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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: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Title: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Series: Wayfarers #1

Genre: Science Fiction (Space Opera)

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star. Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.-Goodreads

The Review:

Wow, this book was downright cheerful! Is that allowed in sci-fi? It totally should be.

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is definitely a character-driven story. There is a loose plot, but 90% of the focus is on the relationships between the characters. In my eyes, it’s the epitome of a true space opera. I found a lot of enjoyment out of just relaxing into the characters and letting them make me laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever read a lighthearted sci-fi that wasn’t over-the-top cheeky (like Hitchhiker’s), and this book struck a nice balance between levity and realism. The humor was more understated and situational (my personal preference), but what really stood out was the level of optimism infused into the characters. They dealt with a few relatable hard moments, but always maintained a positive outlook on each other and the situation. It was super refreshing. Especially considering how many dark books I’ve been reading lately. The pure joy in this this book caught me off guard in the best way possible.

Good aliens are a huge requirement for me to get behind a space-travel sci-fi. Chamber’s creature creation was great – she provided several different biological makeups and unique cultures. She even used their differences to make a few subtle points against prejudice (awesome). If I had one minor criticism: other than a few mannerisms and physical differentiations, most of the alien species came across very “human” (quirky humans, but still very familiar in the ways they communicated and processed information). When compared to my favorite sci-fi author, Julie Czerneda, I found a few things about their construction just shy of ideal, but that certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment (because, after all, the more human they feel, the more I relate to them). So, as far as relative enjoyability of each POV, Chambers’ aliens were excellent. :)

As I’ve mentioned, the story is very character-driven, so much so that it only touches briefly on external conflicts beyond the Wayfarer ship. But brief doesn’t necessarily mean unimportant. The details provided made this universe feel really established, and it opened up possibility for a lot of cool interspecies conflicts in future books. I have a feeling it’s all going to add up to a profound experience at some point.

Series status: this lighthearted tale was exactly what I needed between some of my heavier reads. I’ve already picked up the next book.

Recommendations: if you like sci-fi and are in the mood for something lighthearted and fun, you can’t pick a better candidate than LWtoSAP. I also think this would be a great transition novel for readers who want to get into the genre, but are intimidated by the heavier military/technology/conceptual sci-fis. It’s definitely going on my list of “fun” books to recommend.

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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Coming Soon: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

November 7, 2017

Title: Persepolis Rising

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #7

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: December 5, 2017

The Overview: Goodreads – you let me down. No synopsis available yet. :/ 

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Nik’s Notes:

The Expanse series is easily my favorite space opera/science fiction on the market. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every book so far and hope Persepolis Rising regains some of that awesome momentum that Babylon’s Ashes was missing. The series has a lot of action, great characters, and tons of memorable moments. If you haven’t picked it up yet, what are you waiting for? It’s awesome!

Who else is waiting for Persepolis Rising??? :D

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Title: Babylon’s Ashes

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them. James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network. But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity. –Goodreads

The  Mini Review:

Babylon’s Ashes is what I’m calling the “stepping stone” novel of the series. Its purpose was to wrap up fallout from the events that happened in the amazingness that was Nemesis Games and set up for what’s to come in Persepolis Rising (which doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m wagering sometime around December 2017). Because it felt more like a transition novel, I didn’t rate it quite as highly as others in the series. Comparatively, especially coming off of Nemesis Games (possibly my favorite of the series), Babylon’s Ashes had nothing particularly earth-shattering about it. There was definite plot progression, and a few poignant moments, but overall it was a little underwhelming. I also had a difficult time focusing at the beginning until the story really got going, which is unusual.

To clarify – I think Babylon’s Ashes was an important chapter in the saga but it didn’t bring as much action and excitement as its predecessors. What it did bring was lots of good character interactions and, as exciting as the plot can get, it’s these well developed, relatable characters who keep me coming back for more. My favorite character has always been Avasarala (a snarky politician who always says what she thinks – whom incidentally, I was thrilled to see introduced earlier in the TV series), but there are many great ones to choose from. Any one of them could rank as my favorite depending on the day.

So, overall, compared to most books, Babylon’s Ashes was a knockout. Compared to The Expanse series as a whole, it was a little tame. I still love the series though – reading a new Expanse novel feels like coming home. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Gates to Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda

gate to futures pastTitle: The Gates to Futures Past

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

Release Date: September 6, 2016

The Overview: Betrayed and attacked, the Clan fled the Trade Pact for Cersi, believing that world their long-lost home. With them went a lone alien, the Human named Jason Morgan, Chosen of their leader, Sira di Sarc. Tragically, their arrival upset the Balance between Cersi’s three sentient species. And so the Clan, with their newfound kin, must flee again. Their starship, powered by the M’hir, follows a course set long ago, for Clan abilities came from an experiment their ancestors—the Hoveny—conducted on themselves. But it’s a perilous journey. The Clan must endure more than cramped conditions and inner turmoil. Their dead are Calling. Sira must keep her people from answering, for if they do, they die. Morgan searches the ship for answers, afraid the Hoveny’s tech is beyond his grasp. Their only hope? To reach their destination. Little do Sira and Morgan realize their destination holds the gravest threat of all…. -Goodreads

The Review:

“The Gates to Futures Past” is another installment in a long line of books following Sira (a powerful Clan woman in a human-dominated universe) and Morgan (Sira’s human partner in crime with plenty of power of his own). The series began with “A Thousand Words for Stranger” (“The Trade Pact Universe” #1) back in 1997 and has only grown more dynamic and interesting since. I’m very passionate about this author – she is one of my favorite science fiction writers for a couple of reasons: she has well-rounded characters who stick with you long after you finish the books, uses a brilliant infusion of biology to make her flora and fauna more realistic and creative (she was a biologist before becoming a writer, which I think gives her an edge), and her books always have delightful splashes of humor. While this saga in particular isn’t my absolute favorite from this author (averaging only 4 out of 5 stars), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Any day I have a chance to dive into Sira and Morgan’s world is a good day, so it really doesn’t matter what they’re doing for me to enjoy reading about them. That said, from a story-construction perspective, “The Gates to Futures Past” spent a ton of time (about half the book) stagnating in the same setting. Now, I’m not sure how the author could have progressed the plot convincingly without a good portion of the novel committed to the same setting, but as a reader, I eventually hit a point where I was like, “So… when does the real story begin?” But when I finally reached the halfway mark, the story exploded with awesomeness. It was worth the wait.

And actually, the whole saga was kind of worth the wait. It has been slowly building up to the specific story points being explored in this most recent trilogy. At the very back of “A Rift in the Sky” (the final book in her “Stratification” Trilogy), almost as an afterthought, Czerneda conveyed the following in her Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoy the first six books of the Clan Chronicles. Once you have, I hope you paid attention and have questions.

Because I promise…

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

As you can imagine, I was super excited to see what the author had in store next. I also thought those were some risky words on the author’s part to commit in writing – with all the buildup and anticipation she was creating, her readers had no choice but to expect a big payoff. Well, after reading this most recent novel, the story is definitely living up to its potential!

At the risk of sounding overly critical, the only issue I had with this book (and others in the saga) is an occasional lack of clarity. The author has a tendency not to write in complete sentences, especially when she’s trying to be deliberately vague to help build suspense. Her unique sentence construction often gives her a distinct voice, one which is very strong, creative, and immersive, but every once in a while can lead to a bit of confusion. Each book has these “Interludes” where she talks about the M’hir (a place from which the Clan draw their power… I’ve always kind of thought of it as a sub-space type of place) and the entities within it. She writes it as more from a sensory standpoint than a descriptive one, which often left me lost on what was happening, perhaps deliberately so (even when I was studying this series while competing in Czerneda’s beta reader competition, I still wasn’t totally sure I knew what was going on). Anyway, even if eventually these passages made more sense, it can be a little frustrating spending so much time and focus trying to understand them from the get-go. I didn’t have this issue with any of her other stories, which is the only reason why I didn’t rate these quite as high (but like I said, they are still entertaining reads).

Overall, if you like science fiction of the space opera variety, I highly recommend Julie E. Czerneda. “The Gates to Futures Past” is the 2nd book of the 3rd trilogy in this saga. “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy is where Sira’s story begins, and “Reap the Wild Wind” is the beginning of the prequel “Stratification” trilogy. Really, you can read them in either order, but I think I would steer you more towards beginning with “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy. Both trilogies contribute heavily to this “Reunification” trilogy, so I would definitely recommend devouring both of those before starting this one.

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Julie E. Czerneda, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of The Gates of Futures Past!

Other books you might like (besides ALL THE THINGS Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes