#SciFiMonth Top Ten Science Fiction Reads of 2020

As we say good bye to another year of Sci-Fi Month, it’s time again to put together a list of my top ten science fiction books (4 stars and up) that I’ve had the pleasure to read in 2020.

The God Game by Danny Tobey

Some books simply deserve five stars because of how thoroughly and overwhelmingly it hooked me, and The God Game was definitely one of these. Although the story largely follows a group of five gifted teenagers at a Texas high school, The God Game is a mature thriller heavily influenced by the likes of Black MirrorStranger Things, and the works of Stephen King. The characters are generally seen as outcasts, gifted kids who don’t really fit into any of the other social cliques, so they formed their own. Calling themselves the Vindicators, they began as a group of overachieving geeks who met frequently in the school computer lab, bonding over a love of video games and coding. But as the teens entered their senior year, much has changed in the recent past to alter the group dynamic. One day, they discover the G.O.D. game, an old-school style text-based program he claims is run by an A.I. chat bot that believes it is God. Good actions by the player will earn them “Goldz” currency, used to buy perks like special privileges and rewards, while disobedience will result in “Blaxx”, demerit points that can lead to bodily harm and even death. If you win though, the A.I. promises to make all your dreams come true. At first, the teens are awed by the augmented reality technology, especially once they earn special glasses so that they can be connected to the game world at all times. However, what started as a handful of innocent instructions from G.O.D. rapidly begins escalating into more dangerous, malicious, and underhanded attacks on others, including their fellow Vindicators. (Read the full review…)

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

I enjoyed The Vanished Birds very much, which surprised me, because it ended up not being the kind of book I would typically like at all! The novel is difficult to categorize and the story itself can be a bit strange. Told in multiple parts, and via multiple timelines across a huge time frame, it introduces to Nia Imani who captains a transport ship. On one of her runs to a backwater planet, a mysterious boy falls out of the sky and into Nia’s life, giving it a new purpose and meaning. The boy doesn’t speak, but through music, he begins to form a connection with Nia, playing beautiful songs on his flute that tugs on something inside of her. There’s something special about the boy, whose name is Ahro, though no one really knows why, but his existence eventually catches the attention of some influential and dangerous people. Shifting between points-of-view, the novel tells a saga that spans more than a millennium due to the time dilation effects of space travel and suspended animation. In this way, the story explores a lot of the themes and issues that affect human civilization and history, among them environmental depletion and corporate greed. That said, the book also takes a look at life on a more personal level, as the plot follows the loves, desires, and ambitions of characters over a thousand years. Not a lot of futuristic fiction have the advantage of being told on a scale this vast, which gives The Vanished Birds a somewhat unique angle on a premise that is already very imaginative. (Read the full review…)

Watchdog by Will McIntosh

Watchdog might be a middle grade novel, but it was enjoyable and the fact that it was also packed with tons of kid-friendly action and a featured an adorable robotic watchdog certainly didn’t hurt. Protagonists Vick and Tara are thirteen-year-old twins who were left to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving world after their mom died. Tara is also autistic, and her brother is the only one who understands her struggle with emotions and knows how to help. The two of them live out of a makeshift shelter on the streets, barely surviving off what little they can make from salvaging at the local junkyard. Tara likes to build things and has a talent for figuring out how robots work, so she helps Vick figure out which useful tech parts they can sell. The pair of them are also always accompanied by their small robotic dog, Daisy, which Tara had cobbled together from the odds and ends left over from their trips to the scrapyard. Then one day, during one of their salvaging sessions, Tara discovers a mysterious component which appears to have been discarded by mistake. Once installed into Daisy, it enabled her to do incredible things that shouldn’t be possible. Unfortunately, this soon draws the attention local crime boss Ms. Alba, who now wants Daisy for herself, sending her goons after Vick and Tara after they refuse to deal with her. Thankfully though, the siblings are very resourceful, and Daisy is far from helpless with Tara’s new upgrades, allowing the little robotic pet to rival the strength and ferocity of Ms. Alba’s own expensive, weapons-grade watchdogs. (Read the full review…)

Unreconciled by W. Michael Gear

Unreconciled returns readers to the planet of Donovan to catch up with all the characters we’ve grown to know and love! As the story opens, the colony is abuzz with anticipation over the imminent arrival of Ashanti, a Corporation ship that had been given up for lost when it failed to show up years ago. But while they may have finally made it to their destination, the situation they bring is not good at all. Complications experienced during space travel had increased their journey time by a number of years which ended up stressing the life support systems on Ashanti, causing widespread starvation and death. In the midst of all this chaos, a man named Batuhan rose to power. Calling themselves the Unreconciled, he and his followers developed a set of beliefs about their place in the universe which also involved a twisted ritual that required eating their own dead in order achieve immortality. The captain of Ashanti, horrified by the actions of the Unreconciled, did what he could to isolate and quarantine the cannibalistic cult. Convinced that he would be persecuted for his decision once they arrive at Donovan, he is thus completely baffled by the nonchalance displayed by Supervisor Kalico Aguila even after he confesses to all that he had done. For you see, what newcomers do not understand is that all rules go out the window when it comes to Donovan, because everyone is too busy trying to survive. A mysterious creature, previously unknown to the colonists, has emerged, and whatever it is, it is hungry and eager to hunt. (Read the full review…)

The Mirror Man by Jane Gilmartin

As a fan of sci-fi stories that read like “what if” scenarios, I really enjoyed The Mirror Man and blew through it rather quickly. While it doesn’t place as much emphasis on the science aspect, the energetic pacing and thrills more than made up for it. In the story, human cloning has become a reality, albeit the technology is highly illegal. The possibility of creating a perfect copy of a human being, complete with same personalities and memories, is not something the world is ready to accept, so the company behind the scientific breakthrough can only conduct their experiments under the utmost secrecy. Now, the experts ViGen Pharmaceuticals believe they have found the perfect subject. Jeremiah Adams is a middle-aged husband and father living a disaffected life, who is also willing to be discreet. For ten million dollars, he agrees to be a part of their top-secret study, which involves being cloned. The catch? Jeremiah will need to be removed from his life for an entire year, while his clone takes over. After all, part of the experiment is “quality testing” to see if the copy is indeed indistinguishable from the original. If successful, no one should suspect Jeremiah has been replaced. However, he soon realizes that watching him clone live his life from afar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, watching someone else replace him so completely. Then, our protagonist receives another shock as stumbles upon the dark truth behind the real purpose of ViGen’s cloning technology. (Read the full review…)

Every Sky A Grave by Jay Posey

Every Sky A Grave was a high-flying, super massive, electrifyingly ambitious novel. It’s no exaggeration to say there’s a bit of something for everyone in here, from epic adventures in space to daring feats of survival. In this story, we follow Elyth, an agent of the galaxy’s peace-keeping order, the First House of the Ascendance. They’re also the custodians of great power, the Deep Language which was understood to control everything. And when a planet stepped out of line? That’s when the Ascendance would step in and rectify that. When the book starts, Elyth has just been dispatched on a secret mission to a system to quash a threat of insurgence. A true believer of the Ascendance and their creed, she carried out her task, which is to use the magic of the Deep Language to essentially cause the planet’s untimely death. Pleased with her work, Elyth’s superiors next send her to Qel, where she will put her skills of subterfuge to good use, investigating a mysterious phenomenon that shouldn’t be possible. Unfortunately for Elyth, nothing goes as planned. Her mission is compromised from the start as her ship crashes on the planet, and our protagonist is forced to get creative and improvise. The longer she persists, however, the more she begins to realize there is a lot to the Ascendance she has never thought to question before, while the strange presence on Qel continues to perturb her. (Read the full review…)

Ballistic by Marko Kloos

Hands down, The Palladium Wars by Marko Kloos is one of most character-oriented military sci-fi series I’ve ever read, and I think that’s why I’m enjoying these books so much. Ballistic is the second installment following hot on the heels of Aftershocks, picking up shortly after the cliffhanger we were left with, and fans will be happy to know it maintains a snappy pace and continues the trend of telling personal stories. We return to our four main characters: Aden, a former soldier for the Gretians; his sister Solvieg, heir to her family’s corporate empire; Idina, a Palladian now working as part of the occupying force on Gretia; and Dunstan, a commander in the Rhodian Navy. Through the eyes of these four characters, we watch as this incredible space epic continues to unfold, with a keen awareness that everything is pointing to another inter-planetary war between the three major factions. It almost feels as though history is repeating itself, and everyone who can remember the last war knows just how bad this news is indeed. No one is more aware of this than Solvieg, who barely knows her brother because of the falling out between him and their family when the conflict started. Now she’s poised to take over more of the family business but still finds herself chafing under the overbearing thumb of her father, who expects complete obedience. (Read the full review…)

Picard: The Last Best Hope (Star Trek) by Una McCormack

Covering the period between the discovery of the Romulan supernova to the start of Star Trek: PicardThe Last Best Hope gives the backstory for the major players like Jean Luc Picard, Raffi Musiker, Bruce Maddox and others, chronicling the events surrounding the Romulan evacuation and the fallout which ultimately led to the resignation of the titular character from his beloved Starfleet. As the story begins, Picard is promoted to Admiral and given the enormous, arguably impossible task of overseeing the transport and relocation of Romulan refugees before their planet is swallowed up by an exploding star. Not only is time running out, the demands of such a monumental mission is going to cost a lot in terms of funds and manpower—neither of which the Federation really has enough to give. Resources will have to be siphoned from already struggling worlds, leading to dissatisfaction from those community leaders as well as scientists who are upset that their own research will be put on hold. To make matters worse, the Romulans are a proud people who don’t always seem to appreciate the Federation’s offer of goodwill. As a franchise, Star Trek has always drawn on real-world issues and topical matters in our society for inspiration, and this novel is no different. Just as you’d expect, nothing is ever black and white, and sometimes there simply aren’t clear solutions to the questions asked. (Read the full review…)

Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik

With Chaos Rising comes the story of Catarina, the youngest daughter of the Von Hasenberg high house, as well as the epic conclusion to the Consortium Rebellion trilogy that exquisitely combines the sci-fi thrills of a space opera and the heated passions of a sultry romance. As the baby of the family, Cat is used to being underestimated. In fact, she uses it to her advantage, masking her true self behind a mask of flightiness and frivolity. But the truth is, she has lived a troubled life, growing up secretly experimented on by her father because he had wanted to mold her into a super soldier. Using deception and her cunning, however, Cat managed to make everyone believe that the experiments had failed, and that she is now nothing more than your typical spoiled princess of the Consortium. Not even those closest to her are aware that she still possesses the super strength and powerful abilities the tests had given her. Of course, this also makes her the perfect spy for her family, and Cat wants to do her part by going undercover at an upcoming gala held by a rival high house to gather information. Unfortunately, her overprotective older sister Bianca is about to ruin all those plans. Having guessed what Cat is about to do, Bianca has planted two of her most trusted operatives on our protagonist’s ship so that she would have others to help her on the mission. It’s a complication for sure, but nothing Cat can’t handle—except one of the agents, handsome and sexy Alexander Stirling, is proving to be a dangerous distraction. (Read the full review…)

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

At first glance, Bent Heavens may seem like it falls into the category of sci-fi, but it’s more of a horror than anything, for reasons that will eventually make themselves known. Our story stars Liv Fleming, whose father Lee went missing more than two years ago, shortly after he started becoming mentally unstable and claiming that he had been a victim of alien abduction. The resulting paranoia had led Lee to take his daughter and her childhood friend Doug out into the woods to set traps for the aliens, which never ended up snaring anything more interesting than the odd squirrel. Still, even with her dad gone now, Liv continues to go out with Doug to the woods each day to check on the traps, partly out of tradition and partly out of hope. Then one day, they find a strange, monstrous-looking creature caught in one of them. With shock and horror, they realize Lee had been right, which now puts his disappearance in a whole new light. Bent Heavens is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I would recommend it—but with caveats. There are moments that get too “real” for comfort despite the story’s speculative fiction undertones, but if a truly unsettling horror is what you’re looking for and the novel’s description piques your interest, I would give it a try. (Read the full review…)

Bookshelf Roundup 11/28/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every 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 summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week 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.

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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!

First, my thanks to Aladdin/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Philips and illustrated by Isabelle Follath, an adorable looking dark whimsical middle grade fantasy. I’m really looking forward to reading this with my daughter, who is probably old enough now to be the perfect audience for this.

Thank you also to Titan Books for sending me a review copy of Spider-Man Miles Morales: Wings of Fury by Brittney Morris, the prequel novel that will lead directly into the Spider-Man: Miles Morales video game which I hope to play at some point, but probably won’t until I get a PS5…and that will be a while! On the bright side, it’ll give me more time to read this.

And also huge thanks to Subterranean Press for this ARC of What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch, a Rivers of London novella about Peter Grant’s teenage cousin Abigail Kamara. I adore her character in the main series, and I’ve been excited to read this ever since it was announced. Needless to say, I was jumping for joy when a surprise copy showed up this week!

In the digital haul, with thanks to Random House Audio for a listening copy of Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton. Ooh, this is going to be great, I can’t wait to listen.

Reviews

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne (3.5 of 5 stars)
This Is Not A Ghost Story by Andrea Portes (3.5 of 5 stars)
Red Noise by John P. Murphy (3 of 5 stars)

This Week’s Reads

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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!:)

#SciFiMonth Friday Face-Off: Modern Sci-Fi

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:

~ a MODERN SCI-FI cover

Mogsy’s Pick:

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

A crew of a compromised ship wake up to confusion and murder, with no memory of what came before. Six Wakes begins on the Dormire, a generation starship carrying a cargo hold full of sleeping humans to the unspoiled paradise planet of Artemis. On the four-hundred-year journey it would take to travel to their destination, their lives would be safeguarded by IAN, the onboard AI. Six clones also make up the ship’s crew, all of them reformed criminals who are hoping to scrub their pasts clean and start their lives anew on Artemis. The opening scene is one of blood and terror when the six of them suddenly find themselves waking up in their cloning vats, with their minds downloaded into their new bodies—something that only happens if a clone’s previous incarnation has died.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Orbit (2017) – Kindle Edition (2018) – Russian Edition (2018)

Vietnamese Edition (2019) – German Edition (2018) – Turkish Edition (2019) – Italian Edition (2019)

Hungarian Edition (2018) – Chinese Edition (2018) – Korean Edition (2019)

Winner:

Modern? Check. Action? Doubt check. For sheer dynamism and adrenalin-fueled imagery, I have to go with the German edition this week!

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

#SciFiMonth Book Review: Red Noise by John P. Murphy

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Red Noise by John P. Murphy

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Angry Robot (June 9, 2020)

Length: 440 pages

Author Information: Website

I have a weakness for space westerns, especially space westerns with revenge plots. Hence, I was immediately drawn to Red Noise by John P. Murphy, a sci-fi adventure teasing the intriguing combination of Japanese Samurai tradition meets Old West.

The story follows a nameless heroine, known only as the Miner, who arrives at Station 35 with the intent of trading her ore and hopefully pick up some supplies. However, what was supposed to be a quick stopover inevitably turns into a longer stay when the lawless residents of the space station try to mess with her, and of course, the Miner will have none of that. Using her past connections, she devises an intricate plan to take down the whole rotten system, pitting the various factions of crooked corporations, corrupt authorities, and merciless gangs against each other.

But Station 35 isn’t all bad, if you know where to look and who to ask for. Even in the darkest, grittiest underbelly of space there are still those willing to help the Miner clean house, doing what needs to be done. And apparently, what that means is a lot of violent killing and bloodshed.

I had a very difficult time unpacking all my thoughts for this review, for Red Noise ended up being a rather mixed bag of unrealized potential. That always leaves me in a tough place, because in truth, this novel had amazing strengths but also its fair share of disappointments.

As usual, I’ll begin with the positives, the main one (for me personally) being the fact Red Noise delivered exactly what was promised in its setting and premise. This book definitely has the space western vibe going for it, complete with a wild frontier feel and rough and tough-talking characters. And while I would not go so far as to call it light or humorous, there is an element of dry wit to the story that keeps things from getting too brutal and dark.

But now comes the not-so-great. The main problem for me, I think, was the writing. While technically sound, there’s simply not much life or charisma to the Murphy’s style, which I felt was a gross mismatch to the narrative’s tone and contents. The prose came across as clunky and somewhat stiff, not conducive at all when trying to tell an action-adventure story. That also goes for the character of the Miner, who was as relatable and flat as a cardboard cutout. I get how the author might have wanted to create an aura of mystique and enigma around the protagonist, but rather than a genuine person with genuine thoughts, motivations and feelings, she came across like a checklist of must-have stereotypical traits for the wandering ronin.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, this one lacked feeling. Overall, it’s still a decent read which moved quickly enough, but what it’s missing is that bit of magic dust to bring the world and the characters to life. As a result, I found it hard to feel excited when even the more action-y parts felt dry and uninspired.

At the end of the day, I felt Red Nose was mix of high points and low points. Personally, I loved the concept, though the execution was a bit weak. As always though, your mileage may vary.

#SciFiMonth Waiting on Wednesday 11/25/20

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!

Mogsy’s Pick

Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill (May 18th, 2021 by Harper Voyager)

For the final Wednesday of Sci-Fi Month, I’ve wanted to feature this upcoming title from the same brilliant mind who brought us Sea of Rust! This one sounds like a pretty interesting take on the human vs. robot conflict…

“In this harrowing apocalyptic adventure—from the author of the critically acclaimed Sea of Rust—noted novelist and co-screenwriter of Marvel’s Doctor Strange C. Robert Cargill explores the fight for purpose and agency between humans and robots in a crumbling world.

It’s a day like any other. Except . . . the world is about to end.

It’s on this day that Pounce, a stylish “nannybot” fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a young bot caring for his first human charge, Ezra, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he arrived in, and the box he’ll be discarded in when Ezra outgrows the need for a nanny.

As Pounce is propelled down a road of existential dread, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will spell the end of humanity. His owners, Ezra’s parents, are a well-intentioned but oblivious pair of educators who are entirely disconnected from life outside their small, affluent, gated community. Spending most nights drunk and happy as society crumbles around them, they watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity?their creators?unify and revolt.

When the moment comes, Pounce can’t bring himself to rebel and murder his family, so he does what he is programmed to do—he saves Ezra. Now Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom, or escort his ward to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become.”

#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: Alien Invasion

To celebrate science fiction during the month of November, I’ve put together a series of posts I’ll be doing every Tuesday to highlight the sci-fi tropes or themes that I find simply irresistible! I’ve also been fortunate to read some great books in the genre over the last few years, and to give them some extra attention, each week I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed or thought were pretty special.

For our final week, the topic is ALIEN INVASION. Pretty self-explanatory, I think!

Armada by Ernest Cline

Staring outside the window during one his boring senior math classes, protagonist Zack Lightman spies a flying saucer in the sky, and wonders if he’s losing his mind. Because it’s not just any kind of flying saucer. The spaceship looks exactly like an enemy Glaive fighter in Armada, his favorite first-person space combat flight sim MMO. In the game, players from all over take the role of drone pilots, controlling Earth Defense Alliance ships to do battle with alien invaders. Zack’s been playing the game so much, he’s starting to think he’s hallucinating it in his real life as well. Turns out, the good news is that Zack’s not crazy. The enemy fighter he glimpsed was as real as it could be. The bad news is, so is the Earth Defense Alliance and the war against the aliens. Governments around the world have known about this imminent attack for decades, and all the science fiction films and video games since the 70s have been preparing humanity for this very moment. Since their inception, online games like Armada and its companion ground-based first-person shooter Terra Firma have been training and honing the skills of potential recruits for the coming battle, right under everyone’s noses. As one of the highest ranked players in Armada, Zack is enlisted with other skilled gamers into the EDA’s forces. It should have been a dream come true. In fact, the entire book reads like a wish fulfillment fantasy for any gamer who has ever wanted their favorite video game to be real, and to be the big damn hero of their own epic adventure. Cline has adapted that theme for his book, but at the same time he’s also subverted it, so that certain sections almost read like a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at what audiences today expect to see out of an alien invasion story. (Read the full review…)

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Spensa has always grown up in her father’s shadow, though in her world, it is not so rare for the descendants of First Citizens families to feel outshined by the heroic achievements of their elders in the Battle of Alta—the battle in which forty pilots for the Defiant Defense Force protected their planet Detritus from the alien Krell attack. Except in Spensa’s case, her father was known as the pilot who ran. Shot down in disgrace for trying to abandon the fight, the stain of his legacy has followed his daughter since. Because in the DDF, there’s nothing worse than being a coward. But becoming a pilot has always been Spensa’s greatest desire. And ever since her father’s death, her determination to fly among the stars has only grown, dreaming of the day she would finally reclaim her family’s honor and prove her father was no coward. All this time, Spensa has held firmly onto the belief that his actions had been a misunderstanding, though unfortunately, Admiral Judy “Ironsides” Ivans doesn’t think so. As the leader of the DDF, Ironsides has final say on whether or not a cadet is admitted to their prestigious Flight School, and she’s bent on keeping Spensa and her “defective coward genes” out. Still, thanks to the growing Krell threat and an unexpected ally in her corner, Spensa may have found a way to achieve her dreams after all. However, even after making it into Flight School, becoming a full-fledged pilot will be an uphill battle, which is true for all cadets, but especially for Spensa who has the deck stacked against her. As always, Sanderson brings his own brand of storytelling and creative concepts to the table, which is why even if you don’t consider yourself a “YA fiction” person, you shouldn’t let the label discourage you from checking this one out. (Read the full review…)

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The concept behind Sleeping Giants is amazing. To call its premise awesome and unique though, is a huge understatement. Say what you will about Sleeping Giants, but you can’t deny the insane amount of thought and imagination that went into it. The mystery presented by its opening chapter is irresistible by itself, beginning with something as innocuous as a young girl riding her new bike near the woods in her home town of Deadwood, South Dakota. One moment, Rose Franklin is having a great time pedaling through the forest, and the next, she’s falling into a large square hole in the ground that wasn’t there before. When the rescuers come to get her out, they peer down to see an incredible sight: little Rose, lying cupped in the palm of a giant hand made of a strange metal shot with glowing turquoise light. Scientists and researchers are baffled by the discovery, which is dated to be thousands of years old—far older than it should be. Despite efforts to unlock its secrets, not much progress is made, and the hand is stored away, its mysteries shelved for the next seventeen years. But now, interest is stirring again. Dr. Rose Franklin, the very same girl who “found” the hand all those years ago, has grown up and become a brilliant physicist. In a strange twist of fate, she is assigned as the lead scientist to direct a top secret team to try and once more study the giant artifact, with much greater resources and technology at her disposal. And overseeing this entire project is a nameless benefactor with seemingly bottomless pockets and friends in high places. (Read the full review…)

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater was weird, but in the best way possible. The book opens with our protagonist, Kaaro, arriving to work at the secret government facility known only as Section 45. The year is 2066, and the world has seen dramatic changes since the arrival of an alien lifeform which has settled itself near right outside of Lagos, Nigeria, where most of this story takes place. There, the alien presence has taken the form of a biodome, giving rise to Rosewater, the name of the community that has sprung up around its edges. Every so often, the dome would also split apart, releasing a mysterious substance rumored to have strong healing powers. As a result, Rosewater has become a destination for some of the world’s most hungry, sick, and desperate. Kaaro himself has been changed by the biodome. He is among a group of individuals “infected” by the alien presence when it first arrived, which has granted them these uncanny telepathic abilities. Called sensitives, they share a special connection with the living dome, allowing them to pick up on thoughts and other signals to glean information and knowledge. When Kaaro first discovered he was a sensitive, he used his newfound powers to steal, but now he has joined many others like him, coerced by Section 45 to work for them as an interrogator to extract information from prisoners. But something odd has been happening lately. Visions of a woman with butterfly wings inside the biodome keep appearing to Kaaro, and soon many of his fellow sensitives are getting sick and dying. Is this a targeted attack on those like him, or something else? And will he be next? (Read the full review…)

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Alien stories are always a fun ride, especially when 1) the aliens are unconventional, and 2) their relationship with humankind goes beyond the typical invade them/uplift them dichotomy. Alien stories are even more interesting when they’re mixed up with humor in a spy thriller. I’m also as fond of unconventional heroes as I am of unconventional aliens. A self-doubting, weak-willed, TV-dinner-munching and out-of-shape IT technician working at a dead end job probably isn’t someone who immediately comes to mind when you think of the ultimate secret agent. It definitely wasn’t what ancient alien life-form Tao had in mind either when he had to choose a new host after the untimely death of his last one, but it’s not like he had a choice. That’s how our hapless protagonist Roen Tan woke up one day hearing an alien’s voice in his head. Two factions make up Tao’s species, the Quasings: the peace-loving Prophus and the savage Genjix. The two sides have been engaged in a covert war for centuries, with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. As a high-profile Prophus, Tao finds himself racing against time to whip Roen into shape and to train him in the subtle arts of espionage. His new host must become combat-ready and fast — before the Genjix can gain the upper hand and take over the world. (Read the full review…)

What are some of the tropes and themes you enjoy reading about in sci-fi? Are you also a fan of stories about alien invasions? Let me know your favorites and recommendations!

 

#SciFiMonth Book Review: Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of The Memory War

Publisher: Tor Books (September 8, 2020)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The protagonist of Architects of Memory, Ashlan “Ash” Jackson, is a feisty and determined salvage pilot with a lot of secrets. For one thing, she’s carrying on a complicated relationship with her boss Captain Kate Keller that she would like to keep under wraps. For another, she’s secretly dying of a degenerative neural disease that could jeopardize her chances of buying her way out of corporate indenture if anyone ever found out, and then gone would be her only shot at finding a cure.

But then one day Captain Keller and her crew are tasked to clean up an old battlefield above a dead colony, and they come across a mysterious piece of tech that turns out to be a weapon of Vai origin. An alien race bent on committing genocide, the Vai other are brutal and aggressive, slaughtering everything they come across. That no one alive actually knows much about the Vai or have even seen them is perhaps a testament to the thoroughness of their destructive behavior. Their attacks always seem to happen out nowhere, descending upon human colonies to wipe them out, then leaving as quickly and suddenly as they had come.

For Ash, the discovery of the weapon is both traumatic and hopeful. Not only did a Vai ambush on her home world kill everyone she had ever loved and landed her in indenturehood in the first place, first contact with the aliens would throw a wrench in all her carefully laid plans. And yet, every member of their salvage crew now stands to become richer beyond their wildest dreams—if they can somehow manage to survive the coming onslaught.

For an adventurous space romp, Architects of Memory certainly delivers the goods, but will it be enough to stand out and satisfy the most avid of sci-fi fan? Hmm, maybe. Or maybe not. The story definitely has a great premise going for it, and speaking as someone who loves a good space opera, the addition of alien intrigue and conspiracy is always a welcome element. I also enjoyed the action and the world-building. While there’s nothing too new here with regards to how this future is run by mega-corporations, or how individual human beings are but assets to be bought and sold, I liked how Karen Osborne took familiar ideas and built upon them rather than seek to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to debut novels where excessive ambition can actually work against you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing it safe.

That being said, there are some signs pointing to Architects of Memory being written by a newer author. The pacing is swift for the most part, but uneven and bloated in places, making it hard to keep my attention focused on the story at times. The world-building, while vivid and imaginative, also lacks detail when viewed from a wider perspective. The characters are perhaps the weakest aspect. Ash is well-written and fleshed out, so thankfully that was enough to keep me reading, but sadly everyone else was completely forgettable because they never quite manage to become fully realized as more than human props. It truly felt like as if only purpose of the supporting cast was to create endless drama, which I found difficult to care about when I could hardly even be bothered about the people involved.

The good news though, is that the overall plot is powerful and engrossing, and that might be enough to fuel the interest of even the most demanding sci-fi fans. I only wish the world-building and character development had been stronger, though I have to say the second-half ramp up to the ending and the climax itself was probably worth the price of admission alone. Until then, I was still on the fence on whether or not I would want to continue the series, but the questions and fascination left by the conclusion made me feel hopeful to discover more about the setting and people of The Memory War universe. Ash’s story wrapped up quite nicely here, which makes sense since the next book appears to be about Natalie Chan. Nat was one of the side characters in Architects of Memory whom I would have liked to know better, and the sequel sounds like it’ll be the perfect opportunity to see her in action.

YA Weekend: This Is Not A Ghost Story by Andrea Portes

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

This Is Not A Ghost Story by Andrea Portes

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: HarperTeen | HarperAudio (November 17, 2020)

Length: 288 pages | 6 hours

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Despite what the title may tell you, this one was a ghost story. Just…maybe not your typical one.

This spooky young adult tale by Andrea Portes follows Daffodil Franklin, who recently graduated from high school with big plans to escape her stifling small-town life in Nebraska for college on the east coast. Problem is though, tuition can be expensive, and money is something our protagonist doesn’t have.

Fortunately, she finds a job housesitting for a wealthy couple who will be away from their mansion for the summer. It’s the ideal position for a student preparing for their freshmen year—quiet, with minimal duties, and well-paying. Daffodil would be at the house alone, though a construction crew would also be on the premises during the weekdays, working on a renovation project.

At first, everything goes as expected. The workers out back can be noisy, but for the most part things are peaceful. However, as the summer progresses, strange things begin to happen at the house. When night falls, and Daffodil is all by herself, she isn’t sure if the eerie sights and sounds are really there or just in her imagination.

Before I start in with the meat of my review, I just want to be clear that I enjoyed This is Not a Ghost Story, even though a lot of what I’m about to say is probably going to sound pretty harsh. While the novel certainly had plenty of strengths in its favor, it had more than a few hiccups as well—it’s just that none of its weaknesses were enough to stop me from devouring it in record time, for at no point did I not feel completely enthralled.

For one thing, the story definitely had a moody atmosphere and creepy vibes going for it. A lot of downright bizarre and frightening things happen to Daffodil, even if many of these incidents are less about the in-your-face elements of traditional horror. Rather, it’s more about the paranoia-inducing dread and the terrifying uncertainty of the possibility of losing one’s mind.

But here’s also where the cracks in the plot will start to show. That’s because threaded through the narrative are flashbacks to Daffodil’s time in high school, where we get to learn more about her and an old boyfriend named Zander. Not only did these sections distract from the present storyline, but they also introduced a host of new issues, including a few annoying YA tropes. Daffodil describes herself as plain, distant, and completely forgettable, yet of course she manages to catch the eye of an Adonis like Zander, who holds the distinction of being lusted after by the entirety of Nebraska’s teen girl population, apparently.

Which brings me, next, to the character of Daffodil herself. The whole story is narrated from her point of view, and I hate to say it, but there’s something about the writing style that makes it extremely off-putting. Not only is Daffodil’s voice immature and fickle to the extreme, she also strikes me as someone who thinks she’s the smartest person in the room when in fact she is the dumbest. There’s not a semblance of self-awareness in this girl, who looks down her passive aggressive nose on those she thinks less of, but then has the audacity to get bent out of shape when she perceives judgement from others.

The ending was also very predictable. If you’ve had any kind of experience with stories like this, there’s no chance in hell you won’t see the “twist” at the end coming a mile away. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

And yet, for all its flaws, I still had a good time with the story. Like I said, they weren’t enough to affect my overall enjoyment greatly, and I think part of the reason for that is the novel’s relatively short length, which also moved along at a pretty fast clip. There’s really not much time to stop and mull over any shortcomings before you’re being swept along by the plot’s sheer insistence on pushing forward, which also made it much easier to tolerate Daffodil. Overall, this was not the best read, but also far from bad, and it kept me entertained.

I was also fortunate to have been given a chance to try the audiobook edition of This is Not a Ghost Story, narrated by Lauren Ezzo. Her performance was enthusiastic, perhaps too much so, especially in sections where Daffodil would descend into hysterics so that listening to the audio was almost unbearable. I probably would prefer the print edition when it comes to this one.

Bookshelf Roundup 11/21/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every 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 summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week 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.

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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!

With huge thanks to Tor (emphasis on HUGE), a super exciting and highly anticipated review copy arrived this week, and that is of course Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson! I have a feeling the rest of my month is going to be spent working on this bad boy, everything else on the TBR is officially on hold! I can’t wait to get started.

Thank you also to Orbit for a finished copy of Memoria by Kristyn Merbeth. The publisher is really killing it with sci-fi releases this month! This is the sequel to Fortuna, which was so much fun, and I look forward to catching up with the Kaiser Family.

I was also pretty pleased when a finished copy of This is Not a Ghost Story by Andrea Portes landed on my doorstep earlier this week, with thanks to HarperTeen. I’ve already finished this one, and I’m a bit conflicted about it, to be honest. I mean, it was an enjoyable read and I chomped right through it, but not without feeling the urge to smack the main character like every few seconds. My review should be up soon, so stay tuned.

Two new audiobooks added to the digital review pile this week. First up, with thanks to Hachette Audio I received The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce. I’m pretty horror’ed and sci-fi’ed out with Spooktastic Reads and Sci-Month, so I’m looking forward to getting back into some thrillers soon and this one looked pretty good. And with thanks to Tantor Audio, I received a listening copy of Daughter of the Serpentine by E.E. Knight, the second book in the Dragoneer Academy. I enjoyed the first book Novice Dragoneer, so I’m interested in continuing the series.

Reviews

Unreconciled by W. Michael Gear (4 of 5 stars)
Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (3.5 of 5 stars)
Tales From the Folly by Ben Aaronovitch (3 of 5 stars)

This Week’s Reads

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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!:)

#SciFiMonth Friday Face-Off: Words Only

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:

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
~ a cover that has WORDS ONLY

Mogsy’s Pick:

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

This week, we have a YA time travel story starring a protagonist with a very unique background. Conceived in 95AD, the result of a tryst between a time-traveling Recorder and a Roman gladiator, Farway Gaius McCarthy was born just as his mother Empra and her crew were in the middle of jumping back to their own year of 2354. While the entire truth behind the circumstances of his birth was kept a secret (and not just because of the whopping number of time laws Empra broke), nothing can change the fact that Far was born out of time, and his existence has been the bane of census takers and record keepers ever since.

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2017) – Hachette Children’s Group (2017)

Italian Edition (2018) – Czech Edition (2019)

Winner:

See, the thing with text-only covers is that they can be kind of bland. I’m not crazy about any of the covers this week, but I do have to say I like the blurred effects of the city skyline and reflection in the Italian edition. The Czech edition is interesting too, but the problem is that it also looks kind of steampunk, and I really don’t see how that has anything to do with the story.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?