Reviews

THE ANIMAL CROSSING NEW HORIZON BOOK TAG

I’ve become addicted to these book tags recently, so once I saw this one at Suzy’s Cozy World I decided to try my hand at it: bookish fun is the best kind of fun after all!

Let’s dive in…

 

PAST VILLAGER: Who is a character you found when you were younger that still has a place in your heart?

That might very well be the lady Jessica, from Frank Herbert’s DUNE: where I was always captivated by the concept of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, I loved how she would defy her training and the Sisterhood’s goals out of love for her mate and her son. Given the time in which the original Dune was written, Jessica represents a breakthrough in the depiction of female characters.

This art concept of Lady Jessica comes from Mindofka at Deviantart.

BLATHER’S BLATHERINGS: Recommend a historical fiction book that you think everybody should read.

For this I will need to go back several decades in my reading history and mention the amazing books from Finnish author Mika Waltari, starting with The Egyptian and moving on to The Etruscan and The Roman: although the details of those stories have become quite blurred by time, I remember them as very engrossing reads and as fascinating windows on the depicted cultures.

CELESTE’S WISH: What is a future book release you wish you could read now?

That would be, without doubt, the ninth and final book of The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey: this book has no title yet, nor a publication date, but I’m beyond curious to see how the authors will wrap up this amazing space opera series, although I will be very, very, very sad to bid my farewells to the characters I have come to appreciate and love.

TIMMY & TOMMY: What is your favorite sibling relationship in a book?

Even though they are not related by blood, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, as the only two surviving members of the thieves’ family built by Father Chains, are as close as brothers, not just in spite of their differences but because of them, given that their personalities compensate for each other’s faults. Their ties of brotherhood and the rarely expressed but very strong bond of love between them is one of the best features of their story.

THE EASTER BUNNY: A popular book character that you’re not a big fan of.

I will have to risk the ire of many of my fellow bloggers here but I have to point my finger at Mark Watney from Andy Weir’s The Martian: I found the overall tone in the chronicle of his survival on Mars to be too cheeky and frivolous to really endear the character to me, and while I could understand the need to keep his spirits up in a very dire situation, there was not enough introspection to balance out the flippancy. For once, I found out that the movie was better than the book in this respect…

NOOK’S LOANS: An author you’d give all your money to.

There are several authors on my “automatic buy” list and there are too many of them for me to choose from, so I would find it very difficult to have to play the game of favorites here…

THE SISTERS ABLE: What is your favorite fictional family (found or otherwise)?

This is an easy one: for me THE fictional family is represented by the Fellowship of the Ring – a group of people united by a common goal and becoming closer than family through shared dangers. It’s a theme I encountered often in my reading, but the Fellowship was my very first example and they will always be at the top of my preferences.

IT’S A C+: What is a book trope you don’t like that keeps popping up?

Insta-love and love triangles rate very high in my catalog of tropes that tend to make me run for the hills at high speed, but there is one that annoys me to no end: a main character who looks unassuming and is shortly revealed as gifted with incredible powers, or who transforms from wallflower to hero/heroine practically overnight. What is otherwise labeled as “Mary Sue”…

THE WANDERING CAMEL: What is your favorite book set in a land far away from yours?

I will have to mention Dune again: what could be more fascinating than a world covered in endless deserts and scoured by killer winds, where you have to wear a specially designed suit to reclaim drinking water from your body and where giant worms roam the sands? Dune fired my imagination from the first time I read it, and it still holds a special place in it.

WHAT WOULD DODOS DO?: A fictional land you wish you could fly away to at any moment?

Middle Earth, of course! And the beauty of it is that I actually could do that, since we all know that it’s located in New Zealand… 😉

Reviews

NETWORK EFFECT (The Murderbot Diaries #5), by Martha Wells

 

How do I love thee, Murderbot? Let me count the ways…

Network Effect was one of my most anticipated novels for the current year, and it delivered on all fronts: I was of course mildly concerned that the transition from novella size to full-length book might not work as well as expected, but that was not the case. On the contrary I hope that future installments in the saga of our beloved Sec Unit will maintain this trend, making me – and countless other Murderbot fans, I’m sure – quite happy with its continuing adventures.

The story in short: after relocating to Preservation Aux with its former client – and now not-friend – Dr. Mensah and her enlarged family, Murderbot is still trying to balance newfound freedom and the still present threats against Mensah, the last of which left her with some residual PTSD. The colony’s open-minded attitude is in direct antithesis to the corporations-ruled rest of the galaxy, making Sec Unit’s  protection duties even more difficult.  A planetary survey run by some of Mensah’s family members is cut short due to a vicious pirate raid, and as the Preservation ship makes for home they are attacked and captured by a mysterious group based on a vessel that’s an old acquaintance of Murderbot, although it behaves in a strange, disquieting fashion.

What follows is a high-octane adventure where a mystery about alien artifacts mixes with corporate greed, an abandoned colony and some heated battles in space and planetside: to say more would be a huge disservice – this story, like the others preceding it, must be enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible. The detail that I can safely share is that, in this case, more is better: the broader narrative space gives us more chances to delve into Murderbot’s psychological makeup, its evolution as a sentient being and the meaning of freedom and choice for artificial intelligences. A coming of age story together with a hero’s journey, told with a satisfying balance between humorous quips and deep introspection.

As usual, the tale is told from Murderbot’s point of view as it struggles to understand the “strange” behavior of its charges, especially when it does not compare with previously recorded experiences or with any kind of human custom learned through the huge amount of media that Sec Unit loves to consume: more than ever before we see how the fictional series it’s addicted to are the bridge between itself and humanity, the key to decipher our puzzling ways, and the means to make itself more like them – although Murderbot would strongly deny that last… In Network Effect media also becomes a sort of liberating factor, the window on a different way of being offered to another Sec Unit as Murderbot presents it with the chance to get rid of its governor module and be something else.

In this respect there are some passages where the whole concept of constructs is brought into the light, and offers a terrible, inhuman vision, made even more so by the apparently dispassionate tone our ‘hero’ employs in all its musings: we know from the very beginning of this saga that Sec Units are composed of mechanical and organic parts (and I for one am quite keen to learn more about how those organic parts are obtained…), and that their main job is to protect the employers from harm, even sacrificing their own existence. The downside comes from the fact that in case of a dire emergency, the Sec Unit is abandoned to its destiny, just like one might abandon an unthinking piece of equipment – it’s such a “fact of life” that it’s also regularly portrayed in the serialized media Murderbot watches, and speaks loudly about the callousness of the corporate world. This might be the main reason Murderbot offers the choice of freedom to Three, as its brethren is designated, because it has realized the cruelty of the laws governing them.

[…] because I was a thing before I was a person and if I’m not careful I could be a thing again.

The same goes for the infamous governor module: it’s not just a control system, it’s also a self-destruct apparatus: when the distance between client and unit exceeds a given limit, for example, it destroys the unit itself.  One of Murderbot’s most chilling reflections, as it contemplates Three’s indecision about employing the hack for the governor module, uses this very example to state how it sees its journey from construct to person:

Change is terrifying. Choices are terrifying. But having a thing in your head that kills you if you make a mistake is more terrifying.

I love how Murderbot constantly denies its feelings while being literally inundated by them, how it manages to rationalize them to itself while fooling none of its human companions, just as I enjoy their amused conspiracy in allowing it to maintain the fiction: the person who seems to better understand this is young Amena (the best addition to the cast so far), and this shows in her interactions with Murderbot, which are a mix of teenager annoyance and adult empathy, resulting in the most delightful exchanges throughout the book.  I have come to the conclusion that since Sec Unit’s journey toward self-determination is still underway, it can be viewed as a teenager – still unsure of its role in the wider world and still prey to emotional storms – so that only another teenager is the most qualified to get on an equal footing.

Last but not least, Network Effect features the return of a previous character, one whose role was crucial in Murderbot’s transition from its former existence: ART is the cybernetic opposite of Sec Unit in many personality traits, and the two renew here their troubled relationship, complicated by some events that are an integral part of the overall story – they may be at odds, and even quarrel bitterly, but there is a profound, undeniable bond between them that gets delightfully explored in this novel and promises interesting developments for the next installments.  Again, I don’t want to say too much about this part of the story, except that ART’s is a very welcome return and offers new insights into what makes Murderbot tick.

Humans tend to be the “guest stars” in this series, leaving the spotlight to constructs and artificial intelligences, and yet the latter are the ones to offer the deepest and most emotional insights in the overall story. So… please Ms. Wells, can we have more Murderbot soon?

 

My Rating:

Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books on My Summer 2020 TBR

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic is:

BOOKS ON MY SUMMER 2020 TBR

This summer I would like to finish some of the series that have resided long on my TBR: these are all series I enjoy, but I tend to get distracted by the “new entries” I find for myself or, more often, thanks to the reviews of my fellow bloggers, so that at times long months elapse between one book in a series and the next one.

So the first part of this TTT dedicated to my summer reading plans is dedicated those series. Starting with:

 

Daniel Abraham: The Spider’s War (The Dagger and the Coin #5)

I have enjoyed this fantasy saga very much, and this is the final book, where the various narrative threads will come to their conclusion. While it’s possible to label this series as classic fantasy, there are a few interesting angles here, most notably the political influence of banks and the pressures they can exert on the power plays.

 

John Gwynne: Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #4)
John Gwynne: Wrath (The Faithful and the Fallen #5)

I discovered John Gwynne’s work when I read the first book of his new saga Of Blood and Bone, and I was immediately enthralled by his world where demonic and angelic creatures fight a long-standing, bitter conflict, so that I felt compelled to learn more about the story’s background through the previous series set some time before the current one. The titles of the two remaining books promise an engaging read, indeed…

 

Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold (First Law World #4)
Joe Abercrombie: Red Country (First Law World #5)
Joe Abercrombie: The Heroes (First Law World #6)

Another case of ex post facto back-tracking: the First Law trilogy had been languishing on my TBR for a long time, and it took the publication of his new novel, A Little Hatred, to finally drive me to read the series that brought him to fame. Now that I have finished the first three books I intend to continue with the volumes that are set in this same harsh and brutal, but totally fascinating world.  Best Served Cold will be a re-read, but it’s been so long since I discovered it, that I’m certain it will feel like something new.

 

Alongside the series that I want to finish, there are those that are still ongoing and whose new books I need to read as soon as I can because they portray engrossing stories that caught my attention from page one. And for these I’m changing genre from Fantasy to Science Fiction:

 

Gareth Powell: Light of Impossible Stars (Embers of War #3)

The adventures of sentient ship Trouble Dog and its crew should come to a close with this third novel in a series that rapidly gained a high place in my preferences. The previous book ended with a cliffhanger showing the galaxy on the brink of another devastating war, this time not between opposing factions but against a fleet of ships bent on eradicating all conflicts by extermination. To say that I’m impatient to learn what will happen would be a massive understatement…

 

W. Michael Gear: Unreconciled (Donovan #4)

This amazing series focusing on the colonization of a very hostile alien world is one of the best space operas I remember reading, and I’m very happy that the originally predicted 3 books have now gained a fourth installment and – hopefully – a few more after this one. There is so much to explore about Donovan and its colonists, not to mention the dreadful consequences of the space-translation technology that often results in ships being completely lost or facing nightmarish journeys.

 

And last but not least two new entries:

 

Harry Turtledove: Bombs Away (The Hot War #1)

I have wanted to read one of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history works for a long time, and when I saw the mention of this one I was immediately intrigued: the premise is that of the dreadful consequences of a nuclear war between the superpowers emerging at the end of World War II.  Probably not the most uplifting kind of story I could have picked, but still it’s worth taking a look at.

 

Michael Connelly: The Black Echo (Harry Bosch #1)

A definite change from my usual stomping grounds…

I have been thinking for a while about exploring new territory, and mystery is indeed the genre that most appeals to me besides fantasy and SF. By happy coincidence I have discovered on Amazon Video the TV show Bosch, inspired by the long-standing series written by Michael Connelly, widely acclaimed as one of the best authors of crime fiction: my enthusiasm for the TV show – so far the best procedural I have encountered in my “travels” – compelled me to buy Connelly’s first novel portraying his character, an unconventional, headstrong detective with a dark past. I’m curious to see where this foray away from dragons and aliens will lead me 🙂

 

And what are you planning to read this summer?

Reviews

The Book Character Quarantine Tag

 

With many thanks to Ola from Re-enchantment of the World for tagging me, I have decided to sprinkle some much-needed humor on the health crisis still gripping our world on the heels of the Covid-19 spread. It’s been a harrowing time for us all, and for many it’s still a heavy concern, so if these memes help bringing a little smile to brighten the darkness, they are very welcome indeed…

And here we go: the tag requires me to name 5 or more of my favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world. I chose three characters from fantasy and three from science fiction. Perfect balance 😉

 

TYRION LANNISTER (from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire)

Oh, he’s one of the people who would suffer less from being locked down at home, provided he had enough wine and enough ladies willing to share his bedchamber – at the start of the story, at least, Tyrion used to be quite the ladies’ man after all!

 

FIELD MARSHAL TAMAS (from Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage)

I think he would pace back and forth like a caged lion, perusing maps and devising strategies so as not to be caught  off-guard once the quarantine was lifted. And of course driving his aides-de-camp crazy, with the sole exception of Colonel Olem, who would observe the Field Marshal’s antics through the smoke of his endless cigarettes.

 

SAND DAN GLOKTA (from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy)

Here is another character who would enjoy being cooped up at home and therefore not having to submit himself to the daily torture of stairs: as he observed more than once, the people of power he had to visit in the course of his duties always lived far above ground, and with his crippling infirmities, poor Glokta’s hate of stairs became quite legendary.

 

   

KIVA LAGOS (from John Scalzi’s Interdependency)

No doubt: she would swear, profusely and with great richness of expletives, about home lockdown, upset at the idea of the new dastardly schemes concocted by House Nohamapetan, which would certainly find a way to circumvent the rules and broker alliances behind her back.

 

MURDERBOT (from Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries)

Probably Murderbot would be exempt from self-isolation, since its organic parts would not suffer from contact with the virus. Just as probably it would be recruited by its human not-friends for the daily errands they would not be able to perform, and be deprived of some of its series-watching time. Which would be profoundly irritating, no doubt about it.

 

MILES VORKOSIGAN (from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga)

A confined Miles is a dangerous Miles, because his hyperactive mind needs to be applied to active duties, and being unable to move around he would certainly find new and more insane ideas to relieve his boredom. Someone should find some convoluted puzzle to unravel to keep him occupied and out of mischief…

 

 

So, who would you choose to observe during lockdown? Everyone’s invited: share the fun!

Reviews

STORMBLOOD (The Common #1), by Jeremy Szal

 

I received this novel from Gollancz, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

When Jeremy Zsal contacted me about reading and reviewing his debut novel Stormblood, I was very intrigued by the narrative premise but at the same time slightly concerned because of the story’s military SF angle, since that’s a theme that sometimes does not work for me, but I should not have worried: this novel offers such a unique blend of ideas that they all work to create an engaging, multi-layered plot which proves to be appealing on many levels.

Vakov Fukasawa used to be a soldier for the Harmony, a galactic confederation of races fighting against a brutal adversary called the Harvest, whose armies were laying waste to every planet they stormed across. To insure an advantage against the Harvest’s sweeping offensive, the Harmony called for volunteers to be injected with stormtech, an alien substance that made them almost physically invincible and addicted them to a constant rush of adrenaline, so they would feel no fear or fatigue.  In other words the perfect soldiers, called Reapers.

Once the war ended however, the Harmony found itself saddled with the problem of these super-soldiers, whose return to a normal life was made impossible by the stormtech bonded to their bodies and turning them into aggression addicts: a more or less successful de-programming procedure allowed them – those who survived it, that is – to be productive members of society, but still looked on with suspicion and fear because of the veritable ticking bomb fused to their bodies.

As the novel begins, Vakov is contacted by Harmony officials informing him that a black market form of stormtech is being distributed, turning citizens into dangerous addicts and systematically killing his former comrades – and it appears that Vakov’s long-estranged younger brother Artyom is involved in this criminal operation…

The novel’s framework certainly relies on action and adventure – and there is plenty of that, as Vak’s investigation moves across Compass, the asteroid where he lives, and intersects its many cultures and the various crime organizations which carved their niches there, plunging him into escalating levels of danger for himself and his allies – but the major attraction of this story comes from the main characters, their interactions and the important social and moral issues it deals with. Compass itself is a fascinating world, a hollowed-out asteroid in which different kinds of habitats have been created in the various levels, so that a visitor might move from shopping districts to seashore recreations, from night-club strips to ethnic enclaves: the descriptions here are cinematically vivid and all contribute to paint a rich, busy world where awe-inspiring wonders and spine-chilling dangers literally coexist side by side, offering a solid background to Vakov’s breathless scrambles as he pursues his foes or evades his chasers.

Vakov is an intriguing character saddled by a damaging past and by the heavy baggage of being a former Reaper, but instead of becoming a dark, tortured individual he tries to focus on the good things life still can offer him, like friendship or the sense of brotherhood  he still shares with his former comrades – and of course there is the unshakable desire of reconnecting with his brother and making amends for past mistakes, that drives him to literally face hell with dogged determination. Vakov’s personality is slowly built through the successful blending of his present experiences and the flashbacks of his past as a Reaper, the current adrenaline-rich investigation and the heart-wrenching jumps into his childhood with its deep well of pain and loss, and the final result is a very relatable character who has learned to embrace his darkness, knowing it will be a part of him forever, but still refusing to let it rule him. The actual war might be over, but the inner one Vakov is still fighting will go on as long as he lives, and he’s determined to win it.

The other characters sharing the spotlight with Vakov are slightly less defined, but with the breathless chain of events at the core of the novel it’s more than understandable: the proficient hacker Grim, Harmony officer Katherine Kowalsky and rebel Artyom are in a way the representations of Vak’s most important sides of life – friendship, camaraderie, family – and also the anchors he needs to avoid being subsumed by the alien DNA rampaging through his body. And that’s more than enough.

The core theme of the novel, though, remains its driving strength, particularly where it touches on issues of our present reality, like the trauma and disconnect experienced by soldiers once they return to civilian life after a harrowing war experience. In Stormblood these veterans did not just fight to insure everyone’s survival, suffering grievous wounds and the loss of their teammates, they also accepted to have their bodies modified in a permanent way that turned them into something not quite human anymore, and now they are shunned, feared, marginalized. It’s something we have seen in reality in the past decades and still see now: the ethical dilemma of turning people into efficient killing machines and then being afraid of them once the need for that ruthlessness is over. There is no easy answer to this quandary, of course, but the novel compels us to think about the issue, and to consider it from several angles – and for me this is always a plus in any story.

The many “souls” of Stormblood make for a very engrossing read – military SF, cyberpunk, mystery and space opera are all different facets of this novel, not unlike the various, fascinating levels of Compass. As is the case of those worlds within worlds, some sections are easily traveled and others require caution – I confess there were a couple of harrowing torture scenes which made my skin crawl – but this is ultimately a captivating adventure story with plenty of heart at its center, and also a very human, very poignant journey.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

REAL NEAT BLOG AWARD

While I love tag posts, particularly those that help me know my fellow bloggers better, my record in fulfilling them once I am tagged is far from stellar. I hoped to be able to fit this one into my Wyrd and Wonder 2020 schedule, but as usual I’m traveling on the path of good intentions – and we all know where that leads…

Anyway, with many thanks to Lashaan at Bookidote for calling me to task 😉 , here are the answers to the questions he posed:

 

1. IF YOU COULD DO SOMETHING BETTER THAN YOU’RE ALREADY DOING RIGHT NOW, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

That’s a tough one for a first question, when I still need to warm up… 😀

Jokes aside, I would like to be able to be more productive in my blogging activities, so that I could prepare some non-review posts in advance and participate in more book-related memes as many of my fellow bloggers do. For now, I will keep on enjoying theirs…

 

2. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THIS NEW DECADE (2020-2029) TO BRING TO YOUR LIFE?

Some traveling to new places – which right now sounds more like a fanciful wish than anything else: there are a few destinations that I’ve been thinking about along with my friends, like touring Australia (and New Zealand as well, why not? The Tolkien fan in me would like to see the place that became Middle Earth in our collective imagination). Hopefully one of these dream holidays might turn into reality.    

 

3. IS THERE A SEQUEL TO SOMETHING THAT YOU LOOK FORWARD TO?

**Looking meaningfully in the direction of Mister George R. R. Martin**

Enough said…

 

4. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE STORIES IN ANY MEDIUM (COMICS, BOOKS, SHOWS, MOVIES, VIDEO GAMES, ETC.)?

This might call for a long list, so I will try to keep it down to a maximum of three in any category – except for comics, which I don’t read, and video games, that are well beyond any ability of mine. And of course I will stay within the confines of SFF, otherwise this would turn into a *massive* list…

SF Books: The Expanse, The Vorkosigan Saga, Dune

Fantasy Books: The Lord of the Rings (of course… 😉 ), The First Law trilogy, anything by John Gwynne

Tv Shows: Babylon 5 (which I love to quote at the drop of a hat), Farscape, Firefly

Movies (the ones I always rewatch when the opportunity arises): Alien(s), the LOTR Trilogy, Galaxy Quest.

 

5. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR LEAST FAVOURITES STORIES IN ANY MEDIUM (COMICS, BOOKS, SHOWS, MOVIES, VIDEO GAMES, ETC.)?

Well, let’s say that I don’t enjoy reading or watching stories where characters are cardboard cutouts, plots cliché and predictable and where the readers’ or watchers’ intelligence is insulted.

 

6. WHAT DOES BLOGGING BRING TO YOUR LIFE?

The opportunity of sharing thoughts and recommendations with like-minded people, to see unexplored angles in the stories I’ve read – either those I loved and those I didn’t, because a widely different point of view can be as illuminating as one which agrees with mine. Oh, and of course an ever-growing, totally unmanageable TBR – but who’s complaining?

 

7. IF THERE’S SOMETHING YOU COULD CHANGE OF THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I would like to do away with the extreme polarization that seems to affect every field of social interaction nowadays, and to poison any kind of discussion, no matter the subject at hand.

 

8. WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU COULD EAT RIGHT NOW?

Mango-flavored ice cream.

 

9. IF THERE WAS ONE MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURE THAT COULD EVER EXIST IN THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I’ve always been fascinated by the fabled inhabitant of Loch Ness…

 

10. DO YOU THINK THERE’S A CURE FOR STUPIDITY?

Sadly, while I enjoy speculative fiction, I know there are limits to what I’m able believe… 😉

 

 

Ok, that was fun! If you enjoyed this tag, please feel free to join in – the more the merrier!

Reviews

RESISTANCE (ST: TNG – the Second Decade #2), by J.M. Dillard

 

After my successful encounter with the tie-in book acting as a prequel to the new Picard TV series on Amazon, and feeling some nostalgia for the world of TNG I enjoyed during its run, I went in search of books that might bring back some of that old “magic” and also fill the hiatus between the last TNG movie Nemesis and the current TV show. My search brought me to this novel that was indicated as focused on that time period and also on the most interesting adversary ever created in the Star Trek universe: the Borg. The book promised to bring the old enemy back, so I decided to take the plunge in the hope of connecting once again with a narrative arc that, highs and lows notwithstanding, had managed to capture my imagination in the past.

In Resistance we encounter a Captain Picard having to adjust to a series of changes in his command staff: Riker, the former first officer now promoted to captain, and his wife Counselor Troi, have moved to their own ship; Worf, the best candidate for the position of XO is reluctant to take the post; a new Vulcan counselor has been assigned to the Enterprise; and the loss of Data, whose sacrifice saved them all, still feels very painful.  On top of all this, Picard hears again his connection to the Borg and the voice of the collective, which was not completely vanquished and is now working toward the creation of a new queen and the resurgence of the assimilation program.

Compelled to act quickly, Picard contravenes Starfleet’s orders and heads to intercept the Borg cube before the queen can be activated, and when the first attempt at destroying her fails, chooses a dangerous path to prevent the possibility of a new, devastating invasion.

While the main theme for this novel looked promising, this story unfortunately did not completely deliver on that promise, mostly because it did not add anything new to the concept of this detached enemy following directives like a computer, without personal or emotional motivations. Worse, the plot seems like a mere rewrite of the script for First Contact, with the addition of some outlandish notions bordering on the absurd, like the premise that to build a new queen a male drone is subjected to a special treatment that turns it from male to female. I’m still puzzling over this, since it’s established in canon that Borg drones are captured and assimilated beings – both male and female – and that their inclusion in the collective does not change their gender and at most makes it irrelevant to the hive mind’s goals.

If the writing is good enough and the pacing adequately sustained, the story falters in the plentiful descriptions of characters’ thoughts and feelings with an abundance of telling vs. showing that soon becomes tedious and spoils the overall effect.  Not to mention that some of the characters’ decisions feel out of place, namely Picard’s disturbing solution for boarding the cube without raising the alarm: in consideration of his past trauma at the hands of the Borg, it goes against everything we have seen so far about his PTSD.

There are however some positive elements in Resistance, the most significant being the look into Worf’s personality as he still labors under the weight of guilt for the failure of a previous mission: the reasons for not wanting to accept the position of first officer come straight from his psychological makeup and past history, and help to shed more light into what makes him tick.  And the newly-minted Counselor T’Lana is a promising addition to the team – should she remain as a canon character and be further developed, of course – because her nature as a Vulcan and her posting as a counselor dealing with the crew’s emotions could lead to interesting developments.

When all is said and done, Resistance ended up being something of a letdown after my successful experience with The Last Best Hope, even though I acknowledge that at least the action scenes held my attention and the book was a fast, diverting read. Still, it had a little “paint by the numbers” flavor that did not completely agree with me, although it did not stop my search for more interesting and promising books: as this “quest” is undergoing during a difficult moment in everyone’s life, I feel in great need of some optimistic stories and I have to admit that Star Trek, even in its direst visions, always had the power to offer at least a glimmer of hope. And a vision, no matter how idealistic, of a better future is exactly what everyone needs when finding themselves in dire straits…

So, can anyone advise me on some good titles to read in the Star Trek tie-in universe?  😉

 

 

My Rating:

Reviews

THE DOORS OF EDEN, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

 

I received this novel from Pan McMillan through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

This book was one hell of a rollercoaster ride, indeed: there is something to be said about starting a novel with little or no idea, or expectations, about what you’re going to find, and it’s like embarking on a journey into a strange land, not knowing what kind of peoples or beasts you will find. The Doors of Eden is exactly like that, and not just in a figurative way, because the phrase “worlds enough and time” – which ends up being quoted at some point – describes perfectly the core concept of the story.

It all starts like a mystery, with two girls – Lee and Mal – taking a trip in search of outlandish creatures and with Mal disappearing into what looks like the portal into a strange, impossible world, the disappearance being recorded by the authorities like an accident and Lee having to deal with survivor’s guilt and the burden of being a witness to something that defies reason.  That is, until four years later, when Mal reappears out of the blue while freakish events start sending the world into turmoil, adding new elements – science fiction, pure science, thriller, just to name a few – to the narrative mix.

At the same time, MI5 agents Julian and Allison are investigating the home incursion on renowned physicist Kay Amal Khan, and soon find themselves facing inexplicable episodes like untraceable phone calls or information windows appearing on computers disconnected from power.  Not to mention some equally eerie matters like the strange individuals, looking like one of the discarded branches of humanity, popping up here and there, or the shady activities of tycoon Rove, whose figurative fingerprints seem to be all over the place.

What it all boils down to, as it’s evident from the incident of Mal’s disappearance, is that the theory of parallel worlds, where evolution took widely different paths, is not a theory at all and for some reason the barriers between these worlds are getting thinner, with an ever-increasing risk of intrusions between realities. Dr. Kahn’s theoretical work postulated this possibility, but now that it’s become a dangerous, potentially deadly reality, everyone is after her – either to fix or exploit the situation…

If Adrian Tchaikowsky’s previous book, Children of Time, put me in connection with his notions on the path of evolution of creatures different from mankind, this new novel takes that concept and multiplies it for what looks like an infinite number of instances: between the chapters dedicated to the core events and characters, there are interludes written in the form of an academic lecture on parallel evolution, where every possible permutation of intelligent life is shown with an abundance of fascinating detail. Where at first I saw that these… interruptions as a distraction from the story, after a while I understood they were an integral part of it, better still, they were the way to introduce the crucial idea at the basis of the novel –  and to show how these endless shifts were the result of small changes growing into an avalanche effect.

The logical progress from the primordial ooze to these mind-boggling alternate Earths is mind-blowing and nothing short of fascinating: the way Tchaikowsky turns the words on the page into a cinematic depiction of steamy jungles or endless seas, peopled by the most bizarre creatures, is nothing short of riveting while being at the same time an informative and easily understandable presentation of the infinite possibilities of evolution. I can make no claim on scientific knowledge of the processes of evolution, but reading those sections of the book was no struggle at all, while it proved equally fascinating and a close look into this author’s scope of imagination.

The characters are as carefully drawn as the background in which they move: Julian and Allison have something of a Mulder & Scully vibe, in that they are attracted by the spookier aspects of their investigation and are not afraid of getting their proverbial feet wet, while the antithesis between her willingness to take the weirdest of clues at face value and his very British adherence to propriety serves to define them well and make them quite relatable.  One of my favorite characters is that of Dr. Kahn: highly intelligent and amusingly sarcastic, she’s quite different from the prototype of the brilliant-but-detached scientist in that she’s very rooted in reality and possesses a huge capacity for empathy, particularly when she finds herself among non-human creatures (I will come back to them in a short while) and realizes, after the first understandable moments of revulsion, that no matter the shape, people are still people with all of their fears, desires and needs. And she, being a transgender and the continued object of hostility and scorn, is best qualified to see beyond mere outward appearances.

The “bad guys” are given as much depth as the “heroes” and if it’s simply impossible to share Rove’s world-view or his ultimate goal – particularly when the plan is revealed in its complexity, ruthlessness and longtime preparation – it’s also easy to see where he comes from and what shaped his mindset, not least because his kind finds far too many real-life examples in the present world.  Rove’s main henchman Lucas is also an interesting character, balanced between opportunistic choices and some faint glimmers of a conscience, which gift him with more facets than one would expect from someone in his position and… career choice.

I want to reserve a special mention to the non-human creatures I spoke of before, from one of the many Earths: once again Adrian Tchaikowsky managed to offer a different point of view on animals I find absolutely repulsive, and to turn them into beings I could empathize with. If it looked difficult with the spiders from Children of Time, here it seemed impossible, because we’re talking about rats – yes, critters that manage to make those spiders look like house pets and who come on the scene Hobbit-sized and even more revolting for their humanlike appearance:

They were hunched, half the size of a man, wearing rubbery black uniforms with gas masks and goggles and wielding ugly-looking weapons designed for use up close against crowds, because that was their entire life where they came from.

If you add the detail of their world being literally swarming with them due to unchecked breeding, the picture being painted here is something straight from the worst of nightmares. And yet the author is able to humanize these rats, give them distinct personalities and add poignancy to their appearance: much of it is due to the character of Dr. Rat, but also to a scene in which a whole family group runs for safety bringing all their worldly possession with them.  Ludicrous as this might sound, in that moment I thought of the cute rats in Disney’s Cinderella, and stopped seeing these as the scurrying vermin that would otherwise have me run for cover. Yes, Adrian Tchaikowsky did it again…

Prepare for a full immersion in a huge story teeming with amazing ideas and graced with as much heart in it as there is science. It might feel like far too much at times, but it’s a journey totally worth taking.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

THE BOOK OF KOLI (Rampart Trilogy #1), by M.R. Carey

 

I received this novel from Orbit Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

There was no doubt whatsoever that I would enjoy this new work from M.R. Carey: after being enthralled by The Girl With All the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge and Someone Like Me, I knew I would be in for another fascinating journey, but The Book of Koli went beyond any expectations I might have held, and confirmed its author as a skilled storyteller in the post-apocalyptic genre.

Civilization fell a long time ago – probably centuries – so that the glories of the past have become more myth than remembrance for most: it’s not specified what happened, but it would seem that a series of climate upheavals and devastating wars destroyed the world as we know it, and what now remains of humanity is confined to small, enclosed villages leading a hardscrabble existence.  Nature now rules rather than mankind: some genetic modifications introduced in flora have turned the trees into aggressive, murderous creatures that sunlight can wake from a light slumber, and fauna is just as dangerous, if nothing else because of its increased size and inherent hostility.

Koli, the story’s POV voice, is a boy in his mid-teens living in the village of Mythen Rood, a 200-odd souls settlement that’s considered quite big for the usual standards, which shows how humanity has indeed dwindled in numbers after the fall. Koli is ready to face the testing ceremony that will mark his passage into adulthood and which consist in attempting to “wake” the pieces of old tech in possession of the village. The defense of Mythen Rood is based on four pieces of still-functioning old technology salvaged from the past: those able to activate and wield them are called Ramparts – their role of protectors also making them the de facto rulers or the community.

As every young person undergoing the testing, Koli dreams of becoming a Rampart, youthful imagination and his interest for a girl fueling those desires into something of an obsession that leads him to break the rules and come into the illegal possession of a dormant piece of tech he’s able to wake: a DreamSleeve. The object and its AI interface Monono Aware will open Koli’s mind to unexpected possibilities but also bring about the beginning of a dangerous adventure that will change his life forever.

The changed Earth we see depicted here is both a strange and fearsome place, and seeing it through Koli’s eyes – and his limited vision – shows how people’s look has turned inwards for fear of the outside: enclaves are protected by barriers, the world beyond them filled with real dangers but also by less physical ones brought on by ignorance, which is encouraged and enforced from those in power through mechanisms that are as old as the universe. It’s no surprise that Ursala, a sort of wandering doctor who travels between settlements with her drudge – for all purposes a mobile first aid/defense unit – is welcomed for her skills but considered with suspicion by the leaders, because her considerable knowledge and the news she brings from ‘out there’ might pose a threat to their authority and the aura of superiority they need to project to assert their power.

Koli’s experience in the outside world is a coming of age story, of course, and a hero’s journey as well, but it’s also a way of showing that world and how it mutated from the one we know: being on his own is certainly a harrowing situation, but it also illustrates how limiting an existence based simply on survival can be.  The most striking narrative detail here comes from the language and the way it adapted over time, becoming simpler, less concerned with grammar and syntax: I saw a few comments declaring how this aspect of the story interfered with some readers’ experience and made their progress through it more difficult, but to me it was instead the perfect way of driving home the changes people went through from a flourishing, technology-rich society to a more primitive life. Far from bothering me, this less-refined language was the perfect complement for the background the author created and added a level of poignancy to the story that would be lacking with a more polished form of expression. Anyone who read Flowers for Algernon and remembers the language progression in the protagonist’s diaries knows what I mean…

At the start of the novel, Koli is your typical teenager, preferring the carefree company of his friends to the drudgery of the work all villagers must share, and dreaming of a brighter future, one where he might be able to add the qualifier of Rampart to his name, and as such he makes ill-advised decisions dictated by inexperience and hormones, and yet he does not come across as foolish because he’s always guiltily aware of the possible consequences of his actions, and of the often illogical motivations driving them. There is a sort of mature candor (for want of a better definition) that makes him very relatable, the kind of protagonist it’s easy to root for, and his world-view, in spite of the simplified language – or maybe because of it – shows a wisdom that goes well beyond his actual age.

[…] it seemed like nothing would ever happen to change it. But it’s when you think such thoughts that change is most like to come. You let your guard down, almost, and life comes running at you on your blind side.

Yet it’s through his encounter with Monono Aware that his personality truly takes flight, this interaction between two creatures coming from very different worlds and times who nonetheless find the way to build a bridge between them, one who changes and enhances them equally through the bond of an improbable friendship that’s a pure joy to behold.  I don’t want to spend too many words on Monono because she must be encountered with as little prior knowledge as possible, but let me tell you that her liveliness, her ebullient glee and her expressive mode are the elements that make a huge difference in this story.

Where the first part of this novel was an intriguing introduction to a strange world and to wonderful characters, in the end I realized it was only the foundation of a larger adventure that will certainly develop in depth and scope in the following books, and I can hardly wait to see where Mr. Carey will lead us next. Please let us not wait too long….

 

My Rating:

Reviews

THE LAST EMPEROX (The Interdependency #3), by John Scalzi

 

I received this novel from Tor Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

A series’ ending might probably be one of the most difficult tasks an author faces: readers’ expectations, narrative twists and resolutions, characters’ paths – it all must come together at the end, and I also imagine it might not be easy to let go of a world that one has so carefully built over time. Well, The Last Emperox turned out to be a very satisfactory ending to the Interdependency series, and did so by also being a compelling and fun read from the very start, where it offered a sort of recap of what went before by observing a character’s thoughts as his ship comes under attack. Not only did this choice avoid any dangers of info-dumping, it also managed to turn into entertaining recollections what could very well have been the last, terrified considerations of an endangered individual. After all, this is a work from John Scalzi, and one must expect some playful rule-breaking…

So, the Interdependency is a galaxy-spanning civilization whose settlements are connected by the Flow, a system of wormhole-like paths that allow ships to cover vast distances in a relatively short time. The Flow has been in operation for centuries, but recently scientists have discovered that the whole system is going to collapse, therefore isolating these far-flung settlements and very likely dooming the inhabitants to death, since only one planet in the whole confederation is able to sustain life in an Earth-like environment and all the others are artificial habitats depending heavily on Flow-driven commerce. Such catastrophic news brings out the best and worst in humanity, as it’s wont to do: some of the  great  merchant Houses try to speculate by amassing even more riches and power, others try to help in maintaining a level of civilization and the newly elected Emperox, Grayland II, finds herself dealing with a difficult situation, several attempts on her life and the conflicting agendas of various Houses.

Despite the light, playful tone, this series deals with several quite serious subjects, like the way people react when confronted with an imminent catastrophe – considering the moment in which I read this book, with humanity facing a worldwide crisis, I thought it was very spot-on and I was glad for the author’s trademark lightness because observing the various fictional players it was impossible not to make disheartening comparisons with actual events. The series, and The Last Emperox in particular, shows how personal advantage is paramount for power-hungry individuals and how sowing distrust and misinformation helps drive their agendas, while the general population is divided between the few who plan in advance against a worst-case scenario and those lulled into the complacent belief that those in power will find a solution before the inevitable becomes a reality.

Where I found the second book in this series, The Consuming Fire, somewhat uneven in pacing due to the shift between the quicker-flowing sections and the long chunks of exposition dialogue, this final installment turned into a swift, riveting read as the antagonists’ plots battled against the Emperox’s and her allies’ countermeasures, generating a constant race against time, fueled by shrewdness and political expediency that kept the story lively and the tension high.  Most of this narrative tension rests on the three main characters: Grayland II, whose desire to be a good and just ruler needs to be balanced against the challenging decisions she must take in the face of the forthcoming Flow collapse; Nadashe Nohamapetan, the very embodiment of the evil lady, the dastardly plotter whose ambitions are surpassed only by her ruthlessness; and Kiva Lagos, the foul-mouthed, crafty ally of the Emperox who remains my favorite character and one of the best sources of humor in the whole series.

It’s worth noting how these three women are not only at the very center of things, but also the most striking figures among the various personalities peopling this series: for example, if Nadashe is a vile adversary who stops at nothing to fulfill her goals, she ultimately does not come across as totally bad, if that makes any sense. As I saw her labyrinthine plans taking shape, I was torn between wanting them to fail and at the same time feeling sorry if they didn’t: in a way I ended up envisioning her as poor Wile E. Coyote, who concocted equally convoluted and far-reaching plans to win over Road Runner, only to be always spectacularly defeated in the end – and that never failed to elicit some form of sympathy from me.  On the other hand, there was no ambiguity in my cheering for Kiva’s success, and although at some point she managed to set in motion a series of events whose serendipity might appear totally unbelievable, it all worked within the over-the-top setup of her character, making it easy to suspend my disbelief and equally easy to observe her antics with an amused smile. Grayland looks less intense in comparison with these two formidable figures, her apparent candor masking instead a firm determination and a core of integrity that seems to be sorely lacking in the Interdependency, and that’s the main reason I was surprised – or rather stunned – at her unexpected choice for solving the quandary and giving her subjects a new direction and a hope for the future. I must say I did not expect the direction the story took and that in this instance the author managed to drop a very unpredictable twist on me here.

Where The Last Emperox draws all the narrative threads of the series to a good close, I find myself sorry to have to leave this universe, and I hope that John Scalzi might decide in the future to return here, maybe to show us how the former Interdependency fares in a post-collapse of the Flow future.

 

My Rating: