Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Somebody’s Fool by Richard Russo


As I have mentioned before, I have loved everything Richard Russo has written.  I first learned about him when looking for a birthday present for a friend.  I saw Empire Falls in paperback in a Boston Barnes and Noble in like 2003 or so and it looked so good, I bought two copies - one for him and one for me.  I think this was before it had won the Pulitzer Prize.  I found it unputdownable.  His characters were so real and relatable, and the world was so perfectly drawn. My only complaint there was the time jump. 

I went back and started reading his entire back catalog and loved it all (though a few of his other books also used a time jump to skip past difficult parts). 

I especially loved Nobody’s Fool, set in the small upstate New York town of North Bath. Its characters were indelibly stuck in my brain, so I was delighted when, a few years ago, he came out with a sequel years after the original called Everybody’s Fool. That became a new favorite. So I was over the moon when I found out Mr. Russo was continuing the story with a third book, Somebody’s Fool. 

This book is a pretty direct continuation from the second novel, set a few years later. The main focal characters are Raymer, no longer police chief now, Sully’s son Peter, and Sully’s former lover Ruth (and her daughter Janey). The book was absolutely riveting and remarkable and it filled me with the joy only an incredibly well written book can. I had a few issues with the lack of consequences for an utterly awful unredeemable cop because it seemed illogical based on everything else in the narrative, but that’s a minor quibble. This was a joy to read. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Witch King by Martha Wells


We all love Murderbot, right? Murderbot is one of the absolute best characters to come out of SF in years. I remember when I read the description of Martha Wells’s All Systems Red and thought to myself “I’ve got to put that on hold at the library!”  And I was right - it was excellent. I have eagerly awaited each new Murderbot book and also read some of the Rakusa series when it was nominated for the Best Series Hugo. So I was very excited when NetGalley and tordotcom gave me an eARC of Ms. Wells’s new fantasy, The Witch King, in exchange for an honest review. 

And it was great! But maybe not as great as I was hoping? I think maybe I doomed it with unfairly high expectations. You see, the thing about the Murderbot books that really resonate are Murderbot itself, and to a lesser extent, ART. Those characters feel so real and so perfect that they carry me through. Sometimes the secondary characters feel like ciphers but I always took that to be because Murderbot doesn’t pay that much attention to them. 

The Witch King starts out strong, and ends strong, but there are so many characters with similar sounding names that even the Dramatis Personae section in the front of the book couldn’t always help me remember who was who. I never really felt I got to know many of them, and the protagonist, Kai, was not nearly interesting enough to carry the story the way Murderbot can. I never really felt like I knew why I should be rooting for Kai. 

I also didn’t love the structure interspersing flashback chapters after every chapter or every other chapter. Especially because each chapter was so long, it felt like it robbed the story of narrative urgency.  Also, the book felt like it was too long for the story it was telling and I would’ve enjoyed this more at novella length. 

This review feels like a lot of complaining. Don’t get me wrong - I did enjoy the book. The world building was interesting and there were a number of fun set-pieces. It just wasn’t the home run I had been hoping for. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Small Change series by Jo Walton

I love Jo Walton! Well, I only met her once at a book signing, and she was perfectly delightful, but I mean to say is that I love her books. 

I first encountered her in 2013, when I checked Among Others out from the library - I knew it had won the Hugo and the Nebula Awards and I I wanted to check it out.  I was in love with this book.  I loved the protagonist and I loved the magic.  I remember reading through the section on how the narrator thought she had used magic to conjure up the book club at the library and then I turn the page and found a bookmark that some previous reader had left in this library book I was reading. The bookmark turned out to be a torn our page from her day calendar. The day of the calendar page was the day of my first child’s birth. This made the book feel even more magical.

So when My Real Children came out, I borrowed it from the library and I also loved it. And then I found out about her Thessaly books.  As a lapsed classicist who loves robots, time travel, and Greek mythology, this seemed like the perfect book for me. And it was! I devoured the series and was thrilled to be able to meet Ms. Walton at a bookstore in Brooklyn for her book tour of the third volume, during which I got her to sign all three books in the series.

So I was thrilled beyond belief when Tor and NetGalley gave me an eARC of her Small Change series from the Tor Essentials line. 

This volume contains the complete series, comprising the novels Farthing, Ha’penny, Half a Crown, and the short story “Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction”. 

If you haven’t read them before then woo! are you in for a treat!  These may be the absolute best alternate history books I have ever read, even better that the Lady Astronaut series (which I love!).  The books are set in a world where Hitler and England signed a truce. Jews in England are second class citizens at best, and fascism has crept in so slowly that people have barely realized it. These books read even more strongly now in the 2020s than they did when they were written, with the rise of fascism at home so much clearer, now that so many are willing to say the quiet part out loud. 

But they are also mystery novels! Each book alternates between one point of view character and Inspector Carmichael, who is investigating the mystery. 

I don’t want to spoil the plot but I will say that I regret having read these books only because I cannot read them again for the first time. Truly fantastic. 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Blighted Stars by Megan E. O'Keefe


This book was absolutely wonderful! It was just what I wanted and I can’t wait for the next one. I had never read anything by Megan E. O’Keefe before, but I had heard good things about Velocity Weapon (and I found it on my virtual TBR pile, purchased when it was on sale ages ago). 

I had been longing for a good space opera. I love fantasy, but I love science fiction more, and my reading has been tilting more fantasy lately and I had been yearning for something with spaceships or robots. This book has both! (Well, the robot content is minimal but still enjoyable). 

The book is set in a future where several rich families control the resources necessary to run civilization and a mineral is needed to help back up people’s brains so they can be downloaded into new bodies that are printed as needed from large biological 3-D printers. 

The blurb on the back of the book promised the possibility of an opposites attract romance between the son of an oligarch and the family bodyguard who rebelled and tried to take down the unfair society. When I started reading the book, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding, but I was like “no way, this romance will never work.”  I also hadn’t realized how long the book was when I first got it. In the beginning I was like “this is going to be a slog, why can’t this speed up?”  

But I was wrong on both counts. The length of the book gave it time to grow, and by the time the romance began, it felt real and earned. Bravo!

This book was so good! Thanks to Orbit and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Future Artifacts by Kameron Hurley

As I have said before, Kameron Hurley is a treasure.  I first heard about her on Ann Leckie’s blog a few years ago, when Leckie had gushed about Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion several months before it was published.  When it finally came out, I got a copy from the library and was blown away.  Her worldbuilding was so intricate and her characterization just amazing. And then there is her book, The Light Brigade, which I found to be unputdownable. A masterpiece! 

So I was thrilled when the publisher and NetGalley gave me a copy of her short story collection, Future Artifacts, in exchange for an honest review. 

This collection, mostly consisting of stories from Hurley’s Patreon, is wonderful. In a short story, an author has so much less space with which to create a fully realized universe, but time and again Hurley managed this monumental task with aplomb. 

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Robots through the Ages edited by Robert Silverberg and Bryan Thomas Schmidt

As I have said before on several occasions, I am often wary of anthologies - I worry about changes in quality and tonal whiplash between stories in themed multi-author collections. But I am a sucker for stories by my favorite authors. This collection includes a new story by Seanan McGuire which was brilliant and haunting and just fantastic. It also includes a story by Connie Willis written years ago for a different anthology, Foundation’s Friends, honoring Isaac Asimov, which I read once in the library years ago and was so so happy to see it again. This book is worth it for those two stories alone. 

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

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Old Babes in the Woods by Margaret Atwood

Who doesn’t love Margaret Atwood? I still remember how chilling it was when I read the Handmaid’s Tale the first time, realizing that I recognized the Harvard campus and how real and chilling that made the story, and how every year since then realizing how real this piece of SF was as the Right forces us closer and closer to its reality. I know Ms. Atwood sometimes eschews the label of science fiction author, but that seems more like a marketing strategy. Her Maddaddam books, for example, are amazing SF. 

So I was super excited when I got an eARC of Ms. Atwood’s new short story collection in exchange for an honest review. 

Her prose sings. I have no other way to put it. Every word is a masterpiece. 

Many of the stories are interconnected and told from the perspective of a woman after losing her husband. Having lost my father recently and seeing my mother continue on, this book hits very close to home. Sometimes you need a book to help you process your emotions. 

This book is a must read. Go get it today.