Entries in science fiction (36)

Friday
May032019

Markswoman & Mahimata (The Asiana Duology)

I just finished the second book in this duology, Mahimata, but somehow failed to post a review of Markswoman, the first book, despite having finished over a year ago. I was in the midst of Hugo reading at that point and finishing multiple books in a week so it appears to have gotten lost in the chaos.

Which is unfortunate, because it was a fantastic book and I nominated for this year's Hugos (though the competition is super fierce this year and it didn't make the final ballot). So I'll just do my best to review both right now.

Markswoman
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world that is healing from past trauma, and where science and magic mingle in fascinating ways. This world is governed by the Orders, most of which are made up of women who are healers and scientists and, above all, assassins. With magical blades called kataris, they maintain peace in their lands, acting as law enforcement. And there is one Order made up of men, the Order of Khur, but they're isolated from and ignored by the other Orders.

The story follows Kyra Veer, a newly minted markswoman in her Order (the Order of Kali), as she navigates her new duties while yearning to seek revenge on the warlord who slaughtered her family and village. But her life is thrown into chaos when the Mahimata of Kali (their leader) dies suddenly, leaving Tamsyn, a woman Kyra loathes and fears, in command.

Grieving and afraid, Kyra flees her Order, taking her beloved mentor's katari with her. She finds a secret door (basically a teleport) in the mountains and takes it, ending up in the desert just outside the Order of Khur, where she is taken in by the men, shown courtesy and trained, and finds love, before making her way back to her Order for an epic showdown with Tamsyn.

I really loved this book, even if it started out a little slow for my liking. I preordered the second book as soon as I learned about it. It's review, below, will contain spoilers for this first book.

Mahimata
Kyra returns to her Order, victorious if broken, having beaten Tamsyn in a duel. Once home, she nearly-accidentally becomes the Mahimata of her Order, despite her inexperience and persisting injuries. And through it all, she yearns to be with Rustan, the marksman she fell in love with. But through her long recovery, the world beyond her Order's caves is growing darker as the warlord, Kai Tau, slaughters everyone in his path with kalashiks, a kind of magical gun.

As Kyra heals, she begins to make unconventional allies with other Orders as well as with the feared wyr-wolves that have long been considered a plague in the mountains. But Kyra learns they are far more than they seem. Allying with the wyr-wolves isn't the only way that Kyra bucks tradition and rankles members of her own Order as well as others.

Her adventures and allies lead her closer to the final confrontation with Kai Tau, but also reunite her with Rustan. And through it all, the world-building continues to unfold, showing this post-apocalyptic land to be an alternate future of Earth.

This was a fantastic finish to the story that began with Markswoman, and it left me both satisfied and wanting more. The love these characters have for each other is refreshing, as is the capacity for forgiveness. And I really liked the commentary on the disease of gun culture. Kai Tau's fate was both horrifying and fascinating.

I highly recommend picking up these books!

Monday
Mar252019

The Light Brigade

This novel is far darker and more brutal than I usually read, but I always make a grimdark exception for Hurley because her books are always so amazing. And like with The Stars Are Legion, this one also ends on a hopeful note that made the viscera-soaked journey worth it.

This is the brutal, hard-hitting, anti-fascist, capitalism-eviscerating, hopeful time-travelling military SF this timeline needs. Inspired by Starship Troopers (film version), the book follows military grunt Dietz through basic training and the long, impossible journey through war.

In this bleak future, soldiers are busted down into particles of light and beamed off to war. But it does not always go right. Some soldiers come back with their body parts in the wrong place. Dietz keeps coming back to the wrong time with the wrong memories.

She has to struggle through memories and events that don't make sense, trying to keep a tenuous grip on sanity while navigating the dictator corporation she belongs to. This is an excellent sci-fi thriller/mystery mash up with some time travel for fun and I'm probably going to have to read it again just to keep everything straight.

If you're already a Hurley fan, this won't disappoint. If you haven't read any of her books yet, this is a fine place to start.

Tuesday
Feb262019

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

This book has been pushed as something to fill the void left by the cancellation of Firefly, and in sense that's correct. It has a quirky, lovable cast living on a rundown junkheap of a ship being held together by duct tape and love. And honestly, I think that's where the comparisons end.

This is a great book, it just didn't fit my initial expectations after all the Star Wars and Firefly hype. Those comparisons fit for the characters but not so much the story itself. This book is a slow burn, which is fine, I just wasn't expecting it. Not a lot happens for like half the book, but the characters themselves interacting. But these characters are phenomenal.

Basically, the occupants of the spaceship Wayfarer are construction workers building wormholes in space. And they're a bunch of pacifists (which removes them by another step from Firefly and SW) from a wide array of species and backgrounds.

There's a lot of wonderful worldbuilding to go along with the wonderful characterization. And through the characters and the slow, meandering pace, there's a lot of exploration of moral causes that really shines a light on some of the goofy things that humans do (and should maybe stop doing).

The climax was a great bit of action that I appreciated.

But there were a lot of points where I felt like the conflict was shied away from. Where things could have been explored more deeply, especially deeper into specific character emotions during some key scenes, that were just left hanging or glossed over. And I was really disappointed that the truth about Rosemary's father didn't really amount to much.

And then there's the thing that Corbin does to Ohan that really pisses me off. The thing itself is horrifying, but the way it's just sort of swept under the rug and shrugged off really upset me. Regardless of how Ohan feels about it (and we never really know because this is another place where conflict and deeper exploration of character emotions is dropped), what Corbin did is 100% inexcusable. Just because we're shown Ohan learning to cope with the fallout doesn't mean Ohan is happy about it.

Anyway, there are more books in this world, but they don't look like they follow this specific cast and I'm really disappointed in that. This book felt like it was just getting started, but the next book is about a pair of side characters. Ditto the third one. This is the second time I've seen this kind of "trilogy" and I don't think I like this new trend.

I do still recommend reading this book. It's rich and wonderful.

Tuesday
Jan222019

Voyage of the Dogs

DOGS IN SPACE!!!!! This is a kid's book, but I loved it just as much as my daughter did. It's got the perfect balance of humour and heartbreak as it follows this pack of very good dogs on their adventure through space. It's tense and fast-paced, but full of heart. You'll laugh and cry and laugh until you cry.

There are four dogs, called Barkonauts, aboard the interstellar ship Laika. There's Lopside the wonder mutt, Bug the corgi, Daisy the great Dane puppy, and Champion, their doggy leader and a golden retriever. They are the first explorers to travel to a distant planet called Stepping Stone.

But on the last leg of their journey, the dogs wake up from hibernation to find the ship critically damaged and the human crew missing. They bark Morse code into the transmitter, hoping for guidance from Earth. Since I read this book out loud to my daughter, I also got to bark Morse code.

Each of the dogs has a specialty on the ship, making this a great ensemble story. And all of them pull out a few surprises, most of all Daisy. They're beset by one catastrophe after another as they do their doggone best to fulfil their mission: reach Stepping Stone to establish a base for future travellers.

Sweet, fun and full of adventure, I absolutely 100% recommend this book to anyone who likes dogs, sci-fi and space.

Now for the spoilers, especially if you're like me and critically need to know if the dogs live.

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Good news! None of the dogs are (badly) harmed in the making of this story! The humans do not fair so well, though the dogs end up not totally abandoned. Yay!

Wednesday
Oct172018

The Fated Sky

So, it's hard to say much at all about this book without spoiling The Calculating Stars so I won't. If you liked the first you'll love the second.

The things I had issues with in the first book didn't go away for this one. The social issues that serve as antagonist were personified in Stetson Parker, first man in space. So it was interesting to see him get a bit of a redemption arc (though I never felt bad for him) while the social issues never really went anywhere. They were overcome to a point, but yeah... racists gonna racist.

The book was fun and infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure, but it ends on a uplifting note. I had a lot of questions about some of the characters from the first book who weren't really in the second, but it looks like Mary Robinette will be writing more in the series, so I look forward to that.

Both books are really good. Mary Robinette's research is so extensive and it shows (and only rarely does it show a little too much). So go check out Calculating Stars, and if you like it, this one won't disappoint.