Teixcalaan, Book 1; published in 2019; 464 pages; ★★★★★
It wouldn’t be different here in the heart of the Empire, once they started shooting. It wouldn’t be different at all. That was the problem. Empire was empire – the part that seduced and the part that clamped down, jaws like a vise, and shook a planet until its neck was broken and it died.
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.
With all due respect to other authors debuting in 2019: A Memory Called Empire is the belle of the debutante ball this year. Its rich worldbuilding, layered characterization, and philosophical musing on identity and nation is absolutely marvelous; it rests at the Lagrange point between Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor – multicultural galactic politics full of poetry and intrigue, centered on a deeply sympathetic protagonist who’s not as out of their depth as they first seem.
Continue reading “Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine”
Published in 2018; 320 pages; ★★★★★
The unfocused eyes of the dead surround me, pleading for the truth. And all around, the void offers nothing but silence.
Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor’s salary isn’t enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.
Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.
In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha’s and Key’s paths collide, and the two must learn to work together–a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.
With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.
After three books, somebody’s gotta say it: Emily Skrutskie is a gold mine of storytelling that Hollywood really, really needs to discover. She writes with a kind of raw clarity, telling stories about characters – and especially women – who want things fiercely and will do anything to achieve their goals. Her portrayal of emotions, mistakes, and arguments is explosive, and makes most other writers look timid by comparison. Hullmetal Girls is a superb example of this, telling a complicated story about loyalties, ideals, and the messiness of trying to build a society in a plot that would make a magnificent action movie.
Continue reading “Review: Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie”
Published in 1949; 391 pages; ★★☆☆☆
“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.”
The first popular work to combine the spiritual and psychological insights of modern psychoanalysis with the archetypes of world mythology, the book creates a roadmap for navigating the frustrating path of contemporary life. Examining heroic myths in the light of modern psychology, it considers not only the patterns and stages of mythology but also its relevance to our lives today–and to the life of any person seeking a fully realized existence.
Myth, according to Campbell, is the projection of a culture’s dreams onto a large screen; Campbell’s book, like Star Wars, the film it helped inspire, is an exploration of the big-picture moments from the stage that is our world. It is a must-have resource for both experienced students of mythology and the explorer just beginning to approach myth as a source of knowledge.
After having obstinately read The Hero With a Thousand Faces cover to cover on my own time, I can confidently say… no one should do that, unless you’re reading it for a class. This is a book that was clearly impactful when it was first published some 70 years ago; but now, with a plethora of clearer and more succinct explanations of the Hero’s Journey at your fingertips, the original is… almost irrelevant. (As an anthropological/sociological text, it might have more merit – the way similar story structures and archetypes crop up around the world is definitely fascinating.)
Continue reading “Review: The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell”
Manifold Worlds, Book 1; published in 2016; 496 pages. ★★★★★
“Some lies are useful, not because they trick us into thinking that the world is different, but because they show us that it could be.”
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.
There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.
Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.
Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?
An Accident Of Stars is one of those books that, honestly, I always knew I would love. I put off reading it for far too long, because portal fantasy isn’t a trope that particularly appeals to me, but… it’s Foz Meadows, and I’ve been following Meadows’ reviewing and writing on fandom and culture for years now. Her first book is just as brilliant, incisive, thoughtful, and compelling as I always expected it to be, and I confess – I’m more interested in portal fantasy as a trope after reading it.
Continue reading “Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows”
Passenger, Book 2; published in 2017; 532 pages. ★★★★☆
“Do you believe in destiny, then? That something deserves to exist, just because it once was?”
“I believe in humanity, in peace, in the natural order of things,” he said. “I believe that the only way to balance the power of what we can do is with sacrifice. Accepting that we cannot possess the things and people not meant for us, we cannot control every outcome; we cannot cheat death. Otherwise there’s no meaning to any of it.”
All Etta Spencer wanted was to make her violin debut when she was thrust into a treacherous world where the struggle for power could alter history. After losing the one thing that would have allowed her to protect the Timeline, and the one person worth fighting for, Etta awakens alone in an unknown place and time, exposed to the threat of the two groups who would rather see her dead than succeed. When help arrives, it comes from the last person Etta ever expected—Julian Ironwood, the Grand Master’s heir who has long been presumed dead, and whose dangerous alliance with a man from Etta’s past could put them both at risk.
Meanwhile, Nicholas and Sophia are racing through time in order to locate Etta and the missing astrolabe with Ironwood travelers hot on their trail. They cross paths with a mercenary-for-hire, a cheeky girl named Li Min who quickly develops a flirtation with Sophia. But as the three of them attempt to evade their pursuers, Nicholas soon realizes that one of his companions may have ulterior motives.
As Etta and Nicholas fight to make their way back to one another, from Imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, time is rapidly shifting and changing into something unrecognizable… and might just run out on both of them.
There are an awful lot of trilogies out there, especially in young adult books, which really don’t need to be trilogies. After The Edge of the Abyss and Wayfarer, though, I’m no longer sure that duologies are the solution. While Wayfarer was still a strong and well-crafted novel, the pacing of the first half of the story dragged badly, and many new story elements were added in a rushed and haphazard-feeling manner. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it could have been better, and a little more pagetime might have done a lot to improve things. Say… another book?
Continue reading “Review: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken”
The Abyss Surrounds Us, Book 2; published in 2017; 281 pages. ★★★★☆
Every burst of fireworks feels somewhere between a prelude to war and a statement of purpose. We’re here. We’re alive. And we’re going to light you up.
Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.
But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?
Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?
If I’m honest with myself, I think The Edge of the Abyss is my second-most-anticipated release of 2017, following only Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer. The Abyss Surrounds Us was an absolute delight, refreshing in its originality, complexity, and casual diversity – at once a rollicking science fiction story, an exploration of moral questions, and a confident assertion that the future holds a place for all people. It also ended on a frankly vicious cliffhanger, and I’ve been longing for its sequel ever since. And after all that, it did live up to my expectations… for the most part. I want more. I want so much more, some of it that I wish had been in this book and some of which I’m still hoping for. That is, in the end, a testament to the strength of the world, story, and characters that Skrutskie has created – but it does mean that I feel The Abyss Surrounds Us to be the stronger book. Cliffhanger aside, it felt like the more complete of the two.
Continue reading “Review: The Edge of The Abyss by Emily Skrutskie”
Surprise! I’m alive and so is this blog. Life happens, but hopefully I’ll be back for a while.
Published in 1995; 252 pages; ★★☆☆☆
“Who knows what talent was squandered because women were not given equal access to education and careers? Who knows what insights and inventions were lost because more women did not participate in the great technological revolution of the nineteenth century?”
Here is a fresh, astute social and cultural history of physics, from ancient Greece to our own time. From its inception, Margaret Wertheim shows, physics has been an overwhelmingly male-dominated activity; she argues that gender inequity in physics is a result of the religious origins of the enterprise.
Pythagoras’ Trousers is a highly original history of one of science’s most powerful disciplines. It is also a passionate argument for the need to involve both women and men in the process of shaping the technologies from the next generation of physicists.
Physics is not my scientific field of choice. I’ve struggled with it since middle school, for a variety of reasons. Still, it’s an important field and one which drives much of our modern society – and also one in which women have comparatively little participation. Pythagoras’s Trousers was loaned to me by my grandmother, who read it for her book group, and thought I might find it interesting, and I did… though not precisely as the text it purports to be. Wertheim has produced a sound history of physics, and of sexism and religiosity within the science, but I left the book feeling like she hadn’t really presented a case for a causal relationship between those qualities.
Continue reading “Review: Pythagoras’s Trousers by Margaret Wertheim”