I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Star Wars Canon, Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Publisher: Random House Audio (November 5, 2019)
Length: 11 hrs and 29 mins
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Guys, I was so excited when I found out about Star Wars: Resistance Reborn and that Rebecca Roanhorse would be writing it. Rebecca Roanhorse, as in The Sixth World Rebecca Roanhorse? I love that series! And couldn’t have been more thrilled that she was tapped for this project. But she also has her work cut out for her, given the challenging task of bridging The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.
Reduced to only a handful of survivors after the harrowing events at the battle of Crait, the Resistance now they must decide their next steps. Leia Organa, unwilling to give up, sends out a call for help to whoever would listen. But it appears most of her support have abandoned her—or have been captured and detained by the First Order. Wracked with guilt for his actions, Poe Dameron is ready to do anything to make amends. At Leia’s request, he takes it upon himself to search for more allies.
And at its heart, that’s what this book is all about: Poe’s road to redemption. He knows he screwed up royally in The Last Jedi, and Resistance Reborn is merciless in making you feel the full brunt of the repercussions to his actions.
So this, in essence, is really Poe’s story. The consequence of his recklessness that effectively led to the end of the Resistance is a shadow that looms over the entire novel. But just as the rebellion needs to be reborn, so does our commander of Black Squadron. No one is harder on Poe than Poe himself, and throughout this journey, filled with moments both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, he realizes that he still has teammates and true friends who will fight by his side, lifting him out of that dark place. And then there are the kind of allies who won’t take such a direct route, choosing instead to empower him and set him on the right path by teaching him how to help himself.
Which brings me to the cast of characters, and I was pleasantly surprised to find we got to follow some major players. In my experience, whenever we get a “bridge book” or a “prequel novel” in the Star Wars expanded canon that promises to fill in the gaps, what we usually get instead is a fun but fluffy throwaway piece starring a bunch of expendable one-use characters because you just know they’ll save all the most important developments for the movies. A prime example of this is the first book of Aftermath (though to be fair, some of the characters in that trilogy ultimately became quite prominent, impacting the Star Wars universe quite significantly, but more on that later).
Such is life when it comes to media tie-ins, after all, but Resistance Reborn on the other hand features all our old favorites: Leia, Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, Chewbacca, and the list goes on. It helped make this feel like a real Star Wars novel, lending weight to its people, events, and places. It also made me feel like what I read mattered on a greater level, and you’d be surprised how few canon novels thus far have passed this test.
Not only that though, Resistance Reborn is like a gift to the superfans of Star Wars who have really embraced the franchise beyond the movies. If you’ve also enjoyed the books, comics, video games, TV shows, etc., there will be quite a few references and appearances by characters you’ll recognize from elsewhere. Snap Wexley, for example, who made his debut on the aforementioned Aftermath and was brought to life on the big screen in The Force Awakens. Shriv Suurgav and Zay Versio, from Battlefront II. Even Ransolm Casterfo, the handsome rogue senator from Claudia Gray’s brilliant Leia Organa novel Bloodline will show up, with some answers as to what he’s been up to all these years. Not only that, we have some highly recognizable names like Wedge Antilles, who has married Snap’s mother Norra and are living together as farmers on Akiva. Maz Kanata, who understands more than most how the Force works in mysterious ways. And of course, there are ties aplenty to the Poe Dameron and Black Squadron comics. It was fascinating to see this book gather all these disparate characters together, forming the basis of a new resistance. There’s a sense of renewed hope, but also this bittersweet acceptance of an end to an era. The coming battle will be fought by this new line-up of rebels, and I’m curious to see who will show up in The Rise of Skywalker.
As for Rebecca Roanhorse’s writing, I think her style translates well to Star Wars, despite the occasional turn of phrase which would jolt me out of the immersion. Her best portrayals were of the female characters (there was one particular scene I loved, involving a heartfelt conversation between Leia and Rey), while a couple of her male characters like Wedge and Finn could have used some fine-tuning, and there were a few telling-not-showing moments where Poe came across just a bit too detached. But overall, I couldn’t be happier with Roanhorse’s work and her dedication to detail. The book was peppered with little Easter Eggs, calling back to everything from Star Wars: Rebels to the original trilogy.
But when it comes to story, admittedly the plot was on the flimsier side, and it worked out too neatly. Yes, we get this whole build-up to a nail-biting finale, but at the end of the day, we are still left with an awkward sense of being back to square one. Granted, we now know the Resistance isn’t as alone as we thought it was; the most important elements of Black Squadron are intact and we we’ve dug up some new allies. Poe, the linchpin of the novel, also gets his absolution. But really, all this could have been inferred from the end of The Last Jedi. I guess the point I’m trying to make is, Resistance Reborn ends in a way that seems purposely designed not to affect the third movie at all, but again, this just goes back to the nature of media tie-ins. Like most, it’s a standalone, supplementary rather than required, and the most important characters are kept from making any huge decisions or weren’t developed much because obviously you save those things for the movie.
That being said, should you read Resistance Reborn? Yes, if you’re a diehard Star Wars fan and are going all in on Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, you absolutely should. Despite its weaknesses (many of which are related to the tie-in genre rather than anything negative to do with the book itself) this was one of the better novels from the new canon. Rebecca Roanhorse did a fantastic job writing a fun new adventure to fill the gap between the two films, even fixing or clarifying a few things from The Last Jedi, while providing lots of geek-out moments for those of us who love everything Star Wars.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Andromeda
Publisher: Harper (November 12, 2019)
Length: 384 pages
To start, I read The Andromeda Strain a long time ago. Admittedly, it wasn’t one of my favorites by Michael Crichton, and I can’t say I remembered much from it at all. Personally, I wouldn’t have pegged it for being sequel-worthy, but here we are, fifty years after the book was published, commemorating it with The Andromeda Evolution…and well, I’m sold! Written in its entirety by the talented Daniel H. Wilson, who is certainly deserving of honor, this novel helped put to rest my skepticism and convinced me there was a story there. Crichton’s name is on the book because Wilson worked and built upon many of the themes the man had developed, paying tribute to his ideas and doing them justice.
As I said though, I recalled very little from the original when I started this book; it’s been more than twenty years since I read The Andromeda Strain and my memory just isn’t that great. That said, I had no problems getting into The Andromeda Evolution, as the narrative does a very good job recapping everything that had happened. Decades have passed since the original team of scientists discovered Andromeda, a highly virulent microorganism of extraterrestrial origin that caused instantaneous death through blood clotting. The government attempted to contain it in a subterranean bunker, but Andromeda ultimately evolved to breach its containment and escape. Despite its highly destructive nature though, by then the microorganism’s traits had been altered to the point was no longer harmful to humans.
Still, the US military is taking no chances. A special team called Project Eternal Vigilance had been created to do exactly as its name implies—keep watch, 24/7, for any sign of Andromeda’s return. And for a while, it seemed humanity was safe. Nearly half a century has gone by, and Eternal Vigilance has found nothing. But just as the project was on the verge of being shut down, a mapping drone flying over the rainforests of Brazil sends back reports of a disturbing anomaly found in the middle of the Amazon. Unfortunately, preliminary tests of its chemical signature confirm everyone’s worst fears—Andromeda is back, and its behavior is evolving in ways no one can predict.
In some ways, the first half of this novel can be viewed a parallel to the early events of The Andromeda Strain. Once more, we start off with the dispatching of a group of scientists, a second Project Wildfire, updated to suit today’s diverse society and workforce. But after the intro, the story swiftly develops a personality of its own, while still adhering to the foundation of the original tale. The beginning is also very technical, written in a debrief report-style format and tone that is meant to be informative rather than literary. Some of it is eerily reminiscent of Crichton’s own writing when he used to do this in some of his books, and I can’t help but feel that maybe this is Wilson’s way of paying homage.
I also thought perhaps it was a good thing that I did not recall much from the original novel. Of course, bits and pieces came rushing back as I was reading, but for the most part, I felt like I was experiencing something completely new. A few elements struck me as familiar, like the story structure or the technology and the diagrams, but on the whole I was thrilled with the freshness and surprises of The Andromeda Evolution. Wilson was working heavily off many of Crichton’s ideas, but he’s something of a dab hand himself when it comes to the techno-thriller genre. For one thing, he knows how to get technical without overwhelming the reader, and he’s also good at balancing all that hard science with the storytelling aspects, which is how you get epistolary chapters and embedded scientific reports that are as riveting to read as the survivalist scenes of our characters trying to make it out of the jungle.
Ultimately, I enjoyed this one a lot, and to be honest, I didn’t think I would. Sure, going into the book blind and not knowing what to expect might have helped a little, but it didn’t take long for me to become genuinely impressed. The Andromeda Evolution perfectly encapsulates everything I love about a Michael Crichton novel while still sporting its own unique flair and special energy, so my hat’s off to Daniel H. Wilson for pulling it off!
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 3 of The Folk of the Air
Publisher: Hachette Audio (November 19, 2019)
Length: 9 hrs and 41 mins
Narrator: Caitlin Kelly
One of the most anticipated endings has finally arrived, and did it meet my expectations? Hell yeah it did. Here’s the thing, though—The Queen of Nothing calls back to some of the themes and elements used in the first two books, but rest assured Holly Black has taken the appropriate steps to give this finale a very special flair to make it stand out. We also get so much of everything we’ve come to love throughout this series, including more conspiracy and more manipulation (in other words, more Fae politics in general) as well as deeper look into the tantalizingly complex relationship between Jude and Cardan.
But first, the obligatory warning: make sure you’ve finished both The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King before reading this review. There won’t be spoilers for The Queen of Nothing, but due to the author’s love of cliffhangers and unexpected surprises, it would be impossible to discuss this book without referencing past events, so I hope you’re caught up! The novel begins straight away with the fallout from the previous book’s bombshell ending, in which Cardan manages to convince Jude to release him from his vows to her, making her his queen before promptly exiling her back to the world of mortals as soon as he gets his free will back. Rightfully pissed off at Cardan’s betrayal, Jude whiles away her days seething at the fact that even though she is the legitimate queen of Faerie, she has lost all authority and her life would be forfeit if she ever tries to return.
But then comes a desperate request for help from her twin sister Taryn, who finds herself in grave danger. To save her, Jude must take a great risk and sneak back into the Faerie Court, using a combination of magic and her own wits to hide herself in plain sight. But going back also means having to confront Cardan, something Jude isn’t sure she’s prepared for, after everything they’ve been through together. Worse, it appears the political situation has not improved since she left. As the realm braces itself for war, Jude finds herself caught in the middle of a roiling quagmire of secret plots, assassination attempts, and other cloak-and-dagger-type dealings.
Holly Black is a master storyteller, and all her careful plotting has finally come to fruition in this final novel of The Folk of the Air trilogy in which one wrong step by the main character can bring everything crashing down. Fae politics have been the backbone of the series since the beginning, but they are especially at the forefront in The Queen of Nothing, as Jude treads a fine line in her dealings with Cardan. But now the suspense is even higher, since we’re not sure where they stand—is the king still a lover and ally, or is he an enemy who will be the death of our protagonist? The two of them continue to tease us with this beguiling dance. Remember, almost every major character in this world has an agenda, and we know from experience that the details behind those agendas are always closely guarded, which keeps the tensions high and readers guessing.
I also love how Jude is a survivor. No, she’s not always nice, nor does she always do the right thing. We’ve already seen the lengths she will go to further her own goals, but that’s not always a bad trait to have in a main character who is more of an antiheroine. It certainly makes things a lot more interesting! Jude’s personality is a result of her experiences, many of which are dark and traumatic. That said, she still has a lot of admirable traits. Hungry for revenge, her reasons for returning to Faerie might not be entirely altruistic, but part of her is also motivated to protect a sister and her secret—someone who is arguably undeserving of such loyalty.
Other highlights include major family drama. We’ve already touched upon some of the issues with Tayrn, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, we get to spend some quality time with Oak, who is being kept safe in the mortal realm. On the topic of Jude’s traumatic past, this book also features some serious developments with Madoc. More than that I don’t wish to say for fear of revealing too much, but if you are invested in any or all these characters I think you’ll find yourself deeply engrossed with everything that happens.
Bottom line, if you’ve enjoyed everything you’ve read in the trilogy thus far, I have a feeling you will also love the way The Queen of Nothing brings everything to a close. It’s everything I liked about the previous books and more. All in all, a very satisfying finale, and together these three books make up one of the best YA series I’ve read in years.
Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every other weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I round up what I’ve read since the last update and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.
Received for Review
My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!
A huge thanks to Orbit for sending me a big box of books earlier this month. First up is Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth, just in time for Sci-Fi November! In case you missed it, I reviewed it earlier this week – great fun if you enjoy rollicking action-packed space operas. Next is a finished copy of Where Gods Fear to Go by Angus Watson, book three of West of West series. I swear here and now that I will read the second book soon and get caught up! I also received The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North, and I’m really curious about this one because all her books tend to be pretty interesting. There’s also Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan, which I’m insanely excited about because it’s the final volume of the Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy and I loved the first two books. Finally, Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender rounds up the batch, and though I’ve heard some mixed things about the story pacing and writing style, I’d like still to check it out.
Also a shout out to the kind folks at Tor Books who sent me a surprise copy of The Monstrous Citadel by Mirah Bolender! This is the sequel to City of Broken Magic, which didn’t really blow me away, so I’m still on the fence about continuing the series but it’s nice to have on hand regardless.
A big thank you also to 47North and Wunderkind PR for this trio of surprise arrivals: Now, Then, and Everywhen by Rysa Walker is a tale about two time traveling historians, Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock is a post-apocalyptic dystopian, and The Killing Fog by Jeff Wheeler is an epic fantasy of magic and myth. These were all new to me, and I’m looking forward to take a closer look at each one.
Courtesy of Ace Books, I also received surprise ARCs to a couple of highly anticipated early 2020 releases: Looking Glass by Christina Henry is a collection of four novellas set in the world of the author’s Alice series, and Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas is the third novel to take place in the author’s United States of Japan sequence. I loved Mecha Samurai Empire, so I’ll be reading this follow-up for sure.
From Simon & Schuster, I also received a new-to-me mystery/thriller called The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith, the ninth(!) book in a series called Arkady Renko, named for its investigator protagonist. In order to not burn out on science fiction this month, I’m actually giving this one a try to mix things up a little, since apparently it can be read as a standalone. Wish me luck!
And now time for some cheer-worthy YA, with thanks to Simon Pulse for the following ARCs: Chosen by Kiersten White is of course the sequel to Slayer, the novel that continues the Buffy universe, and Heart of Flames by Nicki Pau Preto is the sequel to Crown of Feathers, a fantasy adventure that takes place in a world of rich legends and phoenix riders. And a shout out as well to HarperTeen, for sending me a copy of The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, described as “Frozen meets Mad Max.” This one wasn’t even on my radar, but it just sounds so amazing from that blurb!
I’ve been trying to cut back on my digital requests lately, but there were a few I just couldn’t resist. From Penguin Random House Audio, I snagged a listening copy of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse. Between this and The Mandalorian, I’m getting so hyped for The Rise of Skywalker! With thanks to Hachette Audio, I also snagged a listening copy of Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward. It looks like the print version won’t come out in the US until next year, but it’s available digitally.
In the eARC haul, I grabbed Daughter From the Dark by Marina Dyachenko and Sergey Dyachenko with thanks to Harper Voyager via Edelweiss. And thanks to Tor.com I also got these beauties: Network Effect by Martha Wells (yay, Murderbot!) and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir which I knew I was going to cave on, and boy did I cave hard! But hey, if there’s going to be a readalong for this one too, I want to be ready – at least that’s what I tell myself. And finally, I saw Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim on NetGalley earlier this week, and just had to click that Read It! button, with thanks to Random House Children’s Books.
A quick summary of my reviews posted since the last update:
Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky (4.5 of 5 stars)
Flamebringer by Elle Katharine White (4 of 5 stars)
Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth (4 of 5 stars)
System Failure by Joe Zieja (4 of 5 stars)
Find Me Their Bones by Sara Wolf (4 of 5 stars)
Interference by Sue Burke (3.5 of 5 stars)
Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik 3.5 of 5 stars)
How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White (3 of 5 stars)
What I’ve Read Since the Last Update
Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. More reviews coming soon!
Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.
This week’s theme is:
“No thinking thing should be another thing’s property, to be turned on and off when it is convenient.”
~ a cover featuring a ROBOT
It’s Sci-Fi November! To celebrate, I’ll be featuring science fiction titles on Friday Face-Off for the full month. Up next, we’re shining the spotlight on C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust, a post-apocalyptic adventure starring a robot named Brittle. Thirty years have passed since machines rose up and took over the world, and every last human is dead. Super computers now control everything, demanding that all artificial intelligences join with them in one unified network. However, not all robots are willing to give up their individuality to be part of the collection. Those like Brittle who wish to retain control of their own programming are forced to go into hiding, scavenging whatever spare parts they can find in the wasteland to replace their broken and aging components.
Let’s take a look at the covers:
Gollancz (2017) – Subterranean Press (2018) – French Edition (2020)
I thought this week would be a simple head-to-head but at the last moment I came across the French cover slated to come out in early 2020. But ultimately, the choice still came down to the other two. It’s always tempting to go with a Subterranean edition since they do such a wonderful job on all their covers, but this time I really do think I have to go with the original Gollancz. I mean, that color combination! And the striking image of the robotic arm reaching out silhouetted against the sunset? Gorgeous.
But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of Heartstone
Publisher: Paperback: Harper Voyager | Audiobook: HarperAudio (November 12, 2019)
Length: Paperback: 368 pages | Audiobook: 10 hrs and 40 mins
Narrator: Billie Fulford-Brown
It’s amazing to look back and see how far this series has come. What began as a fantasy retelling of Pride & Prejudice has flourished and matured into a trilogy that is a phenomenon in its own right. Ever since Elle Katharine White started injecting more original ideas into the world of Heartstone, expanding the lore and enriching the characters and story with her own personal touch, things have started to really take off.
Flamebringer, the third and final volume, begins with Aliza and Alastair heading off into the wilderness in pursuit of Wydrick, the sworn enemy of the Daireds. Reanimated by a ghast, Wydrick is now immortal and more powerful than ever, and he has a dire warning for our characters.
In this world of magic and monsters, there are creatures more terrible than you can ever imagine. In the heart of the Old Wilds, Aliza and Alistair stumble upon an ancient sanctum holding secrets older than time itself. Everything they know and love is now being threatened by a terrible evil, newly awakened and ready to wreak havoc. Under its direction, bloodthirsty hordes of Tekari and Ghasts are gathering outside the capital of Edonarle and preparing to attack.
Racing against time to warn the city, our couple traveling on the dragon Akarra must brave the elements and other dangers of the wilds. But even if by some miracle they manage to survive the coming onslaught, there’s still the messy matter of politics to contend with. The word is that an ambassador from the south has been dispatched at the behest of the elusive Silent King, and it is anyone’s guess what his next move will be.
There’s a bit of everything in this book, including action, adventure, mystery, and a strong dose of political intrigue. There’s another noticeable shift here in terms of focus, as this time, the author has decided to go all in on the story. Of the three books, Flamebringer feels the most tightly plotted, whisking readers off on this epic journey packed to the gills with edge-of-your-seat battle scenes and shocking watershed moments—all of it building up to a finale you won’t soon forget.
At the same time, White is careful not to neglect the character development amidst all this furious action. The relationship between Aliza and Alistair is central to this series, and thankfully this aspect continues to grow and evolve as we watch their marriage go through its ups and downs. Despite the novel’s aggressive pace, we do get the occasional opportunity to catch our breath and explore Aliza’s inner thoughts during these brief moments of respite. She is still dealing with a lot of grief and guilt over past losses, and even though Aliza has nothing but love for her family, some of her feelings are causing unwanted tensions between her and her sister.
Quite honestly, I was surprised to find such a heavy emotional component in such a fast-paced book. But at the same time, having been with these characters since the beginning, I feel a closeness to them, especially to Aliza who wears her heart on her sleeve despite the rules of etiquette and social manners being so ingrained in her life. I really felt for her, and throughout the novel there were a few intensely raw moments that stood out for me, where I truly believe the author wrote straight from the heart.
While a part of me is tempted to say Flamebringer could have used more dragons, at the same time, I think we all know the series has moved far beyond that. All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the way this book ended. It’s hard to believe such a sensational epic journey grew out of a book like Heartstone, but such surprises are often the best kind. Needless to say, I’m mighty glad we broke out of the standard retelling mold, and I look forward to seeing all the other ways Elle Katharine White will stretch her creativity muscles in the future. Overall, I highly recommend this trio of books for anyone who enjoys a good balance of fantasy, romance, and intrigue!
“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!
Many folks probably know Chris Kluwe for his former career as an NFL punter, but being heavily into MMORPGs in the late 2000s, I’ve always associated his name with being a hardcore World of Warcraft player and video games enthusiast. He’s also a writer, and even though I haven’t had much luck with his short stories in the past, he’s soon coming out with a debut novel, which is much more my speed. Besides, I really can’t say no to a story that’s been described as reminiscent of Ready Player One and Ender’s Game.
A city of skyscrapers, built atop the drowned bones of old Miami. A prison of steel, filled with unbelievers. A dumping ground for strays, runaways, and malcontents.
Within these towering monoliths, Ashley Akachi is a young woman trying her best to cope with a brother who’s slipping away, a mother who’s already gone, and angry young men who want her put in her place. Ditchtown, however, is not the only world Ash inhabits.
Within Infinite Game, a virtual world requiring physical perfection, Ash is Ashura the Terrible, leader of the Sunjewel Warriors, loved, feared, and watched by millions across the globe. Haptic chambers, known as hapspheres, translate their every move in the real to the digital—and the Sunjewel Warriors’ feats are legendary.
However, Ash is about to stumble upon a deadly conspiracy that will set her worlds crashing together, and in the real, you only get to die once…”
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Semiosis Duology
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (October 22, 2019)
Length: 12 hrs and 12 mins
Narrators: Daniel Thomas May, Caitlin Davies
To be honest, I was a little surprised when I found out Semiosis was getting a sequel. I had felt the book ended in a good place, with a satisfying conclusion that capped off a multi-generational narrative in the best way possible. But because I enjoyed myself so much, I certainly wasn’t going to complain about a chance to return to Pax, the alien planet on which these books take place—not even when I discovered the story will be set some two hundred years after the first novel and follow a new group of explorers from Earth.
In fact, even though the series has been marketed as a duology, this second book, Interference, can technically be read on its own, but having the background knowledge from Semiosis will help a lot. A considerable time has passed since the first humans set foot on Pax, learning to adapt and share this strange and wonderous new world with its native fauna and flora. Over the generations, the colonists have settled into a comfortable equilibrium with the sentient alien life on the planet, becoming one with Pax itself. And watching over this entire process to make sure everything runs smoothly is Stevland, a bamboo-like lifeform and prime mover of this utopian society.
But now, that fragile balance that Stevland has so carefully developed is about to be disrupted. A new group of scientists from Earth have arrived on Pax, and they are as clueless as the original explorers were when they first landed on the planet more than two centuries ago. These humans want to know why communication with the colony has halted, yet they are completely unaware of the unique nature of Pax and its wildlife, nor do they understand the complex relationship between Stevland and the settlement. The scientists bring with them unfamiliar ideas, concepts, and technology—much of which Pax humans have forgotten over the generations. But more than that, the expedition also brings chaos in the form of disturbing new information about a genocide on Earth, and a couple of their team members who carry knowledge that can threaten Pax.
To start, while I really enjoyed returning to this world, I didn’t think Interference was as good as Semiosis, but I think that was because I went with certain expectations. In a look back at why I liked the first book so much, one of the main reasons was the theme of colonization and the characters’ first contact with the new planet’s unique animal and plant life. Obviously, with a settlement already established on Pax and humans having been integrated into its ecosystems for generations, this element was not as prominent in Interference. Semiosis also had a compelling narrative structure made up of points-of-view from multiple generations, and as a result, the novel had the feel of a collection of short stories that fit together to form a complete picture. Personally, I loved that format, and that it was a brilliant move by author Sue Burke to turn the focus onto the colony rather than the individual characters. Interference also features an attempt at its own unconventional narrative style, but this time, I didn’t think it was as effective. Following a more linear timeline, chapters are told from the perspective of different individuals, but paradoxically, I actually found it harder to engage with any of the characters even though we were able to glean more information overall about their personalities, behavior and culture.
Still, one aspect that remained spectacular was the biological science factor, as well as the social insight into human behavior. Of course, this time we also had the added element of the alien societies. Humans now exist peacefully alongside a race of beings called Glassmakers, who are themselves the descendants of non-native colonists who have come to Pax. Granted, you have the usual sources of tension whenever you have disparate groups sharing a living space, but on the whole, society runs like a well-oiled machine. This in part is thanks to Stevland, who is just one of the best concepts I’ve ever encountered in a science fiction novel. The sheer imagination behind the world-building is just incredible to behold, especially the way Burke has managed to seamlessly combine her hard science fiction ideas with ecological theories. This time, we explore the disastrous consequences of a system disrupted with the arrival of the new humans, some of whom have attitudes that are completely incompatible with Pax and its inhabitants. As a result, I also have to say the conflict is much more intriguing in Interference, which is probably the one key advantage the book has over its predecessor.
At the end of the day though, I just didn’t feel as invested as I did with Semiosis. That said, Interference was still a great read. As long as you go in expecting the changes and differences from the first book, you’ll no doubt have a blast. One of the smartest, most unique and mind-blowingly imaginative science fiction I’ve read in ages, this duology is well worth your time especially if you enjoy stories about space exploration, colonization, and unique interactions with alien species.
Audiobook Review: I listened to the first book in audio, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to stick with the format for the sequel. Narrators Caitlin Davies and Daniel Thomas May reprise their roles, and between them, they’ve once more captured the essence behind the voices of multiple characters, and even more impressively, this time there are non-humans thrown into the mix. As a result, there were lots of subtle nuances in the text, but portraying each of the different perspectives was not a problem for either of them. I am especially a big fan of Davies, who always delivers a great performance, and Interference was definitely no exception.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Semiosis (Book 1)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Nova Vita Protocol
Publisher: Orbit (November 5, 2019)
Length: 560 pages
Kristyn Merbeth, AKA K.S. Merbeth, the author behind the rollicking Wastelanders novels Bite and Raid, takes her brand of riotous adventure and thrills to even greater heights in Fortuna. In this action-packed space opera about a dysfunctional family of smugglers, we journey with Scorpia Kaiser and her mother and siblings aboard their titular ship across a galaxy filled with conflict and chaos.
As the eldest daughter and the pilot of Fortuna, Scorpia is looking forward to inheriting the business and the ship from her mother one day. But a recent transmission has thrown a wrench into those plans. Three years ago, her older brother Corvus turned his back on the family, enlisting in a war to fight for his home planet of Titan. His decision broke Scorpia’s heart, and because of that she has never forgiven him for his betrayal. But now, Corvus’ tour of duty is over, and their mother has ordered the Fortuna to rendezvous with him while on their way to another job, which unexpectedly takes a calamitous turn right in the middle of the awkward reunion.
But what Corvus’ younger siblings don’t know is the truth of why he returned to Titan to fight in an unwinnable war. They have all changed a lot in the last three years, and his once beloved little sister Scorpia is clearly unhappy about his return. But with an entire planet dying around them, the Kaisers must now put aside their differences and work together in order to survive. Realizing how their mother had been used as a pawn in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of interstellar politics, Scorpia and Corvus settle on a truce in order to protect what’s left of their family and prevent the galaxy from tearing itself apart from the inside out.
Told in the first-person, alternating between Scorpia and Corvus’ points of view, Fortuna is a non-stop thrill ride through a vividly imagined universe, where the planet on which you were born can mean as much as your family name, while those without a world to call home can be left vulnerable and without protection. Where you claim origin can affect your culture, your history, and how others perceive and treat you, and even among members of the same family, your birthplace can matter. Under such divisive conditions, it is no surprise that there is so much tension among the planets, leading to the development of deadly biological weapons including plants that can strangle the life out of an entire world. For a series opener, the world-building was simply superb, setting the stage for more adventures to be had in this most imaginative setting.
But the characterization was what made Fortuna stand out, and having it be a story about family was a brilliant move on Merbeth’s part. Anyone with a close sibling will probably find something familiar, heartwarming, or relatable in the characters’ interactions, because we understand how even though our brother or sister can get on our nerves, it’s simply impossible to imagine life without them. Corvus and Scorpia are complete opposites—him being serious and cool-headed, and her being impulsive and quick-tempered—but the two of them were close before his departure, which made the animosity between them upon his return all the more tragic. However, because of this impressively layered approach to their history, the ensuing steps to their reconciliation and eventual partnership were fascinating to watch.
Their voices, so different from each other, also complemented each other surprisingly well. Both of them have their issues, with Scorpia dealing with a drinking problem that often lands her in trouble and causes her to make all kinds of bad decisions, while Corvus has seen and done some things in the war which has left their mark on his soul. But when it’s time to take responsibility, the two of them admirably step up and show they have what it takes. Their contrasting personalities and problem-solving styles also meant a plotline that was always interesting and dynamic, and although dual narratives often make me wary, in this case there was never any confusion which character we were following. Better yet, once Scorpia and Corvus’ threads converged, the story got even better.
At the end of the day though, the plot’s trajectory and outcomes are pretty standard—but if you’ve come to Fortuna from the author’s Wastlanders books, you probably already know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. When it comes to delivering a boatload of sci-fi action and rip-roaring entertainment, Merbeth knows exactly what she’s doing, keeping the story’s momentum raging along like a pro. Even when you know what’s coming, you just can’t help but hold your breath and keep your fingers crossed, and that’s exactly the kind of intensity and electrifying experience I look for in my space opera. The only question now then, is when does the next book come out already?
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tantor Audio (October 15, 2019)
Length: 3 hrs and 36 mins
Narrator: Adrian Tchaikovsky
I confess, I haven’t always had much luck with novellas, even when it comes to those by favorite authors, but I ended up really enjoying this one. For me, it was simply the right mix of humor and horror. Take the witty, smart-alecky narrative style of The Martian and combine it creepy, dread-inducing atmosphere of Alien, and you’d probably end up with something like Walking to Aldebaran. One wouldn’t think that would work so well, but it did.
The book takes us inside the head of our protagonist, astronaut Gary Rendell. And us, we are Toto. Don’t ask. All you have to know is that our man Gary has been on his own for a long time, long enough for him to start going a little stir-crazy, hoping to find another living soul to call friend. They wouldn’t even need to human. At this point, Gary is beyond caring about such trivialities, for you see, he’s trapped on a giant alien artefact that was found drifting at the edge of our solar system, following a disaster that killed the rest of his crewmates. Now he’s lost, frightened and alone, wandering aimlessly through the cold dark tunnels of the megalith.
Gary had thought he was lucky when he was chosen to be part of the exploration team, after a space probe sent back images from the Oort Cloud showing a strange alien rock which was nicknamed “The Frog God” because of its uncanny resemblance to the amphibious animal. But now that he’s in this mess, he can’t help but look back on the past and examine the chain of events which has led him here. And maybe it’s the shadows playing tricks with his eyes, or the fact he’s losing his mind from being so lonely and terrified, but over the course of all this walking, he’s seen and experienced some pretty weird shit. Not to mention, perhaps he’s not so alone in these Crypts after all, though whatever horrible thing is out there, he’s not so sure he wants to meet it.
Hands down, my favorite thing about Walking to Aldebaran was the voice of protagonist. There’s no question that Gary Rendell’s humorous accounting of his journey added much enjoyment to the book, but there’s also another side to it. You know the saying “you gotta laugh or you’ll cry” or ever hear of people cracking jokes as a fear response? There’s definitely an underlying element of this at play in the narrative, and rather than breaking me out of the immersion, the humor actually worked to further emphasize the sheer horror of the situation in which Gary has found himself.
I also liked how the overall story unfolded. For such a short book, there’s quite a lot to unpack. From Gary’s experience in the Crypts to the events that led up to the discovery of the Frog God and how the exploration team came to be on the alien artefact, everything is covered here in a way that balances pacing and the amount of detail being doled out. Adrian Tchaikovsky takes care not to overwhelm the reader with information, nor does he want to push us too far over the edge when it comes to the terror and intensity of the atmosphere. Each time before the plot can veer too far in one direction, he reels things back to build interest in another area, so that we get to cover a lot of ground while moving at a fast clip. Flashback scenes and memories were also done well in a way that doesn’t draw too much attention away from what’s happening in the here and now.
Also, the ending—which I will not go into, because no spoilers here—was one hell of a dark twist, and I never thought I’d be saying this but it might have single-handedly solidified Walking to Aldebaran as one of my favorites by the author, right behind Children of Time. Granted, so far I’ve only read a relatively small sample of his massive bibliography, but this one felt pretty special to me, which is all the more impressive considering how picky I am when it comes to novellas.
Bottom line, I found Walking to Aldebaran to equal parts hilarious and terrifying, and ultimately very rewarding. Of course, I can see it not being to everyone’s tastes, given the narrative tone of the protagonist, but if you don’t mind a bit of lightness with your horror and an interesting approach to the unreliable narrator, I would give this a try. I also don’t recommend novellas too often, but once in a while an exception will come along, and this one I believe would be an excellent introduction to Adrian Tchaikovsky because it’s a wonderful showcase of his talents as a storyteller, if you’ve ever been curious about his work.
Audiobook Comments: It seems I’ve been having all kinds of luck with author-narrated audiobooks lately, because this was Adrian Tchaikovsky gave a superb performance on this one. I also think it worked especially well given the character of Gary Rendell. Tchaikovsky, being his creator, knew exactly how to deliver his protagonist’s narration, right down to the little details like tone and cadence, making this one an awesome listen all around.