Book Review: Arabella of Mars

Arabella of Mars
By David D. Levine

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 350 pages
2016, Tor
ISBN: 9780765382818

Arabella Ashby was born and raised on Mars on her father’s plantation. For seventeen years, she and her brother Michael were tutored by their Martian nanny, Khema, and Arabella often participated in hunting games that her mother considered unladylike. After one such game, Arabella takes a blow to the head that requires stitches and it’s the last straw for her mother. Arabella and her two young sisters are shipped back to Earth in the care of her mother to grow up as true English ladies should. Once there, Arabella is miserable and struggles to bend to the rules society places on ladies of her stature, as well as the heavier gravity. However, the death of her father and a threat against Michael’s life forces Arabella into action and she soon finds herself disguised as a boy and enlisted as a crew member aboard a Martian airship, racing against the clock to get home and save her brother.

This book checks a lot of boxes for me, so I assumed I was going to enjoy it (spoiler: I did!) We’ve got Regency England (check), steampunk (check), space travel (check) and one tough chick that can’t stand to be forced into societal and gender roles (check).

I can’t recall having read a book set in the 1800s where space travel is not only possible, but done via wooden ships much like the ones they use to sail across the ocean. This was a fun, fresh setting for me and what was especially unique is that the air in space is breathable! Yeah, this requires maybe more suspension of belief than usual, but I jumped right on board. Imagining being able to ride what’s essentially a cross between a zeppelin and a pirate ship straight into the sky, then beyond into space and floating around in zero gravity with air that’s breathable made me want to be a part of the book!

Arabella is possibly your clichéd tough girl with a heart of gold and determination of steel, but I liked her. I’ve always liked the whole girl-dresses-up-as-boy-to-gain-access-to-something-she-never-could-as-a-girl element and Arabella fit right into that role. She does struggle at her new job aboard a ship and has to navigate testosterone flooded waters and initiation into the manly world of interplanetary travel.  I do think hiding her ladyness was explained away with the ease of one sentence and then not really addressed again. I would have liked to see her struggle a bit more with keeping her identity a secret, but it wasn’t essential to the plot, so whatever.

The only other stand-out character is the incredibly lifelike (and possibly sentient?!) automaton navigator, Aadim. He doesn’t play a big part, but I was interested in how he worked and his silent influence on other characters. In fact, I wanted more automata! Give me all the robots, please.

I did struggle with imagining some of what took place on the ship when it came to daily routine and ship maintenance. I’m not at all familiar with nautical terms and adding no gravity into the mix left me constantly wondering why everyone didn’t just bounce away from the ship and never come back. I also wondered how their…uh…business…stayed in the head (toilet) when everything else seemed to float around the ship. Again, this is not essential and probably I shouldn’t have spent so much time wondering this. Anyway, some of the action scenes played out murkily in my head.

I don’t want to shout about this book from the rooftops, but it was excellent. I’m hoping this will be a series – I actually thought it already was one with multiple books in it and I’m not sure what series I confused it with. If you’re looking for a Regency romp through space, pick up this book (and then we can talk about the logistics of Regency era bathroom use in zero gravity together!)

Here’s David’s hotrod lookin’ website.

Book Review: Space of Her Own

Asimov’s Space of Her Own
By Various Authors

My Edition:
Paperback, 244 pages
1983, Ace Books
ISBN: 0441778712

This book contains 17 sci-fi stories written by women. The subjects range from alien worlds, post-apocalyptic scenarios, advanced technology and adventures through space.

I initially purchased this book because my goddess Tanith Lee has a story in it and I finally picked it up thanks to Vintage Sci-fi Month. I didn’t dislike any of the stories, though I naturally preferred some over the others. I’m just going to highlight the ones I had the most thoughts about.

The Sidon in the Mirror by Connie Willis: This was a slightly trippy look at life in a small community on a mining planet. The world building was fairly complex considering the length, but I think I got a good taste of what Willis created. I enjoyed that characters had a local dialect. Overall it was sad and a little mysterious.

The Jarabon by Lee Killough: Killough created an interesting and compelling thief, as well as a unique form of space travel. I really loved where she went with this and would have loved for this to be a full-length novel. I wanted to know more about her badass thief-lady and her sordid past.

Belling Martha by Leigh Kennedy: This is a post-apocalyptic tale where food is scarce and winter might not end. A young girl has escaped a religious camp and made her way to the city to seek her father. This story was incredibly fucked up and a little gross, but believable. I was really into what was going on and this is another one I’d love a novel of.

La Reine Blanche by Tanith Lee: Tanith gives readers a fairy-tale-esque short about a widowed queen trapped in a tower and a magic raven who comes to see her. This had her classic atmospheric world-building and otherworldly characters, though it deals with some timey-wimey stuff so it was a tad confusing.

Miles to go Before I Sleep by Julie Stevens: Another tale set after some sort of apocalypse has hit the earth and created a divide between those who live in cities and those who fend for themselves in small towns. It had a sort of Mad Max feel because I got the feeling fuel sources were low and perhaps plant life as well? I really wanted a novel of this and I felt that just as I had an inkling of what was going on in this world, the story was over!

The Ascent of the North Face by Ursula K. Le Guin: Alright, I’m calling out this tale because I honestly don’t know what to make of it. There is a party of explorers climbing something, perhaps a mountain, except they refer to sections like the Roof and Chimney. I was confused as to whether these were tiny people scaling a normal sized house, normal sized people scaling a giant house, or if it was really just an oddly named mountain.

Blue Heart by Stephanie A. Smith: The main character in this is a sort of light house warden who can mentally connect to some sort of net that guides spaceships through her area of space. But she’s getting old and worried that she won’t be able to do her job much longer, so she’s looking into transferring her consciousness into a robot. I enjoyed the technology mentioned in this story and the general sadness it evoked.

Fire-Caller by Sydney J. Van Scyoc: This is a tale of slavery and warring peoples and a woman who can create fire from within herself when she speaks to the old gods. Another very atmospheric tale that I would have loved a full-length novel of. Just as I had an idea of what was going on and became attached to the characters, the story ended.

I’m thankful for Vintage Sci-fi Month because it prompts me to pick up some books that I probably would have left alone for who knows how long. This is a great collection for anyone looking for female voices, especially as all of these tales were written in the 80s, just as female writers were really starting to break into the genre and earn respect for their craft.

Book Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter
By Blake Crouch

My Edition:
ARC paperback, 340 pages
2016, Crown
ISBN: 9781101904220 (hardcover)
Expected Publication Date: July 26, 2016

Jason Dessen enjoys his life, his time with his family, his job, though maybe he takes these things for granted, as maybe many of us do. Then he’s held at gunpoint, given a mysterious drug, and wakes up in a strange hangar surrounded by unfamiliar people who are very familiar with him. He’s still Jason Dessen, but single, and a successful scientist working on a groundbreaking device that he was the first to successfully navigate. Are his memories of his wife and son merely a dream? Has he gone crazy? Could both lives be real? Jason will go to extreme measures to regain the life he considers to be a reality and make incredible discoveries along the way.

Initial thoughts:

WHOA!

Ahem. Let me compose myself.

Without going into a lot of detail about the plot, I’ll say this book deals with the idea that there are an infinite number of realities (or universes) based on every choice we make, or don’t make, and that versions of ourselves inhabit each of these universes. Jason navigates some of these universes and encounters some of these realities in his quest to return “home.”

I’ll come right out and say I know nothing about the science behind the theory Crouch uses in his book, nor did I understand much of what Jason explained in regards to how it worked, but I’m willing to suspend disbelief and take his word that multiple realities are plausible. Thankfully there isn’t too much jargon, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed and I get the feeling the casual reader isn’t supposed to understand the finer points of how this plays out.

I find it mind boggling to think there could be an infinite number of versions of myself and my life, all similar and yet, so different. If I met my other selves, would I still think of them as me? Would I like what I discovered? What parts of us change based on the myriad of decisions we make daily? Jason wonders what his “essential self” is (personally I’m not sure if something like that can truly be defined) and for his character, his family certainly plays a large part.

But even Jason’s desire to be back with the exact copies of his wife and son that he considers part of “his reality” doesn’t define him. Each iteration of Jason cares for his wife and son, but in different ways, and they behave differently in order to reach them.

The action and pacing were solid. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn’t help but root for “Jason1” as I thought about what would happen if I woke up and my life was suddenly replaced with an alternate version and my family was changed or non-existent.

I don’t often read deeply, but I do get excited when sci-fi (or any genre, I suppose) really gets me thinking and has me questioning my reality. This book doesn’t just address the big choices, like who you married or having a child or not, but the little ones as well, like going to the bar after work or going straight home. From each choice branch new choices, all leading to other realities and versions of yourself that are slightly (or not so slightly) altered.

I am definitely interested in reaching more of Crouch’s work and I highly suggest this action packed book if sci-fi thrillers are what you’re into!

I received this book for free from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can visit Blake’s website here. He’s also on Twitter and Facebook.

Book Review: Graft

Graft
By Matt Hill

My Edition:
Paperback, 444 pages
2016, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857664990

The year is 2025. Sol is a mechanic in Manchester who steals cars to repurpose them to his customer’s specifications or sell them for parts. But when his partner steals a luxury car and Sol finds a woman with three arms who was made to another customer’s specifications, he realizes he’s in way over his head. As Sol and the three armed woman run from her traffickers, Sol learns about her past and soon gives up all he has to help her.

I have really, really mixed feelings about this book. Through about the first half to two-thirds of the book, I was really into it. Hill created a gritty, futuristic, semi-apocalyptic Manchester where things we take for granted (working vehicles, internet, phones, food, jobs) are a hot commodity and life is tough for all but the richest. There’s also a group of people who modify humans and mix them with machines to create a new breed of people modded to the wishes of the client.

As a character, I could take or leave Sol. Actually, the only character I was really interested in throughout the book was Y, the three armed woman. She had her mind wiped when she was abducted and modded into a fighting machine with three arms and no voice. I wanted to know more about her past and I wanted to know more about the people that designed her.

This book posed the question – could our society become one where human trafficking evolves into modifying the captured people into android-hybrids and selling them fully customized like you would a computer or a phone? (A scary thought, if you ask me, because I’d like to say this would never happen but….) Sol explores this question somewhat with his own feelings and his quest to help Y discover her past and destroy her makers.

Sadly, as the two of them delved further into their adventure and the book headed towards its conclusion, it lost me. As the action progressed I began to lose the imagery and the plot. I felt lost and I know I was having a hard time picturing what Hill was trying to convey. I had no idea where Sol and Y were at the end, and in reading the back of the book again, I just caught the word ‘trans-dimensional.’ That sheds a little light on my confusion – somehow they must have travelled between dimensions, but I honestly have no clue how and that just leaves me with more questions about the world building.

As I neared the conclusion of the book I seriously lost interest and I suspect this only added to my confusion about what was actually going on. I couldn’t follow the exposition properly and I just wanted the book to be over. I even took a couple days off from it to clear my head with some middle-grade.

Overall, I can’t say I would really recommend this book, but perhaps the subject matter was over my head? That being said, I would give Hill another chance, because I did like his writing style, even if he lost me at the end. And I will give it an A+ in the cover design department – I can’t stop staring at this book, even now.

Book Review: Press Start to Play

Press Start to Play
Edited by Daniel H. Wilson

My Edition:
Paperback, 507 pages
2015, Vintage Books
ISBN: 9781101873304

From the back of the book: You are standing in a room filled with books, faced with a difficult decision. A distinctive cover catches your eye. It is a groundbreaking anthology of short stories from award-winning writers and game-industry titans who have embarked on a quest to explore what happens when video games and science fiction collide.

I bought this collection for a friend for Christmas and almost didn’t give it to him because I really wanted it for myself. With authors like Andy Weir, Seanan McGuire, Holly Black, Cory Doctorow, Hugh Howey and a forward by Ernest Cline, how could I not be intrigued? Not to mention the video game theme. And the blurb is right, the bold colors and simple font do make the cover distinctive.

I’ve said it before (and I’ll probably say it every time I review a short story anthology), collections are hard to review because each story is often so different. And I’m not the type to sit down and write something about each story, especially as this collection has 26 stories.

In short, I’ll just say I absolutely loved this collection. I liked some stories more than others, but I enjoyed them all! Some of my favorites were:

<end game> by Chris Avellone – someone is playing an old text-based game, but there appears to be a game within the game. Or perhaps one of those games is real? Or neither? If you’ve read this, I’m interested on your take.

NPC by Charles Yu – this is a funny little take on what it feels like to go from being a NPC (non-player character) in a game, to a main character with a name and personality.

Save Me Plz by David Barr Kirtley – what happens when someone figures out life is a game and can be cheated and changed the way video games can.

The Relive Box by T.C. Boyle – if you could buy a device that would allow you to play, replay, fast forward, pause and rewind any part of your past (but not alter it!), would you? I think this was an especially telling piece about how many of us might end up “living” if such a thing were possible.

Creation Screen by Rhianna Pratchett – a look at what video game characters feel and think while we create them, tweaking them to perfection, and what they think about the world around them.

A friend on Instagram asked me if I thought this collection was suitable for non-gamers. Now, I consider myself a casual gamer – we have a lot of video game systems in the house, and while I play a lot less than I used to, I still love games – but this book isn’t just about stories based on or in video games. Like most sci-fi, there are a lot of deep questions here, and a lot of “what if” situations that made me think about how I would react to certain situations, or what humanity might do with certain technology. I would say that if you’re not a gamer, as long as you’re interested in sci-fi, you’ll enjoy these stories. Picking up on all the gaming aspects is a bonus!

 

Book Review: Electric Forest

Electric Forest
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 159 pages
1979, Daw Books
ISBN: ???

Magdala Cled, known only as “Ugly”, lives in a world where people are bred to be beautiful, healthy, normal. But she was born by a natural birth and is seen as a genetic mistake among the perfection of her peers. When a man shows up at her table one day during lunch, Magdala is presented with an opportunity that changes her entire life, but at what cost?

Jacob, over at Red Star Reviews introduced me to Vintage Sci-Fi month, wherein you read any sci-fi that was written before you were born. In my case, that’s prior to 1988. I featured Electric Forest on my Instagram a few weeks back for #coverwars and decided to start my year with it.

There’s just something about Tanith’s sci-fi (more so than her fantasy) that wraps me up completely in her worlds and characters. Her writing is so rich and I can’t help but feel what her main character feels. She packed a lot into just under 160 pages and this was a thought-provoking read. Without saying too much about the plot, Magdala is given the chance to have her consciousness transferred from her slightly deformed, ugly body, into that of a beautiful woman. Her original body must still be kept alive however, as her brain is what controls her new body. The plot becomes even more complex and the twist at the end surprised me.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do a lot of deep reading. Normally I don’t sit around after finishing a book to really think about it. But Electric Forest presented a world where someone could transfer their consciousness into a nearly indestructible android and control it in every way they could control their former body. Potentially, if the original body was well cared for, someone could expect to live much longer than they normally would. A tempting proposition! But of course, as the story proposes, there are a host of problems that come with this opportunity.

And of course, I think the cover art is fabulous, and fairly creepy, especially now that I know it reflects the content of the book. If you’re looking for a quick read, with a heavy dose of sci-fi themes, check out Electric Forest.

Book Review: Indigara

Indigara
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 195 pages
2007, Firebird
ISBN: 9780142409220

Jet Latter and her robo-dog Otto are dragged by the family to Ollywood, city of dreams, when her sister’s film career takes off. Jet is bored and feels ignored, so she sets off to explore the city alone (well, except for Otto, of course) and finds the strange underworld of Subway. But Jet and Otto soon discover, there’s another city, even deeper than Subway, where the magic of film becomes a reality.

I’ve been neglecting my quest to read more Tanith, so on impulse I grabbed this off my shelf. What fun! I’m not sure if this is considered middle-grade or young adult, as Jet is fourteen and there’s no love interest (not that all YA fiction revolves around a love story, but let’s face it, many do), but there is a bit of spicy language and it has a sort of coming of age theme. The writing is simplistic and the story short, yet Tanith packed in a technology-ridden future world and a vast, fantasy realm.

The story is told from both Jet and Otto’s points of views, interspersed with movie-like cut scenes, outtakes and set descriptions. The latter sections were mainly used to capture moments where Jet and Otto weren’t present or to set the scene for a new location, and they gave a lot of depth to the story, while also providing a writing device I’ve never encountered before (at least, not that I can remember). Jet is a quick-witted girl and I liked the humanity (er…dogmanity?) Tanith infused into Otto.

I read this in a day, chuckled a few times, and was once again fully immersed in the rich, bright world Tanith created. I love her fantasy works, but I have to say, I enjoy her sci-fi work just a bit more. There’s something about the different ways she presents the future that I really enjoy being a part of.

Tanith fans can certainly spare a moment to read this book, and I think pre-teen and teen readers with an interested in a sci-fi/fantasy blend  will love it as well.

Book Review: Children of the Comet

pic from Netgalley

Children of the Comet
By Donald Moffitt

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 332 pages (paperback)
2015, Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
ISBN: 9781497682948 (paperback)

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

Torris is part of a small community that lives at the base of a huge tree on a comet floating through space. He must journey up the tree on a quest to receive a vision and become a man, and it’s there he meets a female, Ning, from a neighboring tree. She is hunting for food to save her family and Torris is shocked by the differences in their two cultures. After a scandal involving Ning, Torris ends up on a spaceship that has suddenly come into their orbit and must adapt to his rapidly changing future.

This book was just alright for me. I was pretty interested in Torris and his clan of comet-dwelling tree people and it reminded me a bit of Dark Eden (which I loved). They had an interesting culture and I also liked hearing about the wildlife that lived on the tree and in nearby space. I mean, there are creepy space-bat type things…which is pretty cool.

But then, there was a second plot involving people on a spaceship, trying to colonize, or rather, recolonize, our old solar system, and I couldn’t have been more bored. I didn’t really connect with the characters or their mission and there was so much science and space jargon that I couldn’t even follow most of what they’re discussing. I’ll believe whatever you want me to believe about space life and space travel – as a reader, I don’t need pages upon pages of facts (or what sounds like facts) and the science behind how this is done. It’s just not what I’m looking for. At one point they were holding a seminar and it was just all info-dumping regarding how life evolved in space, and probably a lot of other stuff that I didn’t pick up because I didn’t really read that section.

The two story lines do eventually converge, but by that point, I was too bored to really care. The story strayed so much from what I was really interested in, which was the people of the comet and how they lead their lives, that I wasn’t invested anymore. I didn’t look into whether this is part of a series, but it doesn’t matter because even if it was, I wouldn’t continue.

Mostly it just made me want to read Dark Eden all over again. If you’re into hard sci-fi that’s heavy with science and slow on plot, you might enjoy this book, but it wasn’t for me.

Book Review: Solarversia

pic from amazon

Solarversia
By Toby Downton

My Edition:
E-book,  432 pages (paperback)
2015, Toby Downton
ISBN: 9780993330803

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

Virtual reality mixes with real life when players enter Solarversia, a year-long video game mixing real life locations with virtual elements. 100 million people will compete for the 10 million pound prize. But when a religious sect sets their sites on the company that founded the game and some of its players, the game turns deadly.

First off, I’m sorry for the terrible blurb – I do try to describe books in my own words these days, rather than just copy from Amazon or somewhere, but this book was so uninspiring.

Once more, I was enticed by a premise only to be incredibly disappointed with the plot, characters and writing quality. I made the mistake of reading this book at the same time I read Lumiere, so I felt like I was being bombarded with ridiculous character names and paper thin plots. I can only stomach so much originality when it comes to character names. Nova, Artica Kronkite and Sushi (which just made me hungry), I was peeved from the start.

The world of Solarversia felt like a bizarre, childish version of World of Warcraft, populated by millions of tiny, talking monkeys called arkwinis (ark-weenies? ark-win-ies?). There was a lot of lore that I c couldn’t bring myself to care about because every time Nova travelled to a new place or met a new character, I felt like I was reading a bunch of gobbledygook thanks to all the strange names Downtown created. The emperor of the alien world is named “Emperor Commissaire de Spielen Von Unglai D’Acheera Nakk-oo Mandlebrot” and with a plethora of similar, gibberish names, I couldn’t connect with the world and it felt more like something aimed at small children than our 18-year-old protagonist, Nova. Downton occasionally mentioned virtual reality elements layered over real world locations, which is a great concept, but I think it was underdeveloped.

The characters were lifeless, rendering any character deaths or negative situations emotionless for me. I just couldn’t seem to care about anything happening. The leader of the crazy religious cult was your typical whacko, monologuing villain who was more focused on how he exacted his revenge rather than actually carrying it out and destroying the people he wanted to destroy.

Overall, I think this novel was a sad echo of the work of Cory Doctorow and Ernest Cline. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this book.

Book Review: Footsteps in the Sky

pic from NetGalley

Footsteps in the Sky
By Greg Keyes

My Edition:
ARC E-book. 240 pages
2015, Open Road Media
ISBN: 9781497699915 (paperback)

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

In a nutshell, the Hopi people have been terraforming a planet for generations, with the understanding that their future generations will inhabit the planet when it’s ready. In reality their sponsors, known as the Reed, plan to take control of the planet for the people of Earth to resettle. Unbeknownst to both groups, there are aliens in the sky – the original beings who first made the planet eligible for terraforming – who may decide to wipe the planet clean unless they can be persuaded the humans deserve to keep it. 

This book sounded interesting to me, and it was something that NetGalley auto approved me for, so I gave it a shot. Sadly, it wasn’t my cup of tea. The writing and the plot weren’t bad, I just wasn’t interested – nothing about the story or the characters really gripped me; it felt uninspired. I did think the Native American spin on what could be considered a standard sci-fi plot was interesting, but I didn’t ever feel immersed. I ended up just plodding through this book because I did want to find out what happened, but mostly I was bored.  Sadly, I don’t have much else to say about the book. There were no glaring clichés or annoying characters that made me want to rant, but neither can I think of anything really praiseworthy. I personally wouldn’t recommend it, but if you’re interested in hard sci-fi with a Native American twist, this might be your cup of tea.