Entries in science fiction (39)

Tuesday
Jul092019

Wanderers

Okay, this book ate my life but I finally got it read and honestly the comparisons to Stephen King's The Stand are absolutely valid, but this is somehow more disturbing because of how fucking plausible it is. (Also I can't review a Wendig novel without f-bombs, so look away if that's not for you.) The story gets really dark and I don't have anxiety but this sure made me anxious. So make sure you're in a good headspace before you start reading.

Anyway, the book is hard to talk about without spoilers because plot twists start coming fast and furious not far into the story. So I'm going to talk briefly about what it's about, and recommend now that you read it if The Stand was your jam or you like pandemic apocalypse books. Especially if you're looking for a reasonably diverse cast. It could have been queerer, more disabled, and maybe a little browner, but it was still pretty good on that front.

So it starts with a spreading affliction that causes people to walk. Like they're sleepwalking. But they explode if you try to stop them. They become known as the flock and the people — their friends and loved ones — who stay with them are called shepherds. The story is told primarily through four POVs: a teenager whose younger sister is a walker, a disgraced scientist formerly with the CDC, a nearly-washed up rock star, and a far-right radio host. Benji the scientist and Shana the teen are the two main characters who reveal the bulk of the story.

The book was super compelling at first, waiting to see how these POVs would interact and come together, and also as the mystery of the sleepwaker affliction unfolded. That whole thing is incredibly haunting (and terrifying in its plausibility) and more and more keeps being revealed on that front right up until the end.

But then the book changes tone and things become bleak and grim around the midway point. It was hard for me to keep reading after that, and the end didn't leave me wholly satisfied, though it wasn't necessarily a bad ending.

That's about all I can say without spoilers. The following will be spoiler-laden so look away if that's not your thing.

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So my favourite character in the whole book was Arav. I don't know why but my head canon for him is basically Bobak Ferdowsi, and the character is just like this precious cinnamon bun. And I was SO MAD when he got sick, and when it became apparent he wasn't going to get better. I'm glad that he at least went down in a blaze of glory. And that specific blaze was fucking magnificent, especially since it was a tactic I was screaming at the characters to use for at least 3 chapters.

While I get why we never learn about Pete's fate, I fucking want to know.

Black Swan can go fuck itself.

The fact that no one tried to put the walkers on a treadmill is a truly missed opportunity.

I loved the little nods connecting this book to Wendig's other works, including the Miriam Black series. I like to think she road this out in Hawaii.

And I really didn't like that the Nazis basically won. I guess it's a warning for America (and the rest of the world should America fall all the way), but it also feels like it's too little too late. Ozark Stover is already out there somewhere. Dozens of Ozark Stovers are already out there. And that, I think, more than White Mask or the sleepwalkers or Black Swan's horrifying deception and actions, is the scariest part of the book.

The end doesn't really address what happens to the Nazis. I mean, sure, most of them die. But even if 1% of them live, as the book suggests, that's still too many. And did Marcy get to keep Ozark's tank? Because I need to see that.

I absolutely and utterly loathed Matt's character because, like Ozark, there are just so godsdamn many assholes like that out in the world. Not necessarily evil, but willfully blind. Complacent and complicit. I wanted him to die right up until the end. Because the only thing better than him dying was what he got. Though I was pleased that he was the one who put an end to Ozark.

And the description of the "yeti" thing from Pete's POV was exactly the bit of levity that book and that scene and that ending really fucking needed. Especially when it came on the heels of Arav's brilliant sacrifice.

Okay, and one last thing that REALLY pissed me off was the chapter where Benji goes to Vegas. That was an utter waste of time and story and (to me) a very obvious contrivance to set up the final showdown. It existed ONLY so Ozark would know where the flock was. And I did not buy that Benji would be so careless out in public after what happened on the bridge in California. I do not believe he would leave his gun like that. I literally threw the book at the end of that chapter. I nearly quit reading right fucking there.

Anyway, that's why the book made me angry and why I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would. I LOVED The Stand, and I actually like that Wendig's book doesn't go down the route of supernatural good vs evil nonsense. I like that absolutely all of the horrors were of humanity's own making. That's also what makes this scarier. Plausible. And that's probably why you should be in a good emotional/mental state before you read this book.

Oh, and if it's the sort of thing you need, no dogs were explicitly harmed in the book, but horses were. There is mention of child death though it happens offscreen. And basically the whole world dies (people).

Tuesday
Jul022019

Five Unicorn Flush

This is the second book in the Space Unicorn series and it definitely lives up to its predecessor, Space Unicorn Blues.

This book is zany and dark and fraught and hilarious. It's got the same diverse cast you love to hate and hate to love, with a few new additions and some definite surprises. It's very much like the first book, but with a little more heart.

Still plenty of jokes! And this time no one misgenders Ricky Tang, so that was rad. There's very little set within actual Reason Space and all its lack of reason or empathy. And the few scenes on the Reason ship are hilarious and subversive.

So the bala have their own happy planet now, except it's not so happy and they know the Reason will find them soon. They just have no idea how soon. And they don't have time to both set up their civilization and properly defend themselves, nor can they decide which to prioritize.

Jenny Perata is desperately trying to find the bala and her wife who is with them. But her search for a bit of unicorn horn to power her FTL ship takes her into the ugliest depths of space travel and yields some unexpected gains, including an alien parasite.

My only complaint about this book is that there's not more. And also that the copy I have doesn't appear to be edited. Possibly not at all, and definitely not copy edited. I've heard a couple of horror stories of managing editors sending the wrong file to the printer and not realizing until it was too late, and I suspect this is one of those. Which means the ebook and later printings should be fine.

But despite a lot of jarring formatting errors and spelling mistakes/typos, this book is still super awesome. I really hope there's another book on the way!

Friday
Jun072019

Dreadnought

This book was a fantastic start to Pride Month, with a queer trans MC and written by a trans author. It takes place on an alternate Earth where comic book type superheroes are real.

It follows the story of Danny, who hasn't come out to her parents (or anyone else) yet but is transformed into a female body after she inherits the mantle of Dreadnought. Dreadnought is perhaps the greatest superhero of all time, and Danny is left to confront her newfound powers, new body, and newly being out.

Unfortunately, Danny is surrounded by awful bigots and what starts out as a sassy, lighthearted adventure gets a bit grimdark in a hurry. I loved this book and had a hard time putting it down, but the bigotry was hard to deal with. The quick pivot from fun sarcastic to dark sarcastic and lots of pain wasn't something I expected. Danny is constantly being malignantly misgendered and deadnamed by just about everyone she knows. One of the superheroes is even a TERF, which is exceptionally awful.

A lot of trans readers will probably find this book validating. A lot of cis people will find it illuminating. Personally, I've got several trans friends and I have watched them go through these things so this book had nothing new for me in that regard. It just made the bigotry harder to read.

But overall this is a great book. Danny does find some allies and friends in fellow superheroes, and I love the dynamics between her and Calamity and Doc Impossible. These are characters who genuinely care about Danny and want to see her reach her full potential. Watching Danny discover her powers is fun and fascinating. It helps cancel out the bigotry.

If you like superheroes and action and breaking the sound barrier and big set pieces with crazy explosions, then this is the book for you, unless you can't deal with the deadnaming and misgendering.

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.