The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Title: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I was automatically approved for a review copy of this book by NetGalley, and despite the utter hassle getting an epub onto my nook has become these days, for the fourth (and final) book in the Wayfarers series I would have endured worse. With the previous book being a slight disappointment for me compared to the first two, I approached this one with a little more caution. I needn’t have. It is absolutely bloody fantastic.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feels like it brings together elements from all three of the previous books. The adventures of space similar to Angry Planet, the limited number of main characters akin to Common Orbit, and the feeling of isolation from a Spaceborn Few. It takes those elements and makes something wholly new and wonderful.

All five of the main characters are loveable, another common trait for this series of books. Roveg was my standout favourite, though. For someone with a literal hard shell, he was so soft at heart. Similarly, Ouloo, the host of where this group are stranded for several long days, only wants everyone to be happy and does everything she can to make that happen. Pei and Speaker were fascinating, both individually, but especially together; their tentative relationship and the juxtaposition of both their species’ histories. Tupo is the glue holding all the other characters together, simultaneously a moody teenager and a ball of curious energy, xe was definitely my second favourite character.

With an unforeseen hiatus from their travels and stuck for several days on a pit-stop planet with nowhere to go, every single character goes on a journey regardless. They learn from each other, about each other, and give each other advice. There is a blast of action at the start of the book, and some tense action at the end. The middle is a quiet and meaningful meander from one to the other. The characters gradually give up more of themselves and their stories as they get to know one another, and on the whole it was just so peaceful.

Of course, there is the amazing world building that Chambers writes so well. Details and information dotted and sprinkled throughout, always adding depth and interest to the characters; the various species, cultures, and social norms; as well as to the story as a whole. The book touches on important topics as commonplace as dietary requirements, accessibility, and language, to equally important but more philosophical topics such as the concept of home, the merits of war, and the erasure of an entire species.

This book is just… so… lovely. It left me with a feeling of such warmth. A group of such diverse folk in a difficult situation, all making the best of it, being nice and considerate to each other. What does it say about the real world (or perhaps my perceptions of it), that a book about people simply being kind to each other affected me so much?

They say that sometimes a book finds you exactly when you need it. I think for me this was one of those books at one of those times. I didn’t want this book to end. I felt safe while I was reading it, and dragged it out far longer than I needed to. But I just absolutely adored this book. I’m sad to see this series end, but look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Summary: One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just began, and the Galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: After failing spectacularly at reading during 2020, i have set my sights incredibly low for 2021. I have a goal of six books, and the low-pressure of ensuring those books are whatever i want. Graphic novels, short story magazines, and novellas? Yes please.

Which brings me to my first book of 2021: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve seen the film, so I knew the basic plot. Science fiction is pretty much my favourite genre (if you’re making me choose!). I know it’s light-hearted and silly. And, obviously, it’s short. I started reading it on the first of January with the only aim to finish it by the end of the month. Yay me–I managed it!

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It has plenty of chuckle and snort out loud moments (nothing quite as strong as a laugh). The dialogue was perfection–so simple, with characters repeating themselves and stating the obvious and just… being real, i suppose. It was (pardon the pun) down to earth, relatable, and made for easy reading.

The characters are fun, and while the book as a whole is quite cheerful, it does touch on a couple more serious things. Namely Zaphod’s discovery that he has messed with his own brain and memories, and Marvin the robot’s depression. My favourite character by far is our main lead, Arthur Dent. He’s just… so… frank? Restrained? Unassertive? British? He somehow both doesn’t at all keep up with the new world around him, and also keeps up so well he gets ahead of it a time or two. And, of course, there’s my favourite line:

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realised what it was.
“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

For a book set in space, it is very British, and I can’t deny I love that about it.

My main issue with the book is how hard it’s trying. To be silly, to include random facts, and to elbow in little stories. I enjoy silly random facts and stories as much as anyone who picks up this book knowing what they’re getting into. But. But i like them to be relevant to the story, not just a random aside. This links in strongly with my dislike of footnotes; I just think if it’s important enough to mention–put it in the main body of the bloody story. This book bypasses that issue by putting random snippets not at all important in the main body of the story. It did feel like being forced to read footnotes and i kind of hated it.

Of course, only having one female character and all the action happening at the very start and very end of the book didn’t help either.

But still, overall it was a good read. As light-hearted and fun as i’d expected, if not quite as outstanding overall as i’d hoped. I’ll probably give the next book in the series a go, mostly because i have no idea what happens in the sequels, and that could be even more fun.

Goddess Mode

Title: Goddess Mode

Author: Zoe Quinn, Robbi Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Summary: In a near future where all of humanity’s needs are administered by a godlike A.I., it’s one young woman’s horrible job to do tech support on it. But when Cassandra finds herself violently drawn into a hidden and deadly digital world beneath our own, she discovers a group of super-powered women and horrific monsters locked in a secret war for the cheat codes to reality.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4

Review: I’ve been reading these comics as they’ve come out, which isn’t something I normally do because I have no patience and want to read it all at once. But my partner was the one buying them, and they were there and the story sounded interesting and by the second or third comic i was hooked. So here were are.

It’s a no-brainer, really–this series has everything I love. Science fiction, strong female leads, bright colours with a gritty realism, intrigue, and cliffhangers. The dystopian world the story is set in is one that is easy to imagine in our foreseeable future. Adverts everywhere you look because you have nanotech in your eyeballs, a holographic AI popping up to tell you things, oh, and an entire digital world, pseudo-superheroes, and the monsters they fight. That last bit is less foreseeable.

The story is pretty complex for short six-part comics, but never overwhelmingly so. With four main characters and at least four more supporting, they all have their own backstory and character development which feeds into the story as a whole. I loved the main-main character, Cassandra. Her spunky attitude and great hair made me fond very quickly. She’s smart, but overwhelmed, and with huge emotional investment in everything that goes on. My other favourite characters were Tatyanna for her misanthropic cynicism and well-hidden kindness, and Antimony for rocking that eye patch and being so much more than the mother of monsters she was taken for.

Of course, the artwork is freaking gorgeous. So much bright, rich texture and depth. How vibrant Azoth, the digital world, is compared to the “real” analogue world. The quiet simplicity in some frames and the bold chaotic action in others. It’s definitely a comic I’ve wanted to stop and look at a lot more than others, and completely brings to life this incredible world in a science fiction and fantasy mix.

The ending wonderfully tied up several plot threads and left me feeling satisfied, while also unravelling a few more and leaving me in anticipation of a sequel. And now I wait…


The Ask and the Answer

Title: The Ask and the Answer

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd and Viola once again their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.

Immediately imprisoned and separated from Viola, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order.

And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I was blown away by the first book in the Chaos Walking series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, so I was excited to get to this one. I was hooked straight back in almost immediately and pretty much spent two full days ploughing through it.

It picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, which i appreciated. After travelling for so long, through so much danger and unknown towns, seeing Todd and Viola arrive straight into Mayor Prentiss’ hands… I needed to know how they would react to that. And although quite a lot of time passes over the course of the book, it never feels rushed, or that time is skipped. Time, events, and relationships evolve and are given the time to realistically develop and change. All without dragging, either, which is quite an accomplishment.

The characters and relationships were really the most important things for me with this book. We have characters from the first book: Todd, Viola, Mayor Prentiss, Davy Prentiss, and even Wilf. But we have new characters too: Mayor Ledger, Mistress Coyle, Maddy, Corinne, 1017, Lee. Viola and Todd are separated for a large portion of the book, and there is a lot of manipulation and parallels going on in their arcs. Mayor Prentiss with Todd and Davy, and Mistress Coyle with Viola and Lee. Seeing characters being pushed and pulled into situations and actions they disliked, but feeling like they had no other choice was heartbreaking, but wonderfully portrayed.

Really, I just wanted Todd and Viola to say, “Fuck aaaaaall of this,” and run away together. Of course, with Viola’s ships headed in from space, that wasn’t exactly a realistic option. As Todd himself very aptly put it:

Better the devil you know.
I wonder why the only choice is twixt two devils, tho.

And really, two devils is right. Mayor Prentiss is an all out nasty piece of work, but Mistress Coyle… well, i didn’t trust her from the start. She might sound reasonable, but she’s too ruthless in what she thinks is “right”.

I cried far too hard for one particular character who I didn’t even think i’d warmed to that much. And after everything in the first book I cannot believe Ness had me crying over Davy fucking Prentiss, but here we are. Lee grew on my slowly. If anything in the book seemed too rushed, it was his character and the closeness that grew between him and Viola. I’m not opposed to it, it just seemed to develop too quickly. And I particularly didn’t like the scene, after Viola gets fierce, shouts down Mistress Coyle, and storms off to rescue Todd… when five seconds later she and Lee are joking and giggling? Huge and sudden mood shift just to wedge in a bit of flirting.

My only other major complaint about the book is about how things unfolded. Not in terms of plot, but in terms of plans. Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle are both doing an awful lot of manipulation, double-crossing, and long-term strategy… and it all, always, seems to work out just as they plan. When their plans involve understanding other people enough to influence and control them into doing the exact things you want or anticipating exactly how they will act and using that to their advantage… I just don’t buy that it will workout how you need it to every. Single. Time. Especially when I, as the reader, predict them correctly every. Single. Time, too. When Todd and Viola are puppeted so often, I find it unbelievable they wouldn’t figure it out or second guess things the second, third, fourth time they’re manipulated and maneuvered.

As predictable as the book was for me in most ways, I adored it because I love these characters. Todd and his purity, Viola and her strength… I needed to follow them through this story and see them triumph. Which, well… let’s just say i need to get the third and final book as soon as freaking possible!

Rocannon’s World

Title: Rocannon’s World

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: On the far planet of Fomalhaut II, where three races lived in uneasy peace, the Starlords has landed generations back in their great ships to levy tribute on behalf of the League of All Worlds. Now disaster had struck, and Rocannon, the expedition leader, was marooned on this distant world, eight years away from the nearest planet.

His friends murdered and his spaceship destroyed. Rocannon led the battle to save Fomalhaut II, in strange alliance with the three native races–the cavern-dwelling Gdemiar, the elvish Fiia and the warrior-clan Liuar. And in that desperate battle against an alien foe they myths were born and the legends grew. They were not his people, but the place became ROCANNON’S WORLD.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’m still slowly working my way through the books in the Hainish Cycle series and have yet to be disappointed. This one consists of two short but linked stories: The Necklace and The Starlord. I enjoyed them both.

Although strictly speaking a science fiction story there were, on the whole, more elements of fantasy. It is set on a world cut off from space travel and advanced technology, and instead they have swords and giant flying cats and castles and various intelligent beings. With most of the characters not grasping the technology that was described and mentioned and the general setting very fantasy-like, it gave me a similar vibe to the world in The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War and i loved that.

The second, longer, story is told from the point of view of Rocannon–the starlord of the title. He’s a space traveller who has been to many different worlds, but finds himself stranded on this one when his ship and crewmates get destroyed. With the help of the native inhabitants of the planet, he sets off on a mission to contact his own people and get revenge on those who killed his friends. Along the way he learns a lot about this world, the other beings that live on it, as well as communication, friendship, and loyalty.

I pretty much loved all the main characters. There was no real tension in their personalities or relationships with each other. They were just together, helping each other till the end of their journey. I loved that. The adventures, dangers, and discoveries along the way were fun, thrilling, and wonderful in turn… almost like mini stories within this already quite short one, and I’m not sure I could pick a favourite!

The writing, as always with Le Guin, was wonderful. She’s so succinct here; never verbose or unnecessary. In an objective way, you could say the writing is quite straightforward, describing only what happens, often getting straight to the point. But for all the writing doesn’t mess around or meander, it holds the important things. Including the emotional parts of the story. I felt for these characters, their journey, and this world. I wanted things to work out well. I even cared about the giant flying cats they rode everywhere, wanting them to get enough food and rest! It’s just… wonderful writing!

The end of the book seemed to come on fast, with the book never wasting time or dawdling along, and I really appreciated that. As fast as it came, and as much as I already understood the ending from the title and summary of the book, the very last line still hit me with such an emotional punch… I’m not afraid to say i welled up.

The Wheel of Osheim

Title: The Wheel of Osheim

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued.

For Jalan Kendeth, getting out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. The key can open any lock an possession of it may enable Jal to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his debauched life: wine, women and wagering.

But the Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: From my review of the previous book in this series, The Liar’s Key:

“[I’m] very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.”

Let me tell you… I was not disappointed.

Jalan is just… one of my favourite characters ever, actually. His self-deception is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s convinced himself he’s a coward who’d give up his nearest and dearest to save his own skin, while continuing to never, ever do that, and he’s just so likeable for it. Seeing him really, truly come into his own and show people what he’s capable of (even if he’s not one of those people) was satisfying to see. And Snorri… the big, beautiful, bozo that is Snorri. Continuing to see and believe only the best in Jal, being so righteous and noble and good, and just having the biggest heart and the loudest roar.

The friendship between Jal and Snorri really shines in this book, after seeing them bond over so many adventures in the previous books. And the fact that they’re not together for a portion of the book only made me appreciate their interactions and how they work together all the more. It also was wonderful having some of Snorri’s story when he was alone, and getting to see what Snorri really thinks of Jal and no i did not tear up with happiness about it, shut up.

Unfortunately Kara and Hennan still feeling too much like tacked on extras and plot devices, rather than fully realised characters. Kara still comes across as very suspicious and not wholly likable, which disappointed me. Hennan is too quiet and not utilised in enough (or in any?) ways until he proves useful towards the climax of the book (see: plot device). It was nice getting to appreciate more characters that had been painted as worthless or horrible by Jal, most notably the genuine connection Jal finally recognises and acknowledges with his father and brothers. The Red Queen continues to be a kick arse and formidable woman, along with her twin siblings. I loved Jal letting his mouth run, standing up to her and instead of giving her the key, giving her what for! The sudden respect that earns him from her, and how that leads and affects the rest of the story is brilliant.

Talking of the story… it is non-stop. What Liar’s Key lacked in a plot to keep the book moving, this book improved on tenfold. There is never a dull moment… almost to the point of wanting a dull moment. Almost. It was unnerving at first, Jal reappearing from Hell without Snorri and no explanation. I was worried about Snorri until his magnificent reappearance that literally had me whooping. There was just no let up… Jal’s meeting with Jorg, his rescue of Lisa, how he conclusively dealt with Maeres Allus, how he earned everyone’s respect by being a freaking incredible general (after convincing himself he’d done a half-arsed job of it up until they were attacked)… just. So much. And that’s only in the first half.

There was a lot packed into this book, and even though I knew there would be confrontations for Jal with Edris Dean and his Unborn sister… when they came they surprised me. With so much going on I stopped thinking about what might happen and just needed to keep reading to actually find out. I was a bit ‘meh’ on the ending of Lawrence’s first series The Broken Empire, but this one was brilliant. It was satisfying with enough possibility to keep me guessing. It had relief without compromising on emotion and genuinely high stakes. It was pretty perfect.

Other than the witty, clever, and endlessly quotable writing, the genre of these book is my absolute favourite thing about them. It’s a perfect science fiction and fantasy meld. I love it. Set a thousand years after a nuclear war that happens in our conceivable future, it hints at a history and technology the characters don’t fully understand. I had so much fun trying to figure out what Jal was describing, because they don’t have a clue. A white cube with “ghosts” inside. The builder’s wheel that’s been turning all this time and bringing magic into the world. And my personal favourite… a freaking iron pineapple!! This is such a good, niche genre, and I want 100 more books written in this vein immediately.

I read this book in a week which, along with Prince of Thorns, is the quickest I’ve read any of the books in either series. I could barely stop reading it, and when I did I was only thinking about reading it. It’s incredible how everything ties up with The Broken Empire series and I really want to re-read both series with the insight I now have. Of course, who has time for that when I need to be getting on with the next series?

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: From the ground, we stand.
From our ships, we live.
By the stars, we hope.

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: This is the third book in the Wayfarers series, and I absolutely adored the first too. So, of course, my expectations for this one were almost astronomically high. When it took me nearly two months to read this book, I was a little disappointed.

Now, let me start by saying this book isn’t bad. This book has all the wonderful, warm, friendly, and inviting writing of Chambers’ other work. It’s easy to read, curled up with a cup of tea. It has ups and downs, but never so much that it’s stressful or overly tense. It folds you into the pages with its words and you could happily stay there forever.

It has fantastically complex and interesting characters. Kip was my favourite; a teenager ready to really start living his life, but finding himself cautious and unsure of what to do with himself. Eyas was another wonderful character; she seemed wise beyond her years in many ways, but despite having the most respected job in the fleet isn’t happy or fulfilled enough.

It has incredible world building, awesome science fiction, explores engaging concepts, and depicts more unusual lifestyle choices with respect. The fleet is incredible–a collection of huge ships, on which humans live in large and small communities. The way they have adapted to life in space, while still keeping many aspects and traditions from Earth is bizarre and unique. The ideas of being afraid of being on land, of favouring a barter system over currency, of embracing the new while not losing all of the old… these are so interesting to examine and consider. I loved that sex work is a vital part of the fleet and, like most things, is provided free to anyone who needs it, and the reasons people both make use of the service and choose the line of work is thoughtfully and wonderfully done. This is the same for open relationships, communal living, and more much subtler things.

But.

But I’m only giving this book three and a half stars. For all I loved the things above, this book lacked cohesion. Other than one or two small overlapping events, there was no one driving story to this book. That may be wholly intentional. Each of the main characters has their own, smaller story. A personal journey. More like four or five vignettes than a singular cohesive novel. Which, I might have enjoyed more, but for the fact it feels like the individuals’ stories have attempted to be pulled together under some vague all-encompassing umbrella, but misses the mark. I enjoyed the book when I was reading it, but with a lack of driving action, of true stakes, and binding narrative… i had very little desire to pick it up and continue reading it. It was nice, but it wasn’t thrilling. It was well-written and interesting, but lacked any kind of powerful plot. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Chambers remains an auto-buy author for me, and I do look forward to whatever she has coming next… I just hope it has the momentum A Spaceborn Few was missing.

Women of Wonder

Title: Women of Wonder

Author: Various

Summary: In Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent has assembled a collection of amazing stories which show that some of the most exciting and innovative writing in science fiction is being produced by women.

That Only a Mother (1948) story by Judith Merril
Contagion (1950) novelette by Katherine MacLean
The Wind People (1959) story by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Ship Who Sang (1961) novelette by Anne McCaffrey
When I Was Miss Dow (1966) story by Sonya Dorman
The Food Farm (1967) story by Kit Reed
Baby, You Were Great (1967) story by Kate Wilhelm
Sex &/or Mr. Morrison (1967) story by Carol Emshwiller
Vaster Than Empires & More Slow (1971) novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin
False Dawn (1972) story by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Nobody’s Home (1972) story by Joanna Russ
Of Mist, & Grass, & Sand (1973) novelette by Vonda N. McIntyre

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I found out about this book when i was gifted the Penguin Science Fiction Postcards collection. A quick google later and I discovered there were several books in this series–all science fiction short stories by women. I am into every single aspect of that with a passion, and it wasn’t long later that I had sourced the entire series of books secondhand online and had them in my possession. So now, I’m working my way through them!

I’ll be honest… I skipped the introduction. It might have been brilliant and I could have loved it, but i wanted at these stories. If it had been written by Le Guin I’d have been all over that; I could read her non-fiction analysis essays all. Damn. Day. But whatever, i went straight for the heart of this book: the short stories.

Each chapter had a little introduction to the author and a short synopsis of the story. This was nice, giving some context and setting the scene for each story. It also helps now, when I’m skipping backwards and forwards through the book to write about the stories, to jog my memory about which is which. (I’m crap with names and titles!)

Let’s start with my favourites. Plural, because there were a few strong ones here.

The Ship Who Sang was one of the first to really stand out for me. I got the novel in my December 2016 Prudence of the Crow vintage book subscription box, but of course, have not yet read it. So it was wonderful to read this short story version, however it has only left me wanting to dive into the full novel, to fully meet these characters and get utterly emotionally invested.

Baby You Were Great was that perfect balance of fascinating new-tech sci-fi and creepy fucked up sci-fi. The idea that everything you see and even feel can be recorded for other people to experience, and how that can be exploited and manipulated. Lots to digest and unpack here, and that’s how I love my science fiction!

Of course, Le Guin. Vaster Than Empires & More Slow was truly a mini-novel, it packed in so much. I could barely keep track of the characters (again, i’m bad with names, okay?), but there were only a few that really mattered here. Exploring the concept of empathy, how it can shape relationships, and how knowing how others are feeling can actually be very isolating.

In a much more subtle, understated way, I also really loved Nobody’s Home. In a world where instantaneous travel exists, this story speculates how that might affect love and family and friendships, in such an open and lovely way. It also touches on genetic engineering and the value placed on intelligence–higher and higher.

There were a few stories I was really drawn into, but ultimately let down by, too.

The one I have the strongest feelings about is False Dawn. Set in a polluted dystopia this story was at first really interesting, following a mutant woman with archery skills who was being hunted by pirates. I was all in on this narrative… until it took a terrible turn, leaving our main character defenseless, mutilated, raped, and suddenly falling in love with the random bloke who rescues her. Erm… no, thank you.

Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand was another story that was very compelling, but that didn’t quite do enough for me. Supposedly set in a post-technological word, there was nothing that struck me as obviously post-tech–it could just have easily been pre-tech, or non-existent-tech, or irrelevant-tech. I didn’t connect enough with the main character. She seemed interesting, but was a little too aloof and mysterious… so much so that I didn’t care enough about her.

There were also several decent three-star stories in here. Contagion, The Wind People, and Sex and/or Mr Morrison all sparked my interest and fascination in one way or another.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, and reading stories written by and specifically about women. I will always need more feminist science fiction in my life, and I can’t wait to read more in this series.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.

But Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.

Or are there?

Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible.

Prentisstown has been lying to him. And now he’s going to have to run…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book has been languishing on my shelf for a few years now. It found its way onto a shortlist for my chirstmas/new year dystopian read, and honestly I thought I was going to be able to rule it out, because a couple of reviews had mentioned their annoyance with the “hillbilly” narrative voice. I read the first few pages to see how much it would irritate me, except instead of being irritated, I was highly amused and instantly in love.

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo, Todd.”

If that alone doesn’t make you want to read this book, I don’t think I can help convince you otherwise.

The concept is fascinating, and how the writing deals with the idea of people hearing each other’s thoughts is really well done–people talking, but also answering unasked, but thought, questions and making reference to the not-so-private ideas of others. The entire time I was reading I was also considering what that would be like–the things people would hear and see in my own Noise, and how one might try to hide, confuse, or distract certain lines of thought. Some really interesting things to read and consider.

I loved the characters. Todd is naive, but he’s also very much a product of his environment, and it was wonderful to watch him discover everything he knew was twisted and false in some way, and see how he responded to the truth as it was revealed to him. Ben and Cillian my heart opened to and embraced immediately–their love for Todd and everything they had done for him was so clear. They might not be in the book much, but they are certainly my favourites. Hildy and Tam are also wonderful, and again, though we see them quite briefly, I secretly hold out hope they will return in the next books. And Viola, of course. I warmed to her gradually, as Todd did. But she’s smart and quick and determined, and damn if she’s not awesome.

Setting a quick pace, the story starts moving immediately. It’s that brilliant kind of book that doesn’t give all it’s secrets away at once, only hinting and nudging at missing information and things to come. I had to keep reading–I had to know more, had to see what would happen. Unfortunately this momentum met a lull somewhere in the middle of the book, with there being lots of walking and sneaking and looking, but not much doing. Todd and Viola quickly get into the habit of running away, away from people and places… and plot. This began to drag, and I found myself waiting for the story to pick up again, rather than enjoying what I was reading at the time.

Thankfully the plot does pick up again, and in spectacular fashion in the final few chapters. So much so I was swept up in it all once again. Last night I only intended to read one chapter before going to sleep… instead I was up until gone midnight finishing the book days ahead of schedule. Oops?

The ending is… well, without spoilers I can’t really say how unexpectedly perfect and shocking and tense it was. With everything left teetering, I’ll need to get the next book in the series sharpish. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Places in the Darkness

Title: Places in the Darkness

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.

There has never been a homicide on Ciudad de Cielo. It’s the “City in the Sky,” where hundreds of scientists and engineers live and work in Earth’s orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.

So when the mutilated body of a common criminal is found, the eyes of the world are watching. Nearly every government and corporation on Earth has a stake in catching humanity’s first space-bound killer.

One deadly crime threatens our future among the stars.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: One of my favourite authors, who usually writes crime/crime comedy, writing my favourite genre, science fiction? Of course I was all over this. I think this is the first time I’ve read a Brookmyre book before my partner (who discovered his books years ago and all but bullied me into reading them)! Now I can’t wait for him to read it too, so we can talk about it!

This book is, in many ways, quintessentially Brookmyre… but in space. I knew i was going to love it very, very early on. Spaceship, zero gravity, time zones, awesome characters, queer representation, suspense, drop of gore, bit of mystery and intrigue, hints at bigger things… and all in the first two chapters. I was invested.

The two main characters are Nikki and Alice. And if there’s one thing Brookmyre never fails on, it’s characters. I want him to do a masterclass on character creation, because he’s incredible at it. Nikki is self-assured and well-connected, helping to keep the seedy underbelly of this spaceship running smoothly and safely. Alice is the new straight-laced head honcho on the ship, looking to stamp out that underbelly. Working sort-of together on a murder case, things don’t go smoothly for either of them. I loved them both, yet they both frustrated me as well. I wanted them to team up from the get-go, but of course that wouldn’t have been as interesting for the plot.

And the plot. It is both a simple idea, and a many-layered beast. I loved it. There are a few things going on that don’t seem connected, but are all obviously important. A murderer, a gang war, some light civil unrest, string pulling, bribery, memory loss… I had no idea how it was all going to tie into the bigger picture, but Brookmyre makes it so simple by the end. And although I knew the general “twists” in the story (the clues are all there, if you’re playing attention), it was the details–the hows and whys–that I was looking forward to in the climax.

Of course, it’s science fiction, so this new and exciting aspect of Brookmyre’s writing was what truly shone for me. This new space-society, the reasons people would want to live there and the reasons they would leave Earth. The three simultaneous timezones meaning it’s morning, day, and night at the same time, for different people. The technological advancements, including lenses and wrist discs, allowing facial recognition, communication, and news feeds to be displayed and interacted with wherever you’re looking. Even down to the small things, such as weapon safety on a spaceship leaving darts and glorified glue guns as the deadliest force available. And most notably–as any decent sci-fi must–it explores ethics, sociology, philosophy, and more. And damn it if that shit doesn’t fascinate me.

There’s just… a lot to love about this book, okay? If you love crime and science fiction, this one is for you. It’s a crime drama, set in a not-to-distance science fiction future, and I’ve not read that very interesting combo before. (Though maybe Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? counts…) It is a genre crossover I will be looking for more of, though. I really, really want Brookmyre to write more of them, and if Nikki and Alice make an appearance, I wouldn’t be too upset.