Science Fiction · YA

Nyxia Unleashed – Scott Reintgen

4 stars

The sequel to last year’s NyxiaNyxia Unleashed is just as fun and satisfying as the first.

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Cover from Goodreads

Getting to Eden brought Emmett and his crewmates one step closer to their promised fortune. But surviving Eden may be the biggest reward of all. Discover book two in the trilogy Marie Lu called, “a high-octance thriller.”

Emmett Atwater thought Babel’s game sounded easy. Get points. Get paid. Go home. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that Babel’s competition was full of broken promises, none darker or more damaging than the last one.

Now Emmett and the rest of the Genesis survivors must rally and forge their own path through a new world. Their mission from Babel is simple: extract nyxia, the most valuable material in the universe, and play nice with the indigenous Adamite population.

But Emmett and the others quickly realize they are caught between two powerful forces—Babel and the Adamites—with clashing desires. Will the Genesis team make it out alive before it’s too late?

Nyxia Unleashedis the third book in the Nyxia triad (not a trilogy?) by Scott Reintgen, and manages not to suffer from middle-book syndrome. The book manages to be more than getting us from point A to point B, despite the fact that much of the book is the team literally moving from points A to B.

Emmett is once again the star of the book and has grown into himself. He’s got a clear moral compass and is letting that be his guide in an unfamiliar world with unfamiliar people and customs. More than ever, his code of honor drives him and his decisions.

Through the description of the ring caste system, and how Emmett and his peers engage with it, Nyxia Unleashed offers a lens through which we can view our own world. We already know from the first book that the Genesis crew is made up of kids from the poorest backgrounds from all over the globe. That backstory informs how they interact with the Adamites – despite the show the Adamites want to offer them. It is however, a little over simplified and comes across a little heavy handed. I prefer my social commentary to be more subtle.

Heavy handed (valid) social commentary aside, Nyxia Unleashed was an action packed adventure full of wild landscapes, beasts and other more familiar dangers. Nicely paced, Nyxia Unleashed is full of tension, but won’t leave you desperate for a massage in the wake of the action.

Nyxia Unleashed is available in stores and online on July 17, 2018.

Thank you to Crown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

*This post contains affiliate links. Please consider supporting this blog by purchasing this book using my affiliate link. 

 

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Science Fiction · Uncategorized

Revenant Gun – Yoon Ha Lee

5 Stars

Revenant Gun is the stunning end to Yoon Ha Lee’s incredible Machineries of Empire trilogy.

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Cover from Goodreads

When Shuos Jedao wakes up for the first time, several things go wrong. His few memories tell him that he’s a seventeen-year-old cadet–but his body belongs to a man decades older. Hexarch Nirai Kujen orders Jedao to reconquer the fractured hexarchate on his behalf even though Jedao has no memory of ever being a soldier, let alone a general. Surely a knack for video games doesn’t qualify you to take charge of an army?

Soon Jedao learns the situation is even worse. The Kel soldiers under his command may be compelled to obey him, but they hate him thanks to a massacre he can’t remember committing. Kujen’s friendliness can’t hide the fact that he’s a tyrant. And what’s worse, Jedao and Kujen are being hunted by an enemy who knows more about Jedao and his crimes than he does himself…

Just as in the first two books, we’re kept guessing until the end. How is Jedao going to pull this off? What is Cheris up to? Who is the real villain in all of this?

I love that even after two books, I didn’t see half of the twists coming! So many moving parts, so many opportunities for betrayal and backstabbing! So many Jedaos! I was biting my nails throughout the story, unable to stop turning the pages.

Not only does the plot continue to be amazing, the characters are so incredibly fleshed out. Jedao continues to be a really conflicting and conflicted character with a lot of nuances. He’s a mass murderer, among other things, but I couldn’t help but hope for redemption and happiness for him. He’s a fascinating character.

Cheris is equally fascinating, balancing her own personality with remnants of Jedao in her head. I’d have liked to spend more time with her throughout the story.

We also get POV sections from other characters, Inneser, Brezan, Kujen, Hemiola and Mikodez, all of which have rich inner landscapes and backstories. None of the characters ever felt thin. I love that the servitor Hemiola remixes dramas when it is bored.

Revenant Gun wouldn’t be the amazing space opera that it is without incredible battles and high stakes, and oh did Yoon Ha Lee deliver. The stakes are so very high and the battles are so very tense. Revenant Gun is a delightfully balanced story with a satisfying end.

Revenant Gun is on sale now at all your favorite retailers*.

Thank you to Rebellion Publishing for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 

*This post contains affiliate links. Please consider supporting this blog by purchasing this book using my affiliate link. 

Science Fiction · YA

Lifel1k3 – Jay Kristoff

4 Stars

Happy Book Birthday to Lifel1k3! This wonderful ride of a book hit shelves in the US today.

Point of order: When reading a book Jay Kristoff is involved in, do not get complacent. Just when you think you see where the story is going, be prepared to be proven wrong. Repeatedly.

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Cover from Goodreadss
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Australian cover from Goodreads

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

Well, it’s exactly what it says right there on the tin. The Australian tin, that is.

It’s Romeo and Juliet meets Mad Max meets X-Men, with a little bit of Blade Runner cheering from the sidelines.

That’s a pretty accurate description of the whole book, complete with guns a-blazing car chases through the irradiated desert. It’s a frantic story that grabs you by the hand as it’s running away from explosions and kind of throws story at you while it’s on the move. Just, as I said before, don’t get complacent.

Jay Kristoff is a snake. He lulls you into a false sense of security and then while the sirens are blaring, explosions in the background and the whole team is running for their lives, he’s gonna pull the rug out from under you. Not once, not twice, but over and over again. Lifel1k3 is full of moments when just as I’ve fallen into the rhythm of the story I’m tripped up by a twist in the plot.

Jay is the King of the Plot Twist.

The main cast is comprised of loveable misfits.

  • Eve who just wants to make enough to buy her Grandpa’s meds
  • Lemon Fresh, Eve’s bestest and greatest ally, sweet cinnamon roll, important
  • Cricket, the sassiest logika I ever did see
  • Grandpa, sage old wise-ass
  • Kaiser, who’s a good puppy!?
  • Ezekiel, capital T TROUBLE and the trigger for all their woes (OR IS HE?!)

Over the course of the book, Kristoff raises many questions, and I dearly hope he answers them in the next book. The core question of Lifel1k3 is one that Asimov first raised when he outlined the three laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Are robotics and by extension, Artificial Intelligence, ethical? Many a science fiction writer has played with the ramifications of these laws, and how they might play out should robots gain true intelligence. In Lifel1k3, Kristoff takes us through another interesting interrogation of the ethical dilemma of those who would create robotic life. Under all the fluff and flair, buried beneath the frantic energy and bubble-gumption is a story with an interesting ethical quandary in the center. What does it mean to be alive?

Lifel1k3 hit shelves today in the US and is available now from all your favorite retailers.

Thank you to Random House Children’s/Knopf Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Science Fiction · YA

3-in-1 Review: Illuminae Files – Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman

4 stars

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman on their US tour celebrating the release of Obsidio, the third and final book in the Illuminae Files. They graciously posed for a photo with my husband and me.

The Illuminae Files follows different sets of teens as their stories intersect while they flee from a Bei-Tech invasion force. Each book builds on the previous. The first book, Illuminae features Kady, Ezra and AIDAN. Gemina adds Nik, Ella and Hannah, and in Obsidio Asha and Rhys get added to the mix. Lots and lots and lots of people die in inventive and horrific ways.

The stories themselves are fun, fairly quick reads. They’re full of action, emotion and are easy to get swept away by. All three stories include some kind of time-clock that helps raise the tension of the book so it’s easy to want to flip pages at lightning speed. The stories aren’t particularly fresh. They’re somewhat tropey and read like classic YA sometimes. There’s a little diversity (Ella! Asha!), but the books are painfully straight. What makes them fresh and has garnered the books a dedicated fanbase is the format.

The books are formatted to tell the stories via chat messages, emails, transcripts of videos and audio files, diary entries and pictures. The books themselves are massively thick, around 600 pages each, but they aren’t long stories; it’s easy to blow through one in a night. The format makes a regular sized story take MANY more pages to tell. Even the audiobooks are produced in such a way that they convey the story with additional layers. But the Illuminae Files are a visual experience.

And that’s part of my problem with them.

The books themselves are beautiful, and obviously took a TON of work to put together. At the book signing Jay said he spent a lot of time involved in the layout, and in Gemina one of the designers actually shot a book to make one of the visual effects as realistic as possible. That being said, they sacrificed a lot of readability in the design of these books. They’re printed in black and white, so there’s often shades of gray overlapping with more grey. Grey text on grey and black text on black is very challenging to read. Some of the pages feature text in swirly lines that force you to turn the book this way and that to read it or have light text superimposed over maps or drawings. I don’t have visual impairments and found the book challenging to read. My visually impaired husband would have found them IMPOSSIBLE to read.

I am all for books as artistic objects, and I admire the hard work and dedication to creating these books the way they are. But when that hard work forgets that these are books and need to be legible I find myself frustrated. They took something and made it beautiful and exclusive. People with moderate visual impairments are actively excluded from the experience.

That being said, I enjoyed the series and if you’re looking for an emotional rollercoaster ride, check out the Illuminae Files.

Science Fiction

Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente

4 Stars

Space Opera is the kind of book you’d get if you threw Eurovision, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a book of adjectives in a blender and pulsed it around a bit.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

IN SPACE EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU SING

A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented-something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix – part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny – they must sing.

A one-hit-wonder band of human musicians, dancers and roadies from London – Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes – have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.

Let me preface this review. I have never read anything by Cat Valente before, other than a short story here and there when included in an anthology.

That being said, I felt like the writing got in the way of the story. Valente constructs sentences that are 90% adjective and 10% content. A full half of this book is adjectives. Space Opera is an absolute avalanche of adjectives. It was fairly overwhelming and I often found myself having to reread sentences, skipping the endless stream of adjectives, in order to find The Point of the sentence. A friend told me this is how Valente writes. She just loves words. That may be true, but the nonstop barrage of descriptors was overwhelming and distracting and took away from the overall story. The lists of adjectives did add a frantic energy to the story, but after a few pages of this, it was Too Much. Too many descriptions, too much fluff, and not enough actual content. Very often I found myself frustrated because Would She Just Get To The Point Of This Sentence Already.

Additionally, parts of the book were told in a parallel story structure where Valente would start a chapter with a description of something on another planet at another time that had little actual relevance to the plot. The book felt super episodic, but not in a good way.

Those frustrations aside (and if you like that kind of thing) Space Opera was a fun ride. All the glitter and pomp of a Galactic Eurovision and all of the ridiculousness of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy birthed a book as silly, sparkly, absurd and sweet as you’d expect from that kind of combination. Decibel and Oort are lovely, heartfelt characters that are just the kind of introspective you’d expect from former British rockstars. They’re charming, even when they’re not trying to be and I found myself rooting for them, even without the extra pressure of them being responsible for the survival of all of humanity. I loved that the alien species were varied and inventive and were all distinct from one another and from humanity.

I also enjoyed the exploration of what it means to be sentient. It’s something that we as a species wrestle with more and more frequently as we discover just how intelligent dolphins, elephants and other species truly are. At what point is something sentient? Where is the line between intelligence and actual, true sentience?

Space Opera hits shelves April 10, 2018 and you should definitely check it out if you’re looking for something fun to read.

I received an eARC from Saga Press and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Science Fiction

The Tea Master And The Detective – Aliette de Bodard

4 stars

This is my first foray into reading anything by Aliette de Bodard. The beautifully written novella made me curious to read more of her work!

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Cover from Goodreads

Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past–and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…

If Sherlock were an Asian woman in space, and Watson was a sentient spaceship, this would be the story of their first meeting and first case together. (Just days after I wrote this review, I found this quote on Aliette’s Goodreads profile: “my ‘Sherlock Holmes if Holmes were an eccentric scholar and Watson a grumpy discharged war mindship’ book” how funny is that)

Set in her Universe of Xuya, The Tea Master and the Detective, is similar in tone and flavor to Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of the Empire series. They’re very different stories, but fans of one may find lots to like in the other.

I really enjoyed The Tea Master and the Detective. The story was interesting and kept pulling me along. I’m definitely interested in exploring more of this universe. I’d recommend The Tea Master and the Detective for a time when you can sit and read the whole thing at once or in one or two sessions. Trying to read it in broken chunks on my work breaks didn’t work well for me.

I received an eARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Anthology · Fantasy · Science Fiction

Robots Vs. Fairies – Navah Wolfe & Dominik Parisien

4.5 stars

Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe edited and collected one of my favorite anthologies to date, The Starlit Wood so when I saw they were releasing another anthology together I just couldn’t wait – especially once I saw the title: Robots vs Fairies. I thought to myself, “Oh, this is gonna be goood!” and oh, was I right. Many of the stories are poignant and thoughtful. Many of them left me with things to sit and mentally chew on, as all the best do.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Read on for brief reviews of individual stories. Or, go pick up a copy for yourself! Robots Vs. Fairies hit shelves January 9.

“Build me a Wonderland” by Seanan McGuire

Ahhhh this was such a great story to start off this anthology with! Fairies AND robots all mashed into one fantastic read. Seanan’s writing definitely shines in Build Me A Wonderland. Tightly written, I don’t feel like I need more of the story – I got exactly the right amount. A really strong beginning to this anthology.

“Quality Time” by Ken Liu

In “Quality Time” Ken Liu takes the time to explore the pitfalls of Silicon Valley’s philosophy that technology can solve anything. How does solving one problem create other problems? Can you take a solution too far? I enjoyed Liu’s exploration of these questions and the world he built.

“Murmured Under the Moon” by Tim Pratt

I really liked the concept of this story, but had a real problem with the dialog. It came across as stilted and amateurish, which is surprising from an author as published as Pratt. I love stories of libraries, and enjoyed Pratt’s story, aside from the strange dialog.

“The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto” by Annalee Newitz

An interesting exploration of moderate vs extreme points of view on social injustice, through the lens of robotics and Pinnocchio. Thought provoking.

“Bread and Milk and Salt” by Sarah Gailey

Dark and bloody, as I understand is typical of Gailey’s writing. The ending, while disturbing was satisfying. “Be careful what you wish for” goes both ways.

“Ironheart” by Jonathan Maberry

At its heart, Ironheart is heartbreaking take on how badly we fail our veterans in the U.S. Mix in some robotic magic and you’ve got a moving story with heart. There were definitely tears in my eyes.

“Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard

Yes, yes and yes. What a story. Play Regina Spektor’s “Love Song” on repeat while you read this one.

“Sound and Fury” Mary Robinette Kowal

A fun space adventure containing one giant robot and much eyerolling. The eyerolling was not on my part. I really enjoyed the exhausted snark of the crew.

“The Bookcase Expedition” by Jeffrey Ford

I enjoyed it, but Ford himself admits it’s not really a fairy story in his author’s note following the story. I struggled to keep my attention on this one.

“Work Shadow/Shadow Work” by Madeline Ashby

I really enjoyed this one. When robots are sufficiently advanced to be called AI, what separates them from humans – do they have souls? Does it matter?

“Second to the Left, and Straight on” by Jim C. Hines

As you might be able to tell, Hines’ story is a take on the classic Peter Pan story, but in wonderful Hines fashion he twists the familiar tale into something new. A heartwrenching, stunning story.

“The Buried Giants” by Lavie Tidhar

This one was a bit weird. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. I got Truman Show vibes from parts of it.

“Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time” by John Scalzi

Hilarious! I literally laughed out loud at the end. That’s all I need to say.

“Ostentation of Peacocks” by Delilah S. Dawson/Lila Bowen

Somehow, I’ve never imagined a fairy western before, but after reading this, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them, but now I want more.

“All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong

Heartbreaking and kind of disturbing in a gorgeous way. Celebrity replica robots but not one the way you expect.

“Adriftica” by Maria Dahvana Headley

A retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream mashed up with rock and roll. A really fun retelling.

“To A Cloven Pine” by Max Gladstone

A chaotic, robotic reimagination of The Tempest that is going to haunt me for days. Magical, even though Max is on Team Robot.

“A Fall Counts Anywhere” by Catherynne M. Valente

Literally Robots vs Fairies in a bloody deathmatch! The introduction to this story was too long, and capslock can be hard to read for such long chunks. Unfortunately, Valente managed to make even a deathmatch boring. A really weak ending to an otherwise fantastic anthology.

I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.