Friday, September 30, 2022

The best american science fiction and fantasy, 2022, edited by Rebecca Roanhorse and John Joseph Adams


I have started to really enjoy these best of the year anthologies - it’s a great way for someone like me, who usually prefers single author short story collections, to catch up on recent short fiction. This one was great! It has gems from such favorites of mine as Sam J Miller and Catherynne Valente. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

 The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal 

I have been eagerly awaiting this book for years! I have loved Mary Robinette Kowal ever since the Calculating Stars. Actually, I fell in love with her writing before that - she wrote a blog post on tor dot com before that book came out about her visit to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab that was just amazing and has stuck with me for years. I loved the Fated Sky just as much (if not more so) than the Calculating Stars, and I went back and found a short story collection of hers, Word Puppets, that was great, and I really enjoyed Ghosttalkers as well. So when she announced her next book was going to be “The Thin Man” in space, I was immediately hooked. 

In college I discovered noir. A good friend of mine introduced me to Bogart movies, and I found an omnibus at the school library of Daishell Hammett’s novels and I devoured them. The Thin Man was not my favorite of his works, but I still enjoyed it a lot so I had very high hopes for Ms. Kowal’s new novel and I was over the moon when I was given an eARC from Tor and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

There was a lot I liked about this novel. I liked the future this book shows, where people can take a cruise ship from Earth to Mars, with all of the wonderful ridiculousness of cruise ships in a science fictional setting. I loved the dialog and the writing style - the book is a page turner, like all of Ms. Kowal’s books. 

But I hated the protagonists. The narrator is Tesla Crane, and the name just makes me wince. I know how revered Nikola Tesla is in scientific circles but in 2022 it’s hard not to associate the name with Elon Musk, which is a much less pleasant association. Tesla is an incredibly wealthy scientist and engineer who was injured in an accident years ago and still suffers from physical and mental injuries. The way her chronic pain and PTSD were written felt very realistic. The problem is her wealth. I know the protagonists of the Thin Man were wealthy during the depression but it reads really different in this novel. Tesla’s spouse is arrested very early in the book by the cruise ship’s security and Tesla’s reaction to that makes her look like the solar system’s worst Karen. She uses her money to act terribly to ship’s security, most of whom are just doing their job, and it really soured me on her character early on and for the rest of the novel. Her pompous, expensive, high powered attorney is meant to come off as funny but is just obnoxious. 

Furthermore, the mystery doesn’t feel fair. I won’t spoil it here, but much of it involves clues that we are either never given or given so late in the book that it isn’t satisfying at all. The solution feels like it’s pulled out of left field. 

The book still has more positive than negative attributes, but it is not Ms. Kowal’s best work. 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Number One Fan by Meg Elison


I read The Pill by Meg Elison when it was nominated for the Hugo Award last year -it was one of the best stories I have read in years and it still haunts me to this day. In the third year of a global pandemic that most people, including our public health experts, seem to want to ignore despite nothing changing medically, makes it feel all too real. So when I saw a novel by Ms. Elison on NetGalley, I happily requested an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

This book is not SF exactly, but is definitely SF adjacent. In this novel, a popular fantasy author is kidnapped and tortured, and the story invokes some thinly veiled versions of fannish awards and controversies to add to the backstory of the rapey incel who is the antagonist. This was a hard book to read. It is obviously leaning heavily on Misery by Steven King, as the title would suggest, but the torture was visceral and painful to endure even as a reader. 

The author undercut the tension early in the novel when she cut away to the victim’s assistant and later to an FBI agent instead of keeping the perspective close on the victim. Also, those side characters felt less fleshed out than I would’ve expected. 

The book really made me want to throw it against a wall, through, when dealing with the law enforcement aspects of the plot (and later, the trial part also).  The author took pains in parts of the book to have her protagonist mention that the protagonist was an author who met with and learned from real police detectives in order to be able to authentically write about police investigations. This makes it all the more irritating (and ironic, I guess?) that the actual investigation into the kidnapping in this novel was so unbelievably bad. In the real world, the investigators would’ve gotten the victim’s historical cell site data which would’ve let them know where her phone had been taken. They also would probably have tried to get real time cell site location data once the kidnapper started answering the victim’s phone and posting from it on social media. In addition, the trial part drove me up a wall. No judge worth their robes would have allowed the type of questioning that the defense attorney got away with in the novel. And it was s criminal trial, so the prosecutor is NOT the victim’s lawyer, a mistake Ms. Elison made more than once. 

Those problems aside, the book did have enjoyable parts and kept me reading to find out what happened. It wasn’t for me, but it might be for you. 

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Ruby Fever by Ilona Andrews


My wife has enjoyed Ilona Andrews’s books for years, so when I saw a new book from them on NetGalley, I requested a copy from the publisher. Thanks for the eARC! Let’s see what my wife has to say:

The end of Catalina‘s story was less satisfying than I hoped. There was something a bit awkward about the way this book was written, almost as if the authors were simply tired of this portion of the series. Nevada’s story ended much stronger, and this is actually quite a bit weaker than the previous book in Catalina’s series. However, it was still enjoyable, it left me looking forward to when they kick off the next series. 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia


I didn’t know what to expect from this fantasy novella. The description was intriguing- a Persian inspired secondary world fantasy with blood magic? I decided to give it a whirl, thanks to an eARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I really enjoyed this book! The writing style was both lyrical and down to earth, if that makes any sense. The descriptions of the different kinds of magic made just enough sense without feeling like you were being weighed down with a Player’s Handbook. I got a little bit squeamish about some of the medical descriptions during an autopsy, but it wasn’t anything over the top. The mystery fooled me - I didn’t see who the perpetrator was until only a page before the reveal, and I liked how the author and the narrator both acknowledge that the antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be evil. I think the author mostly handled the cast of characters well, although the mother character was such a nonentity that she could’ve been excised easily. I also really appreciated both the realistic sibling relationship and the well-realized trans, ace, and non-binary  characters. I definitely recommend this book and will look for more from the author in the future. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys


I requested this book from Netgalley based on the recommendation of Seanan McGuire, one of my favorite authors who often recommends books on Twitter that I end up liking. It’s billed as a new take on a first contact story, which I was really in the mood for - I feel like I’m reading a lot more fantasy lately and not enough science fiction. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy fantasy, I do! But science fiction is where my heart lies, and between Hugo reading and other stuff, I realized I’m reading a lot more fantasy than science fiction and I miss spaceships and robots. A Half-Built Garden doesn’t have any robots,  it it has some cool spaceships in it so that’s a win!

But seriously- the main conceit in the book is that a near-future Earth is just barely climbing it’s way out of a climate crisis, and traditional governments and corporations don’t hold the same kind of sway they used to - at least not everywhere. Instead there are a number of environmental reclamation zones that are self-governed by a mixture of leading edge science and Reddit-style consensus. The Earth stuff alone is fascinating and well-written and I could’ve devoured another 200 pages of backstory here. But into this world lands an alien ship making contact - these aliens destroyed their world and live on a ringworld and are seeking out other life forms to rescue them from what they believe is the inevitable doom of a planetary existence. The rub is that humanity is divided - the corporations are ready to jump ship and strip mine a whole new solar system, while the protagonists want to have a chance to actually finish fixing the earth and don’t want to be forced to leave. 

This was a truly wonderful book. I even enjoyed the parts I didn’t like - for example, I found the multiparty-marriage setup of the protagonists to be off putting and unpleasant- mainly because the narrator and her primary wife seemed to have rushed into it and it didn’t feel like a fully realized, vibrant relationship. I also felt like the corporate presentation veered towards caricature on occasions. But overall the story felt honest and loving and kind and just what I wonted. It was also nice to see a Jewish protagonist that actually felt Jewish. Representation matters, and I always like to feel like there is a place for me in this genre. 

Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

I also got an audiobook eARC from MacMillian Audio and NetGalley and it was excellent! Sometimes lately I find narrators too slow for me and I need to speed them up, but not here! The narrator was excellent. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Someone in Time edited by Jonathan Strahan

As I have said before on more than one occasion, I am wary of anthologies - I worry about changes in quality and tonal whiplash between stories in themed multi-author collections. But when I saw the lineup for this time travel romance themed anthology I had to try it! (Thanks again to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.) Some of my favs are in here, including Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Theodora Goss, Sarah Gailey, and Alix Harrow. I really enjoyed the McGuire story especially.