Book Review: Normal

Normal
By Warren Ellis

Not My Edition:
Paperback, 148 pages
2016, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374534974

Adam Dearden’s job is to think professionally about the future – he studies geoengineering and smart cities and various ways to avoid “Our Coming Doom.” Like many who do this job, Adam has developed a case of “abyss gaze” and has had a break from reality. His employers have sent him off to Normal Head Oregon to a facility that will help him recuperate and hopefully get back into the business. But during his second day at the facility, another patient goes missing with only a massive hoard of bugs left in his bed and Adam finds himself trying to solve a mystery while attempting to hold his fragile mind together.

I picked this up because of the cover (illustrated by Pedro Sanches) and borrowed it because of the description and I’m pretty sure I missed most of what was going on, but it was fun to read so I don’t care.

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Book Review: The Sparrow

The Sparrow
By Mary Doria Russell

My Edition:
Paperback, 483 pages
2016, Ballantine, 20th Anniversary Edition
ISBN: 9780449912553

When extraterrestrial life is picked up via satellite, a group of friends and colleagues lead by a Jesuit priest with a knack for learning languages, set off to make contact with the residents of a foreign planet. At first glance, the mission appears to be a success, until things begin to go wrong and after a series of social mishaps everything falls apart. The lone survivor, Emilio Sandoz, must now face judgment from his superiors and peers in Rome and tell the story of the tragedy that befell the party.

The less you know about the plot of this book going in, the better. I don’t think there’s any way my review will do this beautiful book justice, but I’ll give it a whirl.

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Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit
By Becky Chambers

My Edition:
Paperback, 364 pages
2017, Hodder
ISBN: 9781473621473

Lovelace was once the artificial intelligence in the ship, Wayfarer, constantly tending to the needs of the ship and the crew, while also forming emotional bonds with them. But after the ship was damaged, Lovelace lost her personality because of a reboot and rather than cause the crew further pain, she left the ship in the form of an illegal body kit. Living with Pepper, someone who knows about not fitting in the body you were given, Lovelace struggles to come to terms with her new life and its limitations while still being true to how she feels.

Guys, I can’t even.

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Book Review: Sabella

Sabella
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 157 pages
1980, DAW

Sabella lives on the Earth-like colony of Nova Mars in the house where her mother died. After her aunt’s sudden death she finds herself being stalked by a young man who she met on the way to her aunt’s funeral. But Sabella knows what to do with handsome young men; she’s been feeding off their blood since she was fourteen. However, this young man brings with him a host of troubles that bring Sabella out of her secluded life.

I loved Sabella as a character, but as a book, not so much.

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Book Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
By Becky Chambers

My Edition:
E-book, 476 pages
2015, Harper Voyager
ISBN: 9780062444134

Rosemary has used up her savings to hide her past and leave her home planet of Mars. She joins the multi-species crew of a ship whose job it is to punch wormholes through space. Rosemary is finally free to explore the galaxy and finds unexpected friendships among the diverse crew. Among adventure and danger Rosemary learns that there’s more to family than blood.

I don’t know how to talk about this book, but it’s so, so, so good. One of those books where I knew from the first few pages that I was going to love it. Again, credit goes to Chelsea for talking about this book on her channel (and slightly to Amazon for having the e-book on sale for $1.99) and I can’t wait to buy a physical copy and the sequel/companion.

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Book Review: Arabella of Mars

 

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Arabella of Mars
By David D. Levine

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

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

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

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Book Review: Space of Her Own

Asimov’s Space of Her Own
By Various Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter
By Blake Crouch

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

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

Initial thoughts:

WHOA!

Ahem. Let me compose myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Graft

Graft
By Matt Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Press Start to Play

Press Start to Play
Edited by Daniel H. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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