Blog Housekeeping · Fantasy · Science Fiction

Why Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I keep coming across this question in book groups and it’s one of those questions that just knocks around my head. “Why do you read about things that aren’t real? Why read science fiction or fantasy? (Those are separate genres, for the record… a rant for another day.)

And I just keep coming back to “Why not?”

Non-fiction and general or historical fiction are all well and fine, but they’re planted firmly in reality, which is honestly pretty mundane. Don’t get me wrong, the right memoir or the right historical fiction story might spark something for me, but in general, I’m not drawn to stories about real life.

Simply put, I read for escape. I’m perfectly happy with my normal, drama-free life but I love to live vicariously through the eyes of characters experiencing what is impossible for me to experience. No matter how exciting my life might turn out to be, I’ll never be chased by a dragon or launched into space. I’m never going to dine with fairies or participate in epic battles with magic trees and elves.

Not only that, but there’s an extra layer of imagination from the author to craft a good science fiction or fantasy novel. Not to knock writers of general fiction, but there’s less imagination required to describe how a middle-class neighborhood and social circle functions than there is to create a functional system of magic or define a new society ruled by technology.

There’s something special about cracking open a book and discovering a new take on elven society or a system of magic that’s unlike anything I’ve read before. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve finished and simply marveled at the amount of imagination it takes to create something like what I just read (Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence comes to mind.)

I’m not drawn to the fictional tales of people’s sad, broken lives. There are only so many stories of brokenhearted wives discovering their husband cheating on them that I can stand. I lead my own mundane life and while I’m happily married and leading a drama-free life, I find it somewhat voyeuristic to consume the stories of others’ run of the mill unhappiness.

You’ll find the occasional non-fiction or general fiction novel featured on this blog, which will hopefully signal when I’ve found something that does catch my fairly narrow fancy.

That’s why I read science fiction and fantasy – but what about you, Reader? Do you read scifi or fantasy? If so, why? If not, why not?

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Paranormal Romance · Science Fiction · Urban Fantasy

Touched by an Alien – Gini Koch

3 stars

What did I just read, Reader? Touched by an Alien was absolutely absurd.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads.

Marketing manager Katherine “Kitty” Katt had just finished a day on jury duty. When she stepped out of the Pueblo Caliente courthouse, all she was thinking about was the work she had to get caught up on. Then her attention was caught by a fight between a couple that looked like it was about to turn ugly. But ugly didn’t even begin to cover it when the “man” suddenly transformed into a huge, winged monster right out of a grade Z science fiction movie and went on a deadly killing spree. In hindsight, Kitty realized she probably should have panicked and run screaming the way everyone around her was doing. Instead she sprinted into action to take down the alien.

In the middle of all the screeching and the ensuing chaos, a hunk in an Armani suit suddenly appeared beside her, introduced himself as Jeff Martini with “the agency,” and then insisted on leading her to a nearby limo to talk to his “boss.” And that was how Kitty’s new life among the aliens began…Touched by an Alien is the thrilling first installment of the Alien novels.

Touched by an Alien is “urban science fiction” in that it’s all of the elements of urban fantasy, but with aliens rather than magical creatures, which bleeds it over into science fiction.  I’d also probably slot it into “Paranormal Romance” And it was ABSURD and over the top.

This is one of those books where I just don’t know how I feel about it at the end. On the one hand, I enjoyed the plot and thought the writing was reasonably well done.

But there was an ever growing list of things that I just couldn’t help but roll my eyes over:

  • Kitty Katt (seriously, what a name)
  • Mary Sue, I mean Kitty Katt is just an average marketing manager but somehow manages to be a great shot, excellent military strategist, and like The Most Clever Ever, learns flying on the literal fly, code breaker and somehow manages to be better than people who have been doing this their whole lives – all in two days!
  • Hunky, overly-aggressive, possessive dude love triangle
    • Newsflash, it’s not hot when dudes are that insecure, no matter the backstory
    • It’s rape when a woman says no and a dude keeps going. That’s not hot, thanks.
    • Thanks for all the opportunities to roll my eyes at the male characters
  • Overdone sex scenes that go on for pages – which I skipped over
  • Conveniently the book really is all about her, despite what it appears at the beginning
  • Conveniently there’s a vague description of how the “science” works
  • Conveniently her parents ALSO have relevant skills
  • Too many instances of “conveniently”
  • Overuse of the word “baby in reference to Kitty or Martini
  • Overuse of the word “girlfriend” from a gay character in reference to Kitty

But, despite all that, I’m seriously thinking about requesting the second book from the library. When I finished, I texted my best friend “I just read the most ridiculous book. I need you to read it and laugh at it with me.” It was a fun and silly read. Sometimes a Mary Sue story is a nice refreshing break. Brain candy can be a treat sometimes. This book definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. I have the feeling that Gini Koch wrote the whole thing half-seriously, half-satirically.

Anyway, Touched by an Alien is the first in the “Kitty Katt” series by Gini Koch and was published April 6, 2010.

 

Science Fiction · YA

Nyxia – Scott Reintgen

4 Stars

I received an eARC of Nyxia in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley.

Nyxia
Image Source: Goodreads

Nyxia is a young adult space thriller that feels very much like a blending of Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games – or as the publisher calls out The Maze Runner and Illuminae. (I haven’t read either of those yet, so I can’t comment on the comparison.)

The synopsis on NetGalley:

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

Emmett has to fight for his seat on Eden and the rules keep changing on him. He’ll have to be more clever, stronger, and faster than the others in order to earn his spot. Despite a somewhat slow beginning, by the end I found myself utterly drawn in and rooting for Emmett’s victory.

When I read, especially YA, I’m always keeping my eye on the cast, looking for diversity. Racially, Nyxia didn’t disappoint. Our hero, Emmett, is a young black teenager from Detroit. The rest of the cast is diverse too. Characters come from all across the globe: China, Japan, India, Columbia, United States, Palestine, Kenya, Brazil, etc. And there’s a nice balance between male and female competitors, though all the Babel staff seems to be male. They all have one thing in common, the reason Babel chose them: they’re all poor. Every one of them has come from poverty.

I do have to say, I bumped pretty hard against the name of the Japanese boy being “Katsu.” After some googling, it appears Katsu used to be a fairly common girl’s name in Japan about 80 years ago, but to a Western audience, “katsu” is something you order for takeout at a teriyaki place. Nyxia also fell into the trap of the “perfect Asian” trope, which was disappointing. Additionally, Nyxia lacks diversity when it comes to LGBTQIA representation. Hopefully, in the next two books, this omission can be rectified.

Despite these pitfalls, Nyxia was a fun read, and I am looking forward to the continuation of the “triad” (trilogy).

Nyxia is action-packed – the training sequences are well written and full of tension. Moreover, Emmett knows there’s more going on than what Babel is telling them – and the tension builds throughout the book as Emmett makes discoveries and Babel reacts to what he’s found.

Nyxia is the first book in the Nyxia Triad and will be released on September 12, 2017.

 

Science Fiction

Ruin of Angels – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

I received an ARC of Ruin of Angels from a fellow blogger and friend, Marzie’s Reads for my birthday earlier this month.

I can’t tell you how much I love Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. I just can’t. The words for me to do so just don’t exist in English. The closest I can come is some incoherent screaming as I brandish the (thick) book in the direction of people’s faces as I try to convey how much I love this series. This blog post will have to do for those who can’t experience my love in person. (Or, you could go read it and see what all the flailing is about.)

The background: Ruin of Angels is the sixth book in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence and the first that has to be read in any particular order. The first five books can either be read in publication order or chronologically – which are not the same order. The sixth book, Ruin of Angels, should be read after the first five books have been read in either order.

In this series, Gladstone builds an incredible universe with a very complex system of magic and economy. With this world building, Gladstone demonstrates an incredibly deep understanding of many complex issues and concepts and how they influence each other in our world. To name just a few: religion, micro and macro economics, art, political systems, history, legal systems – including contract law, gender politics, race relations… the list goes on and on.

But you ask, Alex, how does all of that fit into a fantasy novel setting without being incredibly boring? Magic. Gladstone must be a literal sorcerer. I personally have learned a ton about how our world works by reading the stories set in his world. From the first book, I’ve been impressed and engrossed. I BLEW through the first five books in the series, and I am planning a reread soon – this time in chronological order, rather than publication order.

One of the things that impresses me the most about his writing is that he writes women, people of color, WOMEN of color, and people with diverse gender and sexual identities well. His cast is diverse and each and every one of them is written with respect and an impressive thoughtfulness. In Ruin of Angels, Gladstone even manages to write a flashback for a trans character in a way that doesn’t misgender the character.

But what about the plot, Alex? Worldbuilding and characters aside, is the plot any good? Oh yes, reader. The plot is a fast-paced, twisty, turny heist with many moving threads and pieces. Ruin of Angels has so much going on that I advocate that you put the book down. Not for good, no, just every couple of chapters to really let yourself absorb what all just happened.

A lot happens. There is backstabbing, romance, intrigue, and conspiracy. There’s also treasure hunting, art, necromancy, and reality bending religious struggles.

I haven’t heard anything about a seventh book, but I can only hope (and beg, and beg, and beg) that Tor.com will see fit to award Gladstone contracts for more books in this series.

Ruin of Angels will be released on September 5, 2017.

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Science Fiction

Ravenscroft Conspiracy – Vic Connor

I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Zero Stars

I made it through 25% of this book before quitting.

The premise of the story is interesting: Kid falsely convicted of his own parents’ murders escapes death row when recruited to help test virtual world, virtual world also full of conspiracies. This is the kind of fiction I like. I’m often pretty forgiving about what I’ll read.

The execution of the story was unbearable. The main character Nico is obnoxious and obnoxiously written. He’s smart (genius level IQ….), tall, strong, has a perfect memory, religious, blah blah blah snooze snooze snooze. The book did a lot of telling, but not showing. Descriptions of other characters are uninteresting and one-dimensional. I rolled my eyes just about once per page. I had to stop reading or I was going to hurt myself from all the eyerolling.

The plot plods along. A quarter of the way through the book and he finally gets into the virtual world. This is essentially the third scene. It takes a quarter of the book to reach the third scene. Zzzz.

I wanted to like it, but unfortunately, Ravenscroft Conspiracy just isn’t for me.

A version of this review first appeared on Goodreads on March 21.

Fantasy · Science Fiction

The Clockwork Dynasty – Daniel H. Wilson

3 Stars

I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. 

In my mind, the word “clockwork” in the title of a novel evokes an expectation of a steampunk novel. The Clockwork Dynasty isn’t a steampunk novel. Once I got over that mild disappointment, I found I really enjoyed the story.

In chapters alternating between the past and the present, and two different narrators, we follow the origins and struggle of automated human-like beings.

From the Amazon synopsis: 

Present day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined, as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…

Russia, 1725: In the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly humanlike mechanical beings. Peter and Elena are a brother and sister fallen out of time, possessed with uncanny power, and destined to serve great empires. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries.

I really liked the two main characters. They had interesting internal struggles and felt well constructed. Peter has a much more fleshed out backstory since the past chapters are literally his backstory, so his character feels much more developed than June does, but June doesn’t feel flat in comparison.

The way the story bounced back and forth between present day and the past, combined with the “mysterious, ancient origins” of the automated beings reminded me heavily of the Assassin’s Creed video games.

I had a hard time with the pacing of the story. The present day sections are fast paced and move along quickly, but just as soon as something happens, a chapter break appears and the story slows down. The sections set in the past are slower going. They’re very valuable backstory, but they do disrupt the feverish pace of the present day storyline in a way I found frustrating at times.

A solid three-star story. It was a fun read but didn’t leave me with that “Aaah, that was so good” feeling.

The Clockwork Dynasty was published August 1, 2017.

Science Fiction

Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee

5 Stars

I was given an eARC by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Prepare for your eyeballs to be replaced by question marks. Raven Stratagem, the second in the Machineries of Empire duology(?) by Yoon Ha Lee is just as confusing and satisfying as the first book, Ninefox Gambit, was.

NetGalley’s synopsis:

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies as a weapon, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh enemy incursion, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, is able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev—or Brezan—trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

Well, those first three words do sum up the novel quite succinctly.

Despite reading the first book only weeks ago for the Hugo ballots, I was unprepared for Raven Stratagem. I thought I had finally grasped the terminology and concepts introduced in Ninefox Gambit – calendrical warfare, rot and swords, heresy, the broad strokes of the societal structure. That was just the 101. Raven Stratagem lobs even more terminology and complex social structure at the reader. I found myself rereading sections over and over again to parse their meaning. But despite having permanent question marks for eyes while reading, I didn’t want to put the book down.

Ninefox Gambit ended with such a twist that I fully expected that to be the case here and I was not disappointed! I was expecting a twist and even though I was looking for clues, I was still surprised when it happened. Once the twist(s) were revealed, a number of details added up and I saw the trail of breadcrumbs Yoon Ha Lee left for the reader to find.

I found the characters to be really compelling and well developed with strong individual personalities and motivations. Yoon Ha Lee doesn’t spend a lot of time spelling things out for us as readers, which does lead to some confusion on a conceptual scale, when applied to characters he does an excellent job of showing us why characters behave the way they do.

Even in novel about war Yoon Ha Lee finds the space to be inclusive. The society he’s built has a fluid relationship with gender and pronouns and sexual identity. Family structures aren’t limited to one or two parents – they’re open to any number of parents of any combination of genders.

Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem are books I can see myself rereading again and again, while I look for clues I missed the first time around.

Raven Stratagem is the second book in the Machineries of Empire series and was released June 13, 2017. I believe it is the final book.