl (who happens to be a retired surgeon for the army) upped the game even further by including medical treatment of these aliens (which means she really had to dig in to the specifics of their biological workings and how the environment affected them), and I ate up every single detail. Not only was it an amazing creative undertaking, but it also added an exciting medical drama angle that kept me turning pages late into the night. Superb.

If all that wasn’t enough, the story often sat on the verge of being a bonafide space opera (my favorite two words in spec-fic). The characters were well developed and their interpersonal drama balanced perfectly with the rest of the story and provided an excellent way to get emotionally invested. A vast majority of the story takes place on one planet, but there are so many dynamics that it didn’t ever feel stagnant (although I’m totally looking forward to more space travel and new aliens in future books).

There’s only one story component that kept me from giving Stardoc a full 5-star rating, and that was the inclusion of a very odd rape scene. Like, really odd. Mostly because of how it was handled – the author sort of showed her cards a bit for me on what’s to come, and I can sorta see what she was trying to do, but 100% the content wouldn’t fly in today’s market had it been written more recently. I don’t really want to spark a debate on rape scenes in books, so I’m going to leave it at that and suggest you just venture in aware it’s a component. It’s literally the only thing that kept Stardoc from hitting perfection for me on all accounts.

Series status: Enjoying this series has now become my #1 reading priority. I’ve already cracked the spine on the next book (and it’s awesome!).

Recommendations: I can’t endorse this book as the best sci-fi I’ve ever read, but it hit all the right notes for me and has become one of my new favorites. It includes and excellent mix of medical drama, aliens, relatable characters, and just a hint of mystery.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Author: Becky Chambers

Series: Wayfarers #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat. Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened. Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it. Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong. When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination? -Goodreads

The Review:

Plot? What plot?

I found this book very difficult to rate. On one hand, I really appreciate Chambers’ unique perspective and fearless, unapologetic outside-the-box approach to storytelling. It’s so different than anything I’ve ever read, and I kind of love that. So I feel it deserved more stars. However, I also had to take into account my own expectations and how much I actually enjoyed reading it… which is significantly less than I’d hoped. I saw many missed opportunities to improve the story – ones that would’ve kept the integrity of her original voice while providing a much more satisfactory experience (some things as simple as changing the names a bit so readers are less likely to mix up characters at the beginning. Others a little more difficult, such as adding a few periphery universe happenings to give the story a more rounded feel).

Basically I’m applauding her for delivering something incredibly unexpected while at the same time criticizing her for not quite meeting my expectations… reviewing is hard lol. 2.5 stars it is.

The book (and series) definitely generates more subjectivity conversations than most. For the record, I was on board with the first two books – enjoying the journey more than the destination – but definitely expected some sort of momentum build or culmination at this point in the series (especially since I’ve heard it’s the last book… it gets a little leeway if it’s not the last book). The composition was just so dang odd.

The cool writing things it’s doing and the deep, casual-yet-profound character exploration makes the book beautiful. However all of that comes at the expense of developing an actual plot (okay, maybe there is one, but it’s so unconventional that nothing really comes together until the last 20% … but even then, you don’t get any conflicts on a wider scale as you did in the first book. There’s so much unused potential – I can’t get over feeling like these characters should be part of a grander scheme, even if it’s only a minor proximity. What’s more, it’s making me retroactively question my rating of the second book because, as it turns out, it has absolutely nothing to do with this one, and I kind of expected it to tie in somehow to help justify how much time we spent on it.

Overall, I think Chambers’ unique perspective and unconventional voice will inspire a litany of new writers trying their hand at her original style. I think it’s brilliant and a breath of fresh air in a market that can sometimes get cookie-cutter. However, as far as recommending it goes, it all comes down to whether or not you can let go of expectations and just enjoy the ride. Admittedly I’m not the best at this, so I didn’t quite love it as much as I’ve seen others, however, I still appreciate everything in it fiercely. It may even tweak how I tackle my own stories.

Series status: completed? I won’t be buying them for my collection, but I’m still glad I read them.

Recommendations: the Wayfarers series feels like space opera at its finest, and I’d recommend it as worth your time as long as you don’t mind a book more focused on character dynamics than any compelling external conflicts. Some hardcore sci-fi fans might find it a bit fluffy, but I think most casual sci-fi fans will revel in its originality.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: Search Image

Author: Julie Czerneda

Series: Web Shifter’s Library

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Esen’s back! And the dear little blob is in trouble again. Things began so well. She and her Human friend Paul Ragem have opened the doors to their greatest accomplishment, the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture. They’re prepared for clients to arrive, but trouble comes knocking instead. First is Paul’s family, who’d mourned his supposed death years ago. Understandably, feelings are bent. But what matters? Paul’s father has gone missing. Before he can convince Esen to help him search, a friend shows up to use the Library. A crisis in the Dokeci System is about to explode into violence. To have a hope of stopping it, Evan Gooseberry needs answers. Unfortunately, the artifact he brought in trade holds its own distracting secret. A touch of very familiar blue. Lesy’s “signature,” left on all her creations. Web-flesh. The race is on. Paul, to find his father. Esen, to search for the rest of her Web-sister while helping Evan stop a war. What none of them realize is the price of success will be the most terrible choice of all. -Goodreads

The Review:

Can I fanigirl a minute over a new Esen novel?? 😭😭

I have to say, even though I loved how the first trilogy ended, I had a true booknerd freakout when I heard there was another Esen novel in the works. Czerneda has long been my favorite sci-fi author, and amazing, funny, awkward, compassionate characters like Esen are a big part of why I recommend her books so often.

It’s abundantly clear Czerneda loves this character as much as her fans do. Her writing in Search Image showed so much exuberance, it was the most fun I’ve seen her have to date (there’s always an element of fun and humor, but she really leveled up here). It’s obvious she delighted in this project, and her enthusiasm within her writing was infectious (and my favorite overall takeaway from the story). I can’t wait to see what fun she comes up with next!

Admittedly, I didn’t remember a lot from the first trilogy before diving into this one (it has been 10+ years), and so I’m certain I missed a few nuances and details, but that didn’t really limit my enjoyment much. Search Image had one of my favorite settings so far (an all-inclusive alien library), and and abundance of interesting aliens. Czerneda’s world building and attention to biological detail is amazing, and something I always look forward to in her books.

Recommendations: if you’re new to this author, I’d recommend starting with Beholder’s Eye. That trilogy had the perfect blend of story, humor, character, concept, and world-building for me, and I find myself recommending it often. If you love it as much as I did, then you’ll have this gem to look forward to next! :)

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

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Planetside by Michael Mammay

Title: Planetside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: N/A (…yet)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!!!

The Overview: War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command. The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive… -Goodreads

The Review:

Planetside is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Everything about it hit the spot. It’s about a semi-retired Colonel who gets recruited to investigate circumstances surrounding a missing lieutenant. Right off the bat I loved the main character. He had a very no-bullshit approach to things, and his dry humor cracked me up constantly. In some ways, he reminded me a bit of both Avasarala (Expanse – she’s the bomb) and John Perry (Old Man’s War), to give you an idea the type of character profile we’re dealing with here. I think Colonel Butler could’ve been just sitting there reading a newspaper and I still would’ve eaten up every moment.

Planetside also offered an interesting mystery to solve, and I particularly enjoyed the intel-gathering aspect of the story. It made me feel involved, and the incremental reveal of each new piece of info was perfectly done. It also did an amazing job building momentum. You all know how much I love that gradually building plot that eventually sweeps you into a headlong careen to the end. Planetside definitely did not disappoint in that regard. I finished the book on a high, ready to go again.

Colonel Butler’s dry humor, as I mentioned, really was the highlight of the book for me. The way he spoke, processed information, and dealt with people sent me into constant giggle fits. I love dry, subtle situational humor and it’s placement was superb. All great components aside, the fact that Planetside amused me so much is probably the main reason it landed itself on my conservative all-time favorites list. I can’t wait to see what Michael Mammay comes up with next!

Recommendations: love sci-fi? Planetside is my new #1 rec for you. I loved everything about this book and will probably be talking about as often as I can for a while. It had the perfect balance of mystery, humor, and action.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes