It’s this new app for better living…

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 200, May 2023

BETTER LIVING THROUGH ALGORITHMS by Naomi Kritzer. 5610 words, 18 pages, short story.

“It’s this new app for better living.” “I love the idea of an app that tells you to put your phone down more. For your own good,” Margo said, her eyes glinting. “You should try it!” June said. “You get the first thirty days free!”

A fun story about a lifestyle app that attempts to make you happier. I smiled and the story made me happier. 
4/5 📱✍️🚌💐☆

Can be read for free here.


This has gotten me thinking—I have so many „unfinished“ magazines on my virtual shelves and I want to read more short stories again. I got most of these stories for free. Maybe it would be a fun challenge to actually get all of these magazines and really read them. Not only could I tick them off as read, I would also support those magazines with keeping up the good work…

Swimming through Space under the Roof of the World…

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 200, May 2023 

6220 words, 20 pages, short story.

A story told by a tentacled and shelled mollusk. They are in Space and above them is the roof of the world. There is a disturbance. I was pretty convinced what or where this space and the roof really are—I was not quite right. Interesting and well written. 
4/5 🐙🦑🐙🦑 

“Scog hung in space, close enough to the Roof of the World so she could faintly hear her pulses echoing back from its jagged hardness. Coming back from everything in the area, those pulses told her of almost everything around her out to past the distance where it could be dangerous.“

Can be read for free here.

I have never read anything by Turtledove before. A gazillion of his books are included in my Audible subscription and the Internet mostly recommends to start with In the Balance. I added it to my Audible pile, which is starting to develop massive proportions. I am not too keen though, neither World War II nor Alternate History are high on my preferred reading list.

Also available by Turtledove for free on Clarkesworld: The Yorkshire Mammoth (7370 words)

The whole point of live tourism is authenticity…

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 200, May 2023 

2680 words, 10 pages.

“Does it come in any other colors?” Maeve asks, eyeing herself in the smart glass.

“No,” the salesperson admits. “You look quite elegant in eggshell, though.”

A couple takes a trip to Faro in Portugal, wearing onesies consisting of cooperative swarms of microorganisms. Their „holiday suits“ shield them from their surroundings and have some unexpected side effects… I am not sure what to make of the title. The story was ok, but not really my thing.
3/5 🇵🇹🇵🇹🇵🇹 

Can be read for free here.


The Real, the Unreal and the Unnecessarily Long…

Lords of Uncreation (The Final Architecture, #3)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Author), Sophie Aldred (Narrator)

Last part of a trilogy. I really loved the first book Shards of Earth and sadly struggled with the middle book Eyes of the Void. At the end I think I could have done without books 2 and 3 and would have preferred one standalone and closed novel with less padding and all the plotlines tidied up.

Favourite characters are Olli and Kittering. Idris is really kind of a drag in this one, especially his forays into Unspace with their lengthy descriptions of what he sees and feels. My eyes glazed over a few times. Ollis‘ entire story was the most fun. I did enjoy Solace and Kris as well, although Kris only played a minor part. Too bad that she ended up so bitter at the end.

I struggled again, same as in the second book, to remember who all of the characters were and what they did before. So many of them! It‘s a good thing that the print edition has a list of characters at the back. Too many characters. 

Massive world-building effort. Loved the concept of the Eye. Crux was also a fascinating place to be.

bit lot on the overly long side. The entire trilogy is too long. A duology would have done nicely. I had to re-listen to the last three chapters, because I had run out of steam at the end and reaching the end I realized that I hadn‘t retained any of it, including the grand finale. It‘s a pity that by the end I was mostly glad to be finally done with this trilogy.

Bittersweet ending. 👁️👁️👁️½☆, rounded up. It‘s probably me. 

Shards of Earth | My Goodreads review | My WordPress review
Eyes of the Void | My Goodreads review | My WordPress review

I really think I do not need trilogies anymore. Or novels that are a 1000 pages long. What a drag. Why torture it to those formats with all this padding and endless reminiscing, if you can tell a compelling story in one novel of average length?

Ok, yes, I did enjoy the entire trilogy of Children of Time (Children of Time | Children of Ruin | Children of Memory). So sue me. 

Evolution was a source of much inconvenience, to be sure.

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 200, May 2023
by Neil Clarke (Editor), Suzanne Palmer (Author)

TO SAIL BEYOND THE BOTNET by Suzanne Palmer. 21920 words, 72 pages, novella. My favourite little bot is back. 

“I have been activated, therefore I have a purpose, Bot 9 thought. I have a purpose, therefore I serve.“

I laughed so much, my face is hurting. And this was so cute as well. The aliens— bad and good guys—were hilarious. Never mind convergent evolution. This is a lot more fun. 
🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 with a 🍒 on top!

Bot 9 is awakened and something is amiss. It has been ejected into space and Ship is gone. It is alone. Well, not quite… Is it a thing in SF at the moment to explore aliens that communicate with other means than speech? Or has that always been a thing and I just missed it?

“They were flashing colors back and forth, along with a volley of whistles, hums, and vaguely flatulent squeaks. They took turns, providing further evidence for 9’s theory that the aliens used both visual and audio signals to communicate.“

Nice take on individual and group consiousness. 

Bouncy Birthday Moonwalk by Sunnie Spot & The Solar Flares

Can be read for free here. I decided to get the whole magazine though, to support Clarkesworld. 

“Suzanne Palmer is a multiple Hugo Award-winning author whose work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and other magazines. She is currently at work on the fourth novel in her Finder Chronicles series, and thinking about what comes next for Bot 9.“

I added her first Finder novel to my TBR pile early in 2022. I guess I will have to read it soon, because I really like what I have read so far. I am happy for Bot 9 to stay in the world of novellas, I don‘t need a full-length novel…


More light SF, this time with a touch of romance

Bright Shards (The Vardeshi Saga, #2)
by Meg Pechenick

The second half of Ascending. I recommend reading both books back to back, they really feel like one novel, as the first novel leaves too many plot points unanswered.

This again is very, very light SF, with a dash of romance. The aliens are very humanoid and there isn‘t really much though given to the differences or how Avery deals with them. 

”Linguist Avery Alcott has spent three months proving herself to her Vardeshi companions and earning their respect. She arrives at Arkhati, the space station halfway between Earth and Vardesh Prime, eager to continue her adventure. But the next stage of her mission brings its own challenges. In the months to come, new alliances and old friendships will be tested. Avery will question her purpose and her place among the Vardeshi, and she will discover that the most memorable journeys are the ones we can’t predict.”

I am still flummoxed about the use of camping stoves. There never really is a clear description of how the Vardeshi cook. Anyway, in the middle I lost interest and skimmed quite a bit. I liked the third part the best. Enough actually to consider reading the third book, CELESTIAL NAVIGATION, when or if it comes out. I assume it will take us all the way back to Earth.

The various parts of the novel could have been separate novellas, they felt quite distinct. For me personally this was too little SF. It was all much too unlikely. Avery could have been on a climb in Nepal with some locals and it would have roughly been the same in terms of how alien it feels to a Western college graduate.

So, light SF romance, brain candy, nothing deep. New Adult Romance SF?

Ascending | My review

Currently reading / weekend update

I did not read an awful lot in the last few days. The weather was nice, it‘s finally getting warmer and I was out with friends a few times in the evenings. On the plus side it‘s a national holiday here tomorrow (Pentecost), so more reading today and tomorrow! Here is what I am currently reaqding:

Bright Shards (The Vardeshi Saga, #2)
by Meg Pechenick

I might finish this today or tomorrow, I have 100 to 150 pages left. I skimmed a little through the middle, because I had lost interest. The third part is not bad though. Nice relaxing SF brain candy for reading on the balcony…

This is the sequel to Ascending (The Vardeshi Saga, #1) (my review). They really need to be read back to back, because the first book stops in the middle of the story and none of the plotlines are resolved. To be honest, I would not have spent any money on the sequel, both books are on Kindle Unlimited and I currently have a free subscription. This is very, very light on the SF part.

Linguist Avery Alcott has spent three months proving herself to her Vardeshi companions and earning their respect. She arrives at Arkhati, the space station halfway between Earth and Vardesh Prime, eager to continue her adventure. But the next stage of her mission brings its own challenges. In the months to come, new alliances and old friendships will be tested. Avery will question her purpose and her place among the Vardeshi, and she will discover that the most memorable journeys are the ones we can’t predict.

Lords of Uncreation (The Final Architecture, #3)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky

About 1 and a half hours left in the audiobook. Long! Some (too) long introspective sequences that I could have done without. Had to rewind a few times, because I spaced out. It is good though and much better than the second book of this trilogy. The first book will remain my favourite though.

… the third and final novel in an extraordinary space opera trilogy about humanity on the brink of extinction, and how one man’s discovery will save or destroy us all.

The Final Architecture
Shards of Earth
Eyes of the Void
Lords of Uncreation 

Fables Vol. 10: The Good Prince (Fables (Graphic Novels))
by Bill Willingham (Author), Mark Buckingham (Illustrator)

I am about halfway through this graphic novel. This volume mostly focusses on Flycatcher. Not bad so far.

With all-out war looming between the forces of the Adversary and the free Fables living in the mundane world, everything now depends on a humble janitor known as Flycatcher. Released from centuries of trauma-induced amnesia, Prince Ambrose (as he was known in happier times) faces a long and difficult road – one that will take him through the lands of the dead and into the heart of the enemy’s realm. Once there, this unassuming and unlikely hero will face his greatest and most arduous test – and the future of both Fabletown and the Homelands will turn on the outcome. 

And some impressions from my walk yesterday:

The story so far…

In 2017 I had my first go at the famous Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh with Foreigner (Foreigner, #1). I barely finished it by switching to audio halfway through and ended up giving it two stars.

Two stars, not worth it right? Well, I loved the next book, Invader, and gave it 5 ⭐️. Book #3, Inheritor, was a DNF halfway through, then I tried again three years later and ended up giving it 4 ⭐️. It really took time for me to appreciate C.J. Cherryh‘s storytelling. One of these days I might re-read the first book of the series and give it 5 stars as well… 😏 

My review for Foreigner (Foreigner, #1) from 2017, spoilers for the general storyline:

I really liked the first two sections of this novel. First the arrival in the planetary system, then a jump of several settler generation to the first contact with the indigenous population of their chosen planet, the Atevi. I enjoyed the setting in space and the glimpse at societal differences between the humans on planet and onboard the ship. Down below I had fun reading from the POV of an Atevi. His human counterpart was an interesting character as well.

Unfortunately, with the beginning of the main storyline, my enjoyment took a nosedive. Another jump to several hundred years later. Humans and Atevi have been at war and resolved it by exiling the humans on an island. 

Bren, our main character, lives among the Atevi as the sole human, a diplomat and interpreter of the sometimes incomprehensible language and cultural concepts of the Atevi. The Atevi don’t know the concepts of friendship or trust. They also don’t comprehend the idea of borders and separate nations. Instead there is loyalty, betrayal, complicated relationships with other factions, sanctioned assassinations and people with delicate sensibilities.

The culture of the Atevi reminded me of feudal Japan and made me want to re-read Shōgun by James Clavell

Could have been fantastic, but isn’t explored as much as I would have liked. Instead we are shown this world through the limited view of Bren, who is a whiny little shite that obsesses endlessly about inconsequential things like getting his mail and being perpetually worried, but never does anything. By the halfway point of the book I was annoyed, bored and skimming. 

On top of Bren being an annoying character, the writing was repetitive and progressed glacially slow. I like my stories plot-driven, endless navel-gazing over the same points and ideas for pages after pages holds little interest for me. Also much of the story happened in the off. Bren spent most of his time sitting around, agonizing over one thing or another. There was very little doing. Except for the last 50 pages or so, when we got a little action.

The other characters were even shallower than Bren. Not much character development. Little humour.

The last 20 pages were not bad, I just wish the rest of the book had been that lively. Mostly it dragged, I was bored. I did not connect to any of the characters, the story was pretty bloodless. 

Nonetheless I am actually interested to find out what happens next. Maybe I will get the next book at some point. Considering that there are about a million sequels after this book, I think it is safe to say that this first book is set-up. One can hope, that there will be more plot development in the next installments…?

Progress report: (all links lead to Goodreads)

First sub-trilogy
Foreigner #1 ⭐️⭐️☆☆☆
Invader #2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My review 
Inheritor #3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review 

2nd sub-trilogy — my highest rated sub-trilogy so far.
Precursor #4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review 
Defender #5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review 
Explorer #6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My review 

3rd sub-trilogy
Destroyer #7 ⭐️⭐️⭐️☆☆ My review 
Pretender #8 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My lazy almost-no-review 
Deliverer #9 — planned for June 2023

Cherryh is still writing, book #22 has an expected publishing date for October of this year. Cherryh is 80 years old now, it‘s going to be interesting to see how her age, experience and the changing times impact her writing. The first book was published in 1994, so the series spans 29 years now…

Light SF for the beach.

Ascending (The Vardeshi Saga, #1)
by Meg Pechenick

The description reminded me of A Memory Called Empire(read in 2019). That‘s where the similarities end though. This is not a complex or very inventive story.

”Twenty-five years ago the Vardeshi came to Earth. Then they vanished without a trace. Graduate student Avery Alcott always knew they would return. When they do, she’s the only one who can speak their language. She’s quickly recruited to join the crew of an 11-man starship on a one-year mission into the depths of space. Avery leaps at the chance to leave behind everything she’s ever known.”

Avery is a fairly naive college student, who puts up a relatively good fight against the problems she faces during that mission. First there is the language difficulties, then there is her struggle with the cultural immersion and then the problems really start. Careful, we are pretty light on the culture. We are pretty light on everything. This is not hard SF, there is very little science in this fiction. It‘s an entertaining enough story, but hardcore SF readers will find it very wanting. The linguistics part is also not terribly deep. As a beach read this is nice.

I had some issues. Well, a lot, actually, considering the length of this paragraph…
Avery‘s teacher builds a language program based on a few transmission, which I find highly unlikely. I am not a linguistics expert though, so whatever. 
The home planet of the Vardeshi can be reached with a Vardeshi ship in 6 months. No info about actual distance or what propulsion they are using, just that their ships are really fast. 
There are all these beautiful humans and aliens with blonde hair and blue eyes. Ok, ok, there is also grey hair and grey eyes, but still… quite the fixation.
The aliens have blue blood. Why is their blood blue?
How do they generate gravity?
At one point Avery looses a lot of her provisions. In the next paragraph she cooks a lavish dinner. What? And why the heck does she have to use a camping stove?
The aliens use FTL travel (I assume, it‘s never mentioned), but don‘t have a set-up in their kitchen where a human could prepare food?
And isn‘t it kinda unusual on a ship to not have different duty watches? They all go to sleep at the same time and put the ship on autopilot or how does that work?
Ship‘s special interior decorations are mentioned once and then never again. A special sickness among the Vardeshi is explained and researched by Avery, but never makes a direct appearance in the book.
To top it all off, the book pretty much stops in the middle of the storyline. Good thing that the sequel is on Kindle Unlimited and that I currently have a subscription, otherwise I would have been very miffed. And if the next book stops in the middle of things again, I will not be happy. 

If you want serious, atmospheric and believable SF, this is not it. If you are looking for a light, entertaining read with a spaceship and some pretty, fairy-like aliens, this could be it. You might have to suspend belief a few times. I am not quite sure how I talked myself into reading the sequel, I guess I need some closure to the story.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley ages ago. Sorry about the very late review. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

Cleaning up that TBR pile — The Fortress

The Fortress
by S.A. Jones

I requested this book from NetGalley in 2019. It sounded interesting at first glance. But every time I picked it up and had a look at the book blurb, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Reading reviews made that worse. It sounds like this: The male main character is made into a slave under the rule of women that sexually assault and abuse him, to educate him in how he should treat women. I don‘t want to read that. It doesn‘t matter who abuses whom, it‘s horrible. And an eye for an eye is not a philosophy I buy into. Finally kicking this off my shelf.

Jonathon Bridge has a corner office in a top-tier law firm, tailored suits and an impeccable pedigree. He has a fascinating wife, Adalia, a child on the way, and a string of pretty young interns as lovers on the side. He’s a man who’s going places. His world is our world: the same chaos and sprawl, haves and have-nots, men and women, skyscrapers and billboards. But it also exists alongside a vast, self-sustaining city-state called The Fortress where the indigenous inhabitants–the Vaik, a society run and populated exclusively by women–live in isolation.

  When Adalia discovers his indiscretions and the ugly sexual violence pervading his firm, she agrees to continue their fractured marriage only on the condition that Jonathan voluntarily offers himself to The Fortress as a supplicant and stay there for a year. Jonathon’s arrival at The Fortress begins with a recitation of the conditions of his stay: He is forbidden to ask questions, to raise his hand in anger, and to refuse sex.

  Jonathon is utterly unprepared for what will happen to him over the course of the year–not only to his body, but to his mind and his heart. This absorbing, confronting and moving novel asks questions about consent, power, love and fulfilment. It asks what it takes for a man to change, and whether change is possible without a radical reversal of the conditions that seem normal.

Book blurb