Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis

I have said it before and I will say it again-  love Connie Willis. She used to be my favorite living author, and she was eclipsed mainly due to my discovery of Seanan McGuire - I still love her books to pieces.  But it can be hard to love your old favorites with the same intensity when their productivity slows. I have had the pleasure of meeting her twice at conventions and I treasure those moments. I last saw her when her last novel, Crosstalk came out in 2016. That was a long time ago. 

 Il still remember the first book of hers that I read - I got a copy of Doomsday Book from the science fiction book club when it came out on the 90s. It took my breath away. I love her novels and her short stories and her novellas. Her books make me laugh and make me cry and I wish I hadn’t read them all already because reading one off her books for the first time is a singular treat. 

So I was thrilled when her publisher and NetGalley approved me for an eARC of The Road to Roswell, her new novel coming out this summer. Connie Willis has been mentioning that this book was in the works for many, many years and I was so happy to finally read it!

I didn’t just read it - I devoured it! It was so much fun! Like many a great Connie Willis story, it had a protagonist just trying to do the right thing while surrounded by realistic yet ridiculous people who are more than they appear, who also have encyclopedic knowledge of esoterica, and a slowly simmering romance. 

The plot is simple but compelling - a woman going to stop her best friend from marrying a UFO nut gets abducted by an extraterrestrial and wackiness ensues! I don’t want to spoil any more but the resolution was quite satisfying and the alien encounters felt real and not too slapstick. 

This may be the last time I read a new Connie Willis novel. If so, this is a good one to go out on. I cannot recommend this enough. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

I was not a fan of Aliette de Bodard before  reading this book. I had previously read The Tea Master and the Detective when it was nominated for the Hugo Award and found it did not make an impression on me. But then I heard a lot of buzz about this book, and so I figured those people might know something I don’t, so I requested an eARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I later saw the book on some best of lists and I was like, I really have to get to this one. So I read it. 

I don’t know exactly why, but this book did NOT work for me. It was a slog from start to finish. I disliked all of the characters, except the Censor, who I believe I was supposed to dislike. This book was billed as a pirate romance novel between a woman and a mindship. I guess it was that? But in the worst possible way. The protagonist is effectively captured and forced into marriage with the mindship, in a way that if the mindship was a corporeal man would feel very rapey. The mindship is a pirate who doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with rape, theft, and murder, and is completely unsympathetic, although I don’t think she’s supposed to come off that way. The protagonist is supposed to be sympathetic- her partner is dead, her child is left alone on a planet with friends! But there is no emotional core to her abandonment of her child, and she goes out drinking and partying pretty quickly once they get to a pirate space station. She does nothing to try to reconnect to her daughter and gives up very quickly. Then, when she find out her daughter is going to be sold into slavery she decides to go get her, and the author breezes past the child sex trafficking going on so quickly that I had whiplash. 

None of the characters feel real or lifelike, the sex scenes felt needlessly graphic and also out of character, and the spouses calling each other things like “little sis” came off as creepy instead of affectionate. I regret the time I spent reading this book. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Dispatcher:Travel by Bullet by John Scalzi


Ive said it before, and I’ll say it again: I really like John Scalzi’s books, and I enjoy the Dispatcher series, but if you asked me what my one problem with them are, I’d have to answer “core concept”.  His worldbuilding is virtually nonexistent- he wanted to write mystery stories, gave them a fantastical bent, and never bothered to explain the how or why of resurrection (but only from murder). It allows him to tell the stories he wants to tell (I assume) but it leaves me unsatisfied, like eating only candy for dinner. That being said, his newest Dispatcher novella, Travel by Bullet, is fun, fast, and entertaining. The book tries to exist in a post pandemic world of occasional masking, which just feels jarring, since the world building in this novella is so thin as to be nearly nonexistent. In spite of all that, I enjoyed it, and will happily read the next volume when it comes out. Thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Squirrel Girl: Universe by Tristan Palmgren

I adore Squirrel Girl. Ryan North’s run on the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the epitome of what comics should be, and I am still so sad that it ended. I have read it through multiple times and read it with my oldest daughter. We also loved Shannon and Dean Hale’s Squirrel Girl novels. So I was very excited to get an eARC from NetGalley and the publisher of this new Squirrel Girl novel in exchange for an honest review. 

I was so very disappointed by this book. It’s not bad, it’s just so, so boring. The author only briefly captures the joy and delight of the title character. Most of the story is a paint by numbers slog of a cosmic comic story where most of the characters are cyphers. With the possible exception of Brain Drain, none of Squirrel Girl’s supporting cast sounds like themselves at all, and they add nothing to the narrative. Maybe my expectations were too high?  Perhaps, but that doesn’t make this book any less dull. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Observer by Nancy Kress and Robert Lanza

I can’t stop thinking about this book since I finished it. I really can’t. 

I first (re)discovered Nancy Kress a few years ago when I was in an reading dry spell. I was listlessly perusing the library shelves feeling like I had nothing to read when I came across a copy of her then-just published novella After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. I recognized her name from having read Beggars in Spain years before so I picked it up. 

It blew me away. The book was a masterpiece. The author created a fully realized world, She didn’t need a thousand pages to do it. Up until that point I had been disdainful of shorter works; Nancy Kress made me realize just how much hard work and talent was needed to excecise economy when world building. 

When I saw a new title by Nancy Kress on NetGalley, I mashed the request button ASAP. It was only later that I realized that she co-wrote it with someone else. 

Nancy Kress writes hard sf. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just because the hard science she’s basing her work on is usually biology instead of physics doesn’t make it any less hard. Which made her an excellent fit for partnering up with Robert Lanza, a scientist who wanted to get his ideas into a novel. 

There is alot of awkwardness in the novel. I almost stopped reading halfway through the prologue- it was boring and dull and every character’s name started with a W and I couldn’t tell them apart and I didn’t care about any of them. 

Am I glad I pushed through that! Even though some parts of the book read like a dry, poorly written physics textbook (during which I kept muttering to myself that Lanza should’ve let Kress write this alone) those dull clunky sections were massively overpowered by the well drawn characters and the very real emotions that jumped off the page down my throat and lodged in my sternum. 

I wish the book had had content warnings for child disability and child death. 

I understand from some cursory internetting that Lanza may believe in the observer-created reality that the characters believe in in the novel. I can’t say that I’m convinced myself. It sounds a lot like wish fulfillment to me. But it sure has given me a lot to think about . . . 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Backpacking Through Bedlam by Seanan McGuire

Now this is the book I have been waiting for since the end of book 5!!! This is a “shut up and take my money!” novel. 

I am a HUGE fan of Seanan McGuire’s books - she is one of my favorite authors, hands down, and for good reason -she consistently writes numerous excellent, honest, and fun books every year.  I was thrilled when DAW and NetGalley gave me an eARC of her newest Incryptid novel, Backpacking Through Bedlam which is the 12th novel in the series.  Finally Alice and Thomas make it home and have to deal with Verity’s declaration of war from the end of book 5. 

(To recap, the Incryptid series involves a family of cryptozoologists that work to protect the natural diversity of the hidden world. Every few books, the point of view narrator shifts to another member of the same family, which has the added benefit of keeping the series fresh and invigorated.)

The beginning of the book felt a bit slow to me - mainly because I was tired of dimension hopping and just wanted to get back to Earth to move that plot along. And move along it did! Things resolved, almost too quickly for my tastes - I wish the book had spent more time, or even a whole other book, on the dealings with the Covenant in New York and everything with the dragons. I also wish that we had gotten to spend more time with more family members. I particularly want to see how Artie is doing. 

The bonus novella was also fantastic - it gave me more of what I wanted in terms of family drama. More importantly, it gave me much more insight than ever before in the internal workings of Aeslin society and I would adore an entire book from their POV. 

My only complaint is I have to wait a whole other year to find out what happens next!!! This book is a must buy. Thanks to DAW and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.