Network Effect

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security.”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f0bobs. It’s in the science fiction section of the bookstore.
Others in the series:  All Systems RedArtificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy

Spoilers for the first four, obviously. Although you don’t have to read those to read this, it really does help.

Murderbot has come to Preservation a non-Corporation planet, to live, to figure out what it wants to do and to be Dr. Mensah’s bodyguard. It’s sent on a mission with several people from Preservation, including Mensah’s daughter and brother-in-law, and that’s when things go sideways. They are attacked by a ship as soon as they leave Preservation space, and Murederbot and another team member are kidnapped. The others manage to come along (unfortunately, it means more humans to protect), and the greater plan is revealed: ART’s (the asshole research transport from book 2) crew has been taken by some people who are on a planet that has been compromised by alien remnants, and he wants it back. So, he sent the kidnappers to get Murderbot, because ART knew Murderbot would be able to find and retrieve them for it. Murderbot is not happy about being taken forcibly, but it cares (that’s a strong word) enough for ART that it’s willing to do what ART wants.

That’s basically what happens – sort of – but the real pleasure was having the ART-Murderbot relationship back. It was hilarious and sweet and delightful, and Murderbot would hate all of those words if it knew. There was one point where one of the other characters decided ART and Muderbot were in a relationship, and Murderbot got incredibly angry about that, mostly because it’s true. but, it’s also still a well-plotted book: a mystery to solve, corporation/non-corporation dynamics to explore, a weird planet (gotta love those), and a lot of fun, cranky inner dialogue on Murderbot’s part. U was a little wary that the longer form would dilute some of the charms of these books, but thankfully, II was wrong. It was still just as fun as a full-length novel.

These are such a delight to read.

Aurora’s End

by aie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “I am rarely surprised.”
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Others in the series: Aurora Rising, Aurora Burning
Content: There is some mild swearing, illusions to sex, and a lot more f-bombs than in the previous two books. They’re still in the YA section (grades 6-8) though maybe they should get moved?

Things I loved about the book:

The tagline on the cover. It really is about time. And Kaufman and Kristoff play with it so well.

The way all the pieces fit together, and the characters learned and grew and it just worked.

The fact that a bawled for the last s00 pages or so. They made me care about these characters and their fates and man, it was all just so satisfying.

I can’t wait to see what these two do together next They just create pure gold.

Exit Strategy

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “When I got back to HaveRatton Station, a bunch of humans tried to kill me.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  All Systems RedArtificial Condition, Rogue Protocol
Content there is some violence and a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

To be honest, I really don’t have anything new to say about Murderbot. This one wraps up the arc that started with book one, as Murderbot meets back up with Mensah and they all take on GrayChris, the corporation that has been killing people to cover their tracks. It still has everything I have come to love about these books: it’s funny, it’s got action, it’s a bit of a heist book, it’s a quick read, and I love it so much.

Seriously: if you haven’t read these yet, do. They’re great.

The Last Cuentista

by Donna Barba Higuera
First sentence: “
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Content: There are some intense moments and suggestions of killing. It’s in the YA section (but will be moved to the Newbery section, since it won the Newbery medal on Monday) of the bookstore.

Petra wants to be a storyteller like Lita, her grandmother. But the world is ending, and her family is one of the few that found a space on the departing ships because they are scientists. She is put in stasis, which kind of goes wrong, and when she wakes up 380 years later the world has gone sideways. A group called the Collective has taken over the ship, and it’s nothing like Petra — who can still remember Earth — was expecting.

What she found is a ship full of “shrimp” people, who eat this nutritious “biomass” block every day, who have tonics who alter their moods, and who don’t question the word of the Chancellor. All diversity, all difference, all remnants of Earth life have been erased.

In many ways, this is the same old story: diversity is what makes us strong; the acts that get us to sameness are despicable. Butt his adds a layer. Petra is a storyteller, a person who loves to tell the stories that she grew up with. And stories, more than anything else, are what connect us to our past. I loved that Higuera emphasized the importance of stories in addition to knowledge.

There was so much to love. It’s a brilliant world Higuera created, one that I would love to know more about. And she knows how to ramp up the tension. I was quite anxious several times in the story, not knowing how it was going to go. The stakes were real without being harsh. You do have to suspend your disbelief a bunch – can a 13-year-old who has been in stasis for 380 years really do this? – but other than that, it’s an incredible book.

I’m glad I read it.

All Systems Red

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channel carried on the company satellites.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a small handful of swear words, including two f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In this future, everything is run by a nameless company. Everything costs, and is for hire, including Murderbot, a security robot (AI with human bits?). Except Murderbot (which is what it calls itself) has gone rogue: it has hacked the module that is supposed to make it obey commands. It’s good at faking it, and so the people on its current job — protecting those who are surveying an unknown planet — dosn’t know. That is until they realize that something has happened to the other sureying crew on the planet. Then it becomes a matter of life and death, and Murderbot is the key.

This is one I’ve heard about and have had on my TBR list for a long time. I probalby owuldn’t have picked it up, except I wanted a short book to finish out the year, and this fit the bill. (That, and Wells just won the Hugo award wo I was reminded about it.) Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was short, tight intesne, and lots of fun. I have a coworker who says she’s never identified more with a character than Murderbot, and I get it. It was a compelling narrator, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying being its presence (which would probaby mortify it).

An yeah, I’m probably going to keep reading about Murderbot’s adventures.

Crownchasers

by Rebecca Coffindaffer
First sentence: “The Otari came here to die.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 29, 2020
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence, mild swearing, and about four f-bombs. It will be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Captain Alyssa Farshot has everything she needs: a worldship, a membership in the Explorer’s guild, and space. And her engineer/trusty sidekick Hell Monkey. But when her Uncle Atar — who happens to be the Emperor of the thousand planets in this universe — suddenly and unexpectedly dies, Alyssa (and Hell Monkey) finds herself a crownchaser, along with other nominees from the prime families, searching for the seal that will make her empress.

Except she doesn’t want it. And the whole chase becomes more deadly than anyone expected.

That’s the basic plot, but that’s not really a great pitch for this book. How about this: Alyssa is a sarcastic, fearless pilot who has a heart of gold and is willing to go to any lengths for her friends. I loved how Coffindaffer told this story, interspersed with flashbacks to explain the relationships Alyssa has with the other characters in the book. They’re placed at just the right moments, and give the narrative a depth I wasn’t expecting. I adored Alyssa (shoot, I adored all the characters) and the way she just threw herself headfirst into everything she did.

I loved the tone of the book; it didn’t take itself too seriously but also managed to give weight to a couple of ideas (like representation for all, and the inherent classism in the worlds’ systems). It was a perfect balance and kept me turning pages.

An excellent debut novel.

Aurora Burning

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “The disruptor blast hits the Betraskan right in her chest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Aurora Rising
Content: There is mild swearing, including three (very well placed) f-bombs. There is some alluding to sex but none actual.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

So the team of seven is down to six, their pilot, Cat, falling victim to the ancient and terrible enemy Ra’haaam, who absorbed her consciousness into their own. They’re wanted by the Terran Defense force and the GIA, which has been infiltrated by the Ra’haam, even if the rest of the ‘Way doesn’t know it. But, they discover the Hadfield, the ship Aurora was on before Tyler rescued her, and Squad 312 decides to go after it. The only problem: Kal’s sister Saedii is after them, and she’s got a whole Syldrathi army at her beck and call.

This is very much a middle book in a series: it’s a lot of moving the plot forward, but also setting up the Big Climax that will happen in the final book. Aurora learns more about her powers, we learn more about the Squad (including several shocking revelations). They become more of a unit even as the book is tearing them apat.

Which is one thing I can say about Kaufman and Kristoff: nothing is off limits for them. I think it was Kristoff who said, if there sin’t any stakes, the conflict doesn’t work. There ARE stakes in this. Not just big, life-changing ones, but smaller ones as well. And they balance the multiple and changing narrating perspectives quite admirably.

It’s an excellent, page-turning series. Even if I have to wait to read the third one.

Aurora Rising

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “I’m gonna miss the Draft.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I have this friend who adores long and intricate books, and who is also a big fan of Kaufman and Kristoff. I (finally) read Illuminae series on her recommendation, and she pointed me in the direction of these. I didn’t get around to reading them, though, until I saw that Kaufman and Kristoff were doing a read-along on Instagram during the quarantine, and I figured now was as good a time as any.

It’s the far future, and Earth — Terra — has branched out into space, discovering new world and forming alliances with new species. The inter-planetary diplomatic corps is the Aurora Legion, to which six of our seven main characters belong. There are different paths in the Aurora Academy, and the six of them come together to form a squad: Tyler, is their leader; his twin, Scarlett, is the diplomatic Face; Cat is their pilot; Zila is their science brain; and two aliens — Finian, a Betraskin, is their tech; and Kal is their Syldrathi weapons and tactical man. The seventh character is Aurora, a Terran girl that Tyler rescues from the Fold (it’s the way they space travel in this world), who sets in motion the events of the book.

And it’s a ride! The chapters alternate in viewpoint between the seven characters (I adore Zila’s chapters; they’re often less than a page, but that says SO much about her personality), and help the reader get to know each person while advancing the winding, twisting (in all the good ways) plot.

Yes, it’s the first in a trilogy, and yes, I am invested in these characters and the conflict that they have put themselves in the middle of. It’s a crazy, wild, fun ride, and I can’t wait to see where Kaufman and Kristoff take me next.

Tarnished Are the Stars

by Rosiee Thor
First sentence: “There was nothing quite like the first tick of a new heart.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some death — but not violent death — and some romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s the future, and Earth has become inhabitable for reasons unnamed. A group of settlers have made it to a new world — Earth Adjacent — and have put up a settlement there. The Queen is still orbiting the world in the “Tower”, but the ruler of the earth is the Commissioner, who has issues with technology. So a splinter group of settlers have moved out to a hidden city, determined to use tech, mostly because they need it to survive. Something is making hearts stop working.

Enter Anna, the settlement’s most wanted criminal: The Technician. She defies the Commissioner’s edicts, in order to help people survive. And then one day, she runs across the Commissioner’s son, Nathaniel, who has a TICCER — an artificial heart — just like she does. That opens up a whole world of questions. Which only get more complicated when Emma, the Queen’s personal spy — arrives from the Tower, in order to marry Nathaniel and carry out the Queen’s will.

I started listening to this one on audio, and it was a complete fail. I just didn’t like the narrator, and there were enough moving parts that I couldn’t keep it in my head. Note to self: I don’t do fantasy on audio well (this isn’t my first fantasy audio fail). That said, I was interested enough in the story to pick up the physical book and finish it. And… it’s not bad. I liked that there wasn’t a lot of romance, and that the focus of the relationships were friendship and family. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, but it didn’t take away from the clever premise of a new world and what it takes to settle and populate one. And hooray — it was a stand-alone! I appreciate that Thor was able to wrap the story up in one book.

I solid debut, I think.

The Power

by Naomi Alderman
First sentence: “Dear Naomi, I’ve finished the bloody book.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some sex, and a few graphic rape scenes. It’s also incredibly violent. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

The basic premise of this book is that one day, suddenly, all women in the world get a power — the ability to channel electricity — that gives them the ability to “fight back” against men of the world. It starts with teenagers, but eventually spreads to most women. The narrative follows four people: a mayor of a New England town, a girl in the foster system, a daughter of a British mob boss, and a young Nigerian man. The change affects all their lives: the mayor becomes governor and then senator, creating for-profit training camps for girls to learn to better control and use their power; the girl kills her foster father (who was raping her) and runs away and eventually starts a new religion, becoming Mother Eve; the daughter of a mob boss ends up taking over the whole operation; and the young man becomes a news reporter, going where the stories — of rebellion, of resistance, of control — are.

It was, for me, a tough book to swallow, and it wasn’t until the end when I realized what Alderman was doing. It’s best to remember that science fiction is more about the present than the future; and Alderman is shining a light on violence against women by turning the tables. The women in this book, once they get the power, become very… well… masculine. They embrace and abuse power, they torture and rape and kill men solely because they are weak. They create laws that restrict men’s movements, and in the end, blow the whole system up.

It’s also a critique of the nature of power, I think. I feel like Alderman is saying that power over another person corrupts anyone, male or female. That there is no “better nature” that will, inherently, make a woman better at leading. That power is, at it’s heart, an violent act of controlling another person.

It’s not an enjoyable read, but it is an interesting one, and has given me much to think about.