Rogue Protocol – She Can’t Keep Getting Away With This

512phkhzbnlI am back with another short review for a novella, and it’s once again for Matha Well’s incredible Hugo winning Murberbot Series. The award for best novella was definitely deserved for the first book in the series, All Systems Red, which I reviewed here. However, today we are here to talk about the third short story in the series, Rogue Protocol.

The story still follows the titular Murderbot as she bumbles her way across the universe. Outed as a rogue security unit, and attacked by a shadowy organization, Murderbot decides to hunt down some information and secrets about this nefarious group and expose them – hoping that doing so will finally allow her to consume media in peace. To accomplish this, Murderbot travels to a collapsing terraforming station owned by the shadow organization that is being slowly destroyed to cover up some dastardly crimes. When murderbot arrives on the station with a human scrapping/science crew, they find that the station is a little less abandoned than they hoped.

As usual, Martha Wells balances horror, mystery, humor, intrigue, and compelling characters to pack an enormous amount of punch into this short story. Each of the novellas shows the growth of Murderbot as a person (I realize the irony in this statement) and focuses on new people imparting her with life lessons. In Rogue Protocol we get Miki, a sickeningly adorable manual labor bot who is treated like a friend by their human owners. It is a different take on the AI/human relationship that Murderbot had not seen yet – and her reactions to it make quite the read.

Rogue Protocol took a little while to get started compared to the other to stories in the series. It felt like there was a disproportionate amount of travel at the start, but it did do a great job for setting the stage for the back half of the novella. On top of this, Rogue Protocol felt a bit short, even for a novella. However, all of this is washed away by the tides of emotions that will wash over you in the back half of this story. Martha Wells once again shows that she can humanize AIs better than most authors can humanize humans. I was honestly not prepared for how hard some of the messages in the back half of the novella were, and it helped me forgive every other of the novella’s short comings.

Be excited for this next installment, and sad that there are only four novellas planned so far – so we only get one more after it. Rogue Protocol was delightful and I would say you have to be missing a heart to enjoy it – but I think robots would like it too. Martha Wells has ignited my interest in novellas with this series and I cannot wait to see what happens to Murderbot next.

Rating: Rogue Protocol – 9.0/10
-Andrew

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Shattered Sands At The Midpoint – An Interview With Bradley P. Beaulieu

veil-of-spears-front-cover-smAlthough it has been awhile since I read A Veil of Spears, the third book in The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley P. Beaulieu, it has stuck with me as one of the best things I have read so far this year. As such, I decided to see if I could talk with Bradley now that his series is half published and see how he felt it was going. He graciously responded to me, and now that I have my act together I have finally been able to get the questions and answers up! Enjoy:

So you have now finished Veil of Spears and are three books (published) into your six book series. How do you feel? Do you feel that you are on track? Relieved to be over the halfway mark? Worried about the ending?

As always, I’m roughly one book ahead of the publication schedule. I’ve just finished Book 4, Beneath the Twisted Trees, so it feels like I’m four-sixths of the way there instead of only halfway! But it feels good. In A Veil of Spears, It finally started to feel like I was providing more payoffs instead of always setting things up. So in that respect it’s satisfying. It’s nice to pull back the curtain on some of the things I’ve hidden for so long. And the series itself is on track. I knew where it was headed from the beginning, and it’s pretty much stayed on course the entire time. I’m really looking forward to finishing up the last two books and calling the series done!

After all this writing what is the thing you are most proud of in the first three books? Any particular scene that made you go “damn I am good” or a character you love?

One of the things I was really keen to explore is this notion of the loss of one’s family, the loss of one’s heritage, and the rediscovery of those things. I think some of it stems from loving things like The Lord of the Rings with all its hints of lost civilizations. Well, now I get to have my cake and eat it too! I hint at a ton of things from the past and get to revive them over the course of the books.

So it’s been a real pleasure to realize that goal. I’m not done yet. There’s still more to uncover and more for Çeda to do, but it’s been great to see it all unfold. And I’ve done it through the main character, Çeda, who has also grown up in the telling of this tale. It’s been very rewarding to see her blossom as the books have progressed. She’s been through a lot, but is coming out the other side stronger for it. Harder. At the same time, though, she hasn’t lost sight of what matters most to her: her friends, her family, her tribe.

What have you learned from each of the three books? Are there any areas you felt you needed to improve on the second half of the series or are you perfect in every way?

I think every writer is evolving. One of the things that I’ve tried to pay attention to in the past few books (with some stinging but very helpful comments from my editors!) is to be careful about over-explanation. Writers have to take care with past events, be they backstory, events from previous books, or even events in the same book that for whatever reason are being rehashed (usually due to some unfolding mystery). Explain too little and you confuse the reader. Explain too much and they feel pandered to, or worse, get bored. It’s always a bit of a challenge to decide where to draw the line, but often I was erring on the side of explaining too much, fearing the reader would get left behind. I’m adjusting a bit, trusting the reader more, and I hope it’s creating a smoother read for fans of the series.

I know this is like asking who is your favorite child, but who is your favorite character and which is your favorite book in the series (and why)?

Well the easy answer is Çeda, and it’s true. She’s the focus of the series. She’s the one who’s guided my choices the most.

That said, there is a close runner-up. Meryam. She’s someone who started off as a player in the game that’s unfolding in Sharakhai, but I didn’t envision her as being quite as big a player as she’s turned out to be. She’s bold. Driven. Much more than I gave her credit for initially. And while she’s ruthless, her actions are completely believable from her perspective. I’ve really enjoyed writing her scenes, and seeing how her story is starting to unfold. She’s become a wildcard in the series.

How much research have you done between books? Song of the Shattered Sand is some of my favorite Middle Eastern/Arabian inspired fantasy and as someone completely ignorant of the culture I am curious how much comes from their lore.

I tend to do the most research in the customs of the Middle East, traditions surrounding food and holidays. I also like to research garb and weaponry, sometimes fighting technique, either in single combat or in larger conflicts, just to get a sense for how those things would have played out in our world at that time. I also like absorbing stories, legends, mythology from that time period. One of my favorite acquisitions in recent years is Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian Nights by Sergio Toppi, published by Archaia Press. It’s a stunningly beautiful book, filled with retellings from the stories in Arabian Nights (or A Thousand and One Nights). It’s well worth it for the artwork alone, but also if you’re interested in Arabic tales.

What was your inspiration for the series? Was there any particular ideas, books, or events that you experienced that led to it? In particular I would love to know your inspiration for a story involving hunting 12 kings with different powers using poem riddles. It combines so many of my favorite things and I would love to know how you came up with it.

The story had a really long evolution. It took me years to develop. The basic desert city was first. The asirim, the strange mummified creatures who steal into the city each month, came very early as well, long before I knew who Çeda was or that there were in fact twelve kings. Slowly, the city and its status as a great power in the world unfolded. And I found out who Çeda was. I knew by then that I wanted it to be a story about rediscovery, and what better way for that to happen than if her mother was taken from her and if she had almost no connection to her family and her people? But as I thought about it more, I wanted there to be some connection from Çeda to her mother. That was how the book of riddles was born. Her mother had secrets. Very dangerous secrets. And she and Çeda both loved literature. What better way to pass down her mother’s secrets than through a book they both loved? Once the idea came to me, I really embraced it. It’s become one of my favorite parts of the series: this one thing, a book of poems and stories, linking mother and daughter beyond death and setting this grand tale into motion.

In general, do you have any favorite fantasy/sci-fi books? What are you reading right now?

Some recent favorites have been Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, China Miéville’s The City & The City, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, and Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. Right now I’m reading Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines on audio and Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld on ebook, and really enjoying both.

The series takes place in a beautifully realized desert setting. What is the most thirsty you’ve ever been, and how did you draw from that experience when writing these books?

I’ve loved writing about this grand desert. I’d wanted to write a desert-based fantasy for a long while. It kept showing up in my short stories and even in my first published trilogy, where the characters traveled to a vast desert in part of the final installment. More than being thirsty, I’ve drawn on the times where I’ve been in really hot settings. Try Phoenix in summer. I also lived in Southern California for five years, and went on various hikes and excursions. It’s dry down there, and those experiences helped me as well. We’re always told “write what you know” but sometimes we forget that we can both write what we know and extrapolate from tangential experiences to create a whole new experience in our books. Perhaps “borrow from what you know” would be a better way to put it.

 

Thanks again to Bradley for stopping by!

Every Sky Is Full of Stars – Blog Guest Post By Yoon Ha Lee

81s4snnvywlWhen Ninefox Gambit came out, I remember the consternation of some readers that starships were called “moths,” and not just “moths” but different kinds of them, everything from the big cindermoths to the logistical support ships called boxmoths and later the stealthed needlemoths and shadowmoths.  Why moths?  Why not just call them ships like everyone else?

I had a couple reasons for this.  The first was pure convenience on my part.  I can barely tell left and right apart in English, let alone port and starboard.  (This certainly made things interesting when I read Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander years ago, excellent book though it is.)  The thought of having to spend an entire book figuring out nautical terminology filled me with horror.  I wanted to refer to floors and walls, not decks and bulkheads.  So I didn’t call my starships “ships.”  Problem solved!  I figured that given that the hexarchate’s denizens aren’t actually speaking English anyway, I could justify this as a reflection of their own terminology.

Why “moths” instead of some other creature?  I wanted something that flew, that had a name that was one syllable long in English, and that had a group name (e.g. herd of cows, pack of elephants) that sounded sufficiently warlike.  I made the mistake of relying on a glorious Tumblr picspam for my information (protip: don’t do this!) and thought that moths came in “swarms,” which sounded perfect for an analogue to “fleets.”  This is probably incorrect, though, sorry!  I can’t seem to find a definitive answer to this on Google (one site suggests a group of just moths is a “wainscot”); anyone?

The other big reason was that my ships were living ships.  Specifically, as if the hexarchate weren’t awful enough as it stands, they’re enslaved cyborged aliens from a shadow dimension.  This isn’t really brought up in the first book because none of the viewpoint characters really know or care about it.  In hexarchate culture, they would no more think about moths as potentially having autonomy than I would think about whether my socks have opinions.  They’re just tools for the humans’ convenience.

But the moths aren’t just enslaved aliens, they’re enslaved sentient aliens.  This fact comes into play at last in Revenant Gun, when the titular ship, the Revenant, begins talking to Jedao.  The Revenant has definite opinions about what it wants to be doing with its life, which do not include being a slave for the rest of its life.  And it’s not incapable of making plans or gathering allies in support of those plans.  To find out how those plans go, you’ll have to read the book!

Revenant Gun – Interview with Yoon Ha Lee

81s4snnvywlThe incredible author of Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee, agreed to answer some of questions of our about his complex and gripping The Machineries of Empire series. Thank you again Yoon for taking the time to talk to us, and everyone else enjoy our questions and answers below! Revenant Gun comes out this week and you can find our review of it here. There also is a blog tour happening right now, so be sure to be on the lookout for other interviews and articles about Yoon.

I deeply admired your ability to world build in the first book in a way that relied on the reader’s engagement and willingness to accept the gaps. How hard was it to leave a lot of the stuff open ended to the reader, while still getting general idea across?

Honestly, while I had an outline and a bunch of notes, in writing Ninefox Gambit I made up a lot of stuff as I went!  Patricia C. Wrede makes an interesting distinction between what she calls “iceberg” worldbuilders and “bubble” worldbuilders, and I definitely tend toward the latter.  “Iceberg” worldbuilders are people like Tolkien–they come up with the deep history of the world and its cultures and maps and everything.  “Bubble” worldbuilders make up things as they go and everything is on the surface–there may be hints but there aren’t 500 pages of backstory lurking in the background.  Of course, she says–and I discovered it to be true–that “bubble” worldbuilders turn into “iceberg” worldbuilders when they write a longer work like a series, because you start actually having to keep track of what you’ve said and you need to keep your world consistent within itself.  Leaving a lot of things open-ended was a natural side-effect of the way I built the world.

How did you elevator pitch this story to your publisher? I have been asked to give a short description of the series before and completely failed so I would love to steal your answer.

Fortunately, I was able to look up my query letter to agents, which is probably pretty close:

Captain Kel Cheris is ordered to recapture a space fortress whose takeover by heretics my disable her nation’s advanced technologies, which depend on the state religion.  The weapon given Cheris is a dead tactician, Shuos Jedao.  Jedao may be the only one capable of outthinking the fortress’s defenses.  But he went mad during a former life, massacring his own soldiers, and while he seems sane now, no one knows how long that will last–least of all Cheris, who has been made host to his spirit.

Um.  I’m not going to pretend that’s the best pitch in the history of pitches; it’s very definitely a skill I’m still working on!

What was your inspiration for the series? Was there some external force or did all of this series majestical weirdness solely come from the depths of your mind?

There were several inspirations!  First let me talk about Legend of the Five Rings (L5R), a collectible card game/roleplaying game originally created by Alderac Entertainment Group (it has since been bought out and rebooted as a Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games).  I started playing it in college, and one of the things that sucked me in was the lore.  Its setting, the land of Rokugan, is a sort of fantasy feudal Asia (mostly Japan) and one of its key features was that you could join one of several clans, each with its own specialties–for example, the Lion Clan was known for its honorable warriors and tacticians, the Crane Clan for its elegant courtiers and duelists, the Scorpion Clan for its ninjas and seductresses.

Fast forward a number of years.  A man named Rich Wulf wrote a modern-day, cyberpunk-influenced fanfiction series about the setting called Rokugan 2000.  Inspired, some friends and I conceived of a space opera version of L5R called Rokugan 3000.  (A number of people around the web had the same idea–we were hardly alone.)  I was really excited about writing fic for samurai in space.

There was a catch, however.  AEG was looking for another writer for its official Story Team, and I wanted to apply.  And I knew that if by some miracle I succeeded and joined the Story Team, I would have to stop writing fanfic for the setting.  As luck would have it, Robert Denton III and I were both selected for it (Robert is currently writing for FFG now, as it happens, among other things).  So I shelved Rokugan 3000.

I still wanted to write space opera, though.  I had a great experience working with folks at AEG but ended up leaving after a year, and decided that it would be a good time to try to write a space opera in a setting of my own devising.  The hexarchate has influences from Rokugan–the factions were loosely inspired by the clans.

There were other influences.  In high school I read Jack L. Chalker’s Spirits of Flux and Anchor series, and one of its features is magic-like effects caused by manipulation of math and computers, as well as areas where magic doesn’t work.  I’m not sure I would recommend the books to a modern reader, as they have some notable flaws (Chalker’s portrayals of female characters and sex changes were sometimes odd), but Chalker was a history teacher and I was fascinated by his explorations of historical processes.

Finally, there was ethnomathematics, which I learned of through Marcia Ascher’s Mathematics Elsewhere.  I never had the privilege of meeting Ascher during her life, but it turns out it’s a small world–I found out later that she was the godmother of a college friend’s brother.  In any case, the whole idea of calendars affecting the laws of physics in a magical fashion came both from Ascher’s writing and from reading Harlan Ellison’s “The Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was the first time I really thought about differing calendar traditions in the context of fiction.  In real life, of course, I was used to lunar calendar celebrations vs. the Western calendar in South Korea (fun fact, you get to celebrate New Year’s twice!).

Considering there was so many cool and weird things in this series, I want to know, what came first, Jedao as a shadow, or the calendrical system?

The calendrical system.  Jedao as a shadow I made up on the spot.  I will own that as I approached the scene where he’s initially attached to Cheris I felt a stab of panic wondering how to make him sufficiently interesting…

The idea of the Hexarchate is extremely intriguing and the sort of weird self-propagation of its values through factional competition and prejudices feels very natural. The whole thing always feels like it is teetering on the edge, but manages to remain in control. Where did the Hexarchate/Heptarchate start for you? Why did it feel important to have separate factions as a coalition instead of a sole ruler with a feudal duchy like system?

See above about being inspired by clans in Legend of the Five Rings!  I admit that my feeling is that a system that precarious should only have lasted a couple centuries, tops, but I decided that strict plausibility was less important than having fun, especially in a space opera.  I went with coalition rule because I thought that had more potential for exciting infighting and also because I’m a little burned out on evil empires with sole rulers, so I wanted to do something a little different.

Of the six factions in the world, which do you see yourself belonging to?

I took the faction sorting quiz that Solaris came up with (http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/2065) and came out as a Nirai.  Since I have a B.A. in math, I suppose that tracks, although I didn’t pursue math further (ironically because I didn’t want to give up writing for six or seven years while doing a doctorate).  In real life, I see myself as one of the masses of unaligned citizens, a redshirt sort of person.

You decided to expand a lot of the world building and explain a lot of the science in the final book as opposed to the first (which I loved). Why keep your readers in the dark so long?

It was a controversial decision!  I often enjoy that kind of storytelling, though, so I wanted to give it a go.  One of my favorite examples of it is C. J. Cherryh’s The Faded Sun, where you learn about the different aliens (especially the mri and regul) as you go on.  (Obviously, I’m nowhere near as skilled a writer as someone like Cherryh!  But one ought to aim high, if one is going to do things at all.)

As for explanations in book three, one reason is that it seemed cruel to leave readers hanging in the last book of a trilogy.  The other reason has to do with choice of viewpoint characters.  In Ninefox, Cheris doesn’t really think about how things work if they’re a part of her everyday ordinary existence; when I read a book set in the modern day and someone turns on a light switch, I don’t need two paragraphs explaining power generation and distribution to me, I just need to know that flicking the switch makes light appear.  Even in a fantasy, if someone throws a fireball, I don’t need to know the grand unified theory of how fireballs happen; the name of the spell tells me it’s a ball made of fire, so why belabor the obvious?

In Revenant Gun, on the other hand, the main viewpoint is that of an amnesiac Jedao.  Not only that, but he’s a few centuries out of date.  So I explain things when Jedao learns about them, because it’s part of his process figuring out the world around him and what to do about it.

Not to spoil anything, but the conclusion to Revenant Gun leaves Jedao’s fate very open ended, would you consider doing another series about him or is this the end for your grand tactician?

Actually, I’m at work on a collection of stories set in the hexarchate, part reprints and part new materials, and one of the stories picks up after the end of Revenant Gun, with Jedao and Cheris going on an adventure together, quarreling all the way.  So stay tuned?  I’m not sure I have another series in me–I think I need to do something different for a bit, next–but I won’t rule it out.

What are your favorite sci-fi and fantasy books? Who are your favorite strategists in fiction and why?

Oh, you’d ask the hard question!  Iain M. Banks’ Player of Games, which I loved so much with its game-playing and metacommentary and double-crosses that I’m afraid to read more Culture books because how are they going to live up to it?  Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs is a fantastic exploration of magic, gods, and colonialism married to a spy thriller.  Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, of which my favorite is Memory, although you need to read the others first for it to make sense.  C. J. Cherryh’s Cyteen with its brilliant and disturbing exploration of nature vs. nurture and genius characters everywhere.  Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which has an antihero protagonist who weaponizes economics, although it’s not for the faint of heart.  For something completely different, C. S. Pacat’s Captive Prince trilogy, which is erotic fantasy.

And just because I’m a tease, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, which I read in ARC and which is coming out in 2019, in which an emissary from a tiny space station takes on a hungry empire based on a mixture of the Aztecs and the Byzantines; and S. L. Huang’s Zero-Sum Game, a near-future thriller about a female mercenary who is so staggeringly good at math that it’s essentially a superpower.

Favorite strategists or tacticians in fiction who we actually see doing their thing include Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan, who terrifies the spit out of me.  If Miles were real, I would make it a point to live the next galaxy over because he’s dangerous.  Baru Cormorant from Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, one of the rarer female examples.  There’s also a great female chessmaster in Ilana C. Myer’s Fire Dance.  If you allow anime, then Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass and Kaizuka Inaho from Aldnoah.Zero, and if you allow kdramas, Misil and Seondeok from The Great Queen Seondeok.

What is up next for you now that Machineries is done?

I have a middle-grade novel coming out from Disney-Hyperion in January 2019, Dragon Pearl.  It’s a space opera based on Korean mythology–you should have heard my mom’s ? response when I asked her for help researching pungsu jiri, the Korean version of feng shui!–in which a teenage fox spirit goes on a quest to clear her brother’s name after he allegedly deserts from the Space Forces to search for a powerful magical artifact that can change worlds.

Currently, I’m wrapping up the hexarchate short story collection, and after that I’ll be writing a novel for Solaris inspired by the curious story of the paint pigment PO49 or Quinacridone Gold.

Often in military science fiction I find a lot of the writing transfixed by the technology of war, without considering the consequences of using it. However, a lot of the technology in your series was showcased with a sense of wonder, followed by an incredible feeling of foreboding before the full brutality of it was revealed. Was this a deliberate effort on your part? And if yes, why did you feel the reader should go through this realization with each new weapon?

I know that brutal depictions of violence and carnage are not for every reader, but that was deliberate.  I feel that the effects of terrible weapons should not be shied away from.  While I do not have a military background, my father spent some years as a surgeon in the US Army, so I grew up with an awareness that when people go to war, someone has to stitch the survivors back together.

Some people have stories of war veterans in their families.  I don’t have that, really.  But I’m Korean-American and we do have stories of the Korean War.  The one that I remember most keenly is the one my mother told me. Her mother–my grandmother–already had two small children plus a baby, and she was evacuating Seoul with her family a couple months after the war broke out.  Grandma made the hard decision for the family to abandon the baby by the side of the road so that the other children would have a better chance of survival.  But another woman picked up the baby and brought her back to Grandma and said, “You forgot this.”  Grandma didn’t have the heart to abandon the baby again.  That baby was my mother, and it is because of that woman, whose name we don’t know, that my mother survived, and that I am here today.  So I always try to remember that war has a cost, not just for the soldiers but the civilians, even though in this trilogy I chose to focus on the soldiers, who are no more and no less human than the people they are fighting for.

Thanks again Yoon, and be sure to check out The Machineries of Empire if you haven’t already!

REVENANT GUN BLOG TOUR -Poster

A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe – Vast and Furious

35520564Here we have another of Orbit Publishing’s summer debuts, which they graciously sent me in exchange for an unbiased review. A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe, by Alex White, is the first book in his Salvagers series. I will tell you right off the bat that I think this is going to be one of the most divisive books I have read and a lot of people are going to love it and a lot of people are going to feel its not their thing. Which side you fall on is what I will hope to show you with this review. However, if I had to describe this book in an elevator pitch, I would say it is Firefly, meets Fast and Furious, meets National Treasure.

Building off that last sentence, Big Ship is a story about an unlikely and eclectic crew, with a penchant for danger and huge ridiculous vehicle stunts, on the hunt for historical treasures. Our protagonists are Boots and Nilah, two complicated women from very different backgrounds who are thrown together by circumstance. Boots is a war veteran from a conflict that had no winner and a scam artist with no scruples. She survived a war that wiped out both sides and now scrapes by selling fake salvage/treasure maps to suckers who come to her. She also has a rare birth defect, she was born with no magic. On the other hand, Nilah is a magic prodigy with a need for speed. Pampered and privileged as the daughter of the elite, Nilah is a race ship driver, spending her time using her mechanical magic to drive a futuristic race car. She is egotistical and spoiled, but none can deny her brilliance with her magic as she’s consistently at the top of the pack when it comes to speed and finesse on the track. The two of them end up on the run when Boots accidentally sells a map that unearths a conspiracy and Nilah witnesses (and is accused of) a murder that was meant to cover it back up. The two of them end up on the ship of Boots’ old commanding officer, someone she detests for his actions in the aforementioned war, and they all quickly realize that the only way they are going to get out of this is to follow Boots’ map to its final mark.

Big Ship is a fun, loud, and adventurous book. As you can likely tell from the plot description the story has treasure hunting, racing, lots of combat, and unlikely heroes. It is a tale of space rogues that will appeal on the surface to most with its kick ass magic system that I have only mentioned so far. Big Ship is closer to a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid as the populace of White’s world are all born with specialized magic (called “marks”) that allow them to enhance their tech, or use tech to enhance their magic. For example, Nilah has a mechanist’s mark that allows her to “feel” her vehicles as if they were part of her body and adjust them as if she was an AI. The captain of the ship they all ride on has a mark that allows him to produce shields, and using the ships interface he can project magical auras around it. It’s a really cool and fun magic system that constantly surprised and delighted me. The book is original, fun, and exciting, so you might be wondering why I mentioned it will likely be divisive. Well there are two major reasons, neither of them a flaw, but things that might not align with everyone’s tastes.

The first reason is that Boots and Nilah are incredibly unlikable (or at least at first). The book has a tremendous amount of character development, but the first chapters surrounding our leads had me wanting to blast them out an airlock. Boots is selfish and self-pitying and hard to feel sympathetic for as she rips off everyone around her. Nilah is arrogant and naive and watching her take her first steps in the “real world” was painful. I grew to love both of them as they became much better people over the course of the book, but if you do not have the patience for the character growth it may be a major turn off. The second reason is that the book is incredibly dramatic. I’m talking borderline soap opera dramatic. Everyone is constantly fighting, everyone is constantly talking about their feelings, and everyone is always pouring their heart and soul out to anyone who will listen. I did not enjoy this, but I want to stress that despite my dislike I still think that it was well-written and well-executed. The prose style was just not my preference and it had me rolling my eyes in many scenes. That being said, I was easily able to move past the moments I didn’t enjoy due to the gripping plot and the books biggest strength: the spectacle and combat.

Combat is really hard to write, and White is really good at it. I think this book would make an excellent movie because White’s action scenes were so visceral and present in my mind that I felt I was living them. His attention to detail with sound effects in particular really got my adrenaline pumping, with things like the noises of retractable claws and the whining stress on ship parts bringing scenes to life. This combined with some huge Fast and Furious style action set pieces led to some very memorable scenes that are still vivid in my mind after finishing the book.

While A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe might lose some people with its dramatic emotions and less than perfect protagonists, those that push on are going to find a new favorite book. The world is incredible, the adventure engrossing, and the combat will have you on the edge of your seat. Big Ship is the strongest debut I have read in 2018 so far and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel as soon as I can.

Rating: A Big Ship At The Edge Of The Universe – 8.5/10
-Andrew

Foundryside – Glyph It A Chance

Foundryside RD4 clean flatHere we go. It has been a bit of a slow year so far, especially compared to the volume of incredible fantasy and science fiction books that came out in 2017. While I have really enjoyed a few installments in ongoing series, there really hasn’t been a series start that has stood out in 2018 so far – until now. I feel like it should surprise no one that Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett, is a sensationally good book. Ever since I stumbled onto City of Stairs, Robert has been a fixture of my yearly best books lists and has never disappointed. I was a little bummed when the Divine Cities series wrapped up last year and Robert said he was moving on to a new project, but my misgivings have been blown away and I am fully on team Founders (the name of the larger series).

So what is Foundryside about? Well, to make a long story short, a thief steals an object that puts her at the center of a conspiracy to destroy the world, and only her and a group of random people that get dragged into the conflict can stop it. The longer version takes a little more explaining. One of my absolute favorite parts of Robert’s writing is his incredible imagination. His ideas always feel both fresh and cool, and Foundryside is no exception. In the book people have learned how to essentially rewrite local laws of the universe using glyphs to make cool effects and tools. Now that sounds vague and complicated, but here is an example: one scrivner wrote symbols on two pieces of metal so that anything that happens to one, happens to the other twin piece. This is then used to light one piece of metal on fire to set off gunpowder near the second piece from afar. I liked the premise of this “magic” from the first page, and Bennett used it to do some truly creative and awe inspiring things in the novel. Circling back to the plot, the people of Foundryside are the remnants of a civilization that essentially destroyed itself by using these powerful glyphs eons ago (losing record of the glyphs in the process). Their ancestors have tried to rediscover the ancient magic and have had middling success. However, just this tiny success has allowed a small fraction of the population to essentially become massive mercantile houses that rule unchallenged. So, when our protagonist, Sancia, discovers an object that might unlock some of the original glyphs the entire city sets out to murder her and take it for themselves. What I really liked about the magic system is that Bennett clearly defines the limitations of scrivning early on, so you get to try and think about how to find loopholes the rest of the book. It is a satisfying magic system to read about and it balances mystery, science, and awesomeness very well. Plus, there are some truly gruesome deaths via glyph in the story – like “seek therapy after reading this” level of fucked (and they were as brilliant as they were horrifying).

The world is cool, the magic is cool, and the plot is amazing. Speaking about it more in the abstract, I found myself deeply invested in this story and hanging on every word (especially near the end). The one of two minor criticisms I have for the book as a whole is I felt the pacing was a little uneven. The beginning is great but a bit slow, and the ending is so damn immersive and fast that I had a moment where I looked at my clock at 4 am on a work night with 100 pages left and thought “why are you doing this to me Robert” before finishing the rest of the book. The cast of the story come from a number of walks of life and they create a fantastic crew that bounce the plot between heist, combat, intrigue, politics, and science – nailing all of them. Foundryside felt like reading five different books, all of them excellent and seamlessly wound together. On top of all of this, Foundryside does a phenomenal job of both telling a high-stakes and self-contained story, and setting up the greater series as a whole. Unfortunately, the other minor criticism I have is that Foundryside’s antagonist can feel bit over the top. He is such a puppy kicking, ice cream hating nazi lover from page one that he can seem comically evil at times. This did, however, make him a cathartic person to take down, so it didn’t bother me immensely.

I’ve saved the best part for last: the characters. As I have alluded to above, Foundryside follows a group of unlikely allies that end up working together through happenstance. You have an orphan thief from the ghettos, a prince warrior with an unyielding sense of justice, an older snarky inventor, a calm and dependable engineer, and an amnesiac who seems to be more than he appears. The dynamic and synergy of this group filled me with all sorts of positive emotions. I loved watching them learn about, decide if they could trust, and come to depend on each other. They all play off of each other so damn well and it made the heartaches, victories, and humor hit hard – constantly getting reactions from me in a wonderful way. While I love Sancia (the thief) dearly, the unnamed (for spoiler reasons) inventor was my absolute favorite. His was a new perspective for me, and I was surprised how much I identified him and his reactions to events. I have already reread a number of scenes in the book as I just enjoy watching the characters talk and react so much. There are also a number of things that people are looking for in modern fantasy such as: some great female leads and a well written homosexual romance subplot (although it does take second string to stopping the world from ending).

Foundryside is a really good book, and will effortlessly make my top books of 2018. Robert Jackson Bennett is a writer of supreme talent and imagination, and has once again proven that his work is worth your time. If you like politics, action, intrigue, engineering, heists, humor, fun, happiness, heartache, or lovable characters – Foundryside has it all. I honestly can’t imagine who wouldn’t like this book, so sit down, dig in, and have a good time.

Rating: Foundryside – 9.5/10
-Andrew

Douglas Adams Never Gets Old

 

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I found myself unusually nostalgic this Memorial Day weekend. The nature of the holiday feels like one of reflection and remembrance, and it made me start thinking of books and movies I enjoyed a long time ago. A item that was in both those mediums was Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. While most agree it is a phenomenally good book, feelings about the movie are a little more controversial – but I am a big fan. HBO has it in their movie library for free (if you have the service) and you should check it out if you haven’t.

I don’t usually revisit a lot of media. The nature of how I read and watch things revolves around an ever growing pile of new things to experience before I die. This unfortunately does not leave a lot of room for revisiting old favorites – something I am finding I want to do more and more. I got into the fantasy and sci-fi genres about 20 years ago, and the first books I read are starting to lose their crispness in my memories. Hitchhiker’s was one of those books, and all I could really remember about it was a couple of key plot points and that I had a profound and life changing experience when I read it. So I decided to rewatch the movie and see if it recaptured the spark I felt a long time ago, and unsurprisingly it metaphorically lit me on fire.

Adams never gets old. He is quoted endlessly on clothes, laptop decals, and Facebook pages because it is so hard to read Hitchhiker’s and not feel something memorable. It is deliciously ironic that a book about “no one understanding the meaning of life”, feels like it was written by one of the few people who have the answer to life’s biggest question. Hitchhiker’s is just filled to the brim with witticisms that are funny and poignant at the same time, and rediscovering it after all these years just makes me like them more.

I have tossed The Guide on the pile of things to be read. No one needs to hear my thoughts on Hitchhiker’s Guide, because I doubt I need to convince any of you to read it. This means it will cut into my review time and put me behind my schedule of books – but frankly I don’t care. Hitchhiker’s Guide is worth the inconvenience and I am so excited to dive back into its wonderful and comforting pages.

-Andrew