Great story, but odd writing style and pacing

To Each This World
by Julie E. Czerneda

The inhabitants of New Earth, the first Earth colony and home to Earth‘s surviving humanity, formed an alliance with the Kmet, an alien race. They receive news about the location of some of their own colony ships, sent out 200 years previously. Humans and aliens set out to find those colonists. Bad things happen. The true state of the human-alien partnership comes under question during the course of their expedition.

The writing style took some getting used to. Colloquial speech in writing, grammar be damned.

The pacing of this book was too slow, it took me forever to get past the first third of the story. Nearly gave up. There was a lot of idling. But I was also intrigued. Struggled onto the halfway point, still thinking about abandoning it. Muddled on. An low-and-behold, it got good! Great even! The action at the end made me happy. A bit too little, too late though. I appreciate all that world-building and set-up and character development, but I also wish the first half of the book had been half as long!

I cried at the end. Twice! I can‘t give it less than 4 stars, if I cry, right? Despite everything—what a slog.

Henry reminded me of Bren Cameron, just with less dress sense. The sandals were charming though. All of Henry was charming, really. Killian grew on me. And oh my goodness, those PIPs were adorable! And Flip! Loved him. It? Yes, the willy-bits were funny, too. And yes, I would get a sequel, despite the slog. I loved the construction of the portals. More portal mechanics would have been nice.

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

Sapient or not, that is the question…

Little Fuzzy
by H. Beam Piper

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Jack is a prospector on a colony planet. One day a little bipedal fuzzy guy shows up in his camp. They become friends and Jack starts to wonder if the little guy is more than a very smart animal. Which would throw a very large wrench into the plans of The Big Bad Company with a majority interest in exploiting the natural resources of the presumably uninhabited planet.

The Fuzzies are very cute, the story is well plotted and has some shocking elements. Characters are well developed—even the lone female character, which this time around is an actual person with dialogue. Other than that we are still very much in the 1960s with classic gender stereotypes. The cast of characters is diverse. Bizarrely everybody seems to be smoking nonstop and people drink a lot of highballs. I honestly don‘t see why this is categorized as Young Adult.

Besides those idiosyncrasies I had a lot of fun and really liked the story. The prevailing theme of this novella (novel?) is the definition of sentience/sapience and to a smaller extent the rights of indigenous people. I can see why this was nominated for a Hugo in 1963. 

I might continue with the sequels. John Scalzi wrote a reboot of this story, Fuzzy Nation. I might have a look at it to see what he made of this 50 years later. His version received an Audie Award in 2012, so the audiobook might be the way to go…

“Well, maybe they’re just slightly sapient,” Jimenez suggested. Ruth Ortheris hooted at that. “That’s like talking about being just slightly dead or just slightly pregnant,” she said. “You either are or you aren’t.”

Medical SF from the early 60s

Hospital Station (Sector General, #1)
by James White

Medical science fiction. A massive hospital in space, catering to a multitude of aliens with different needs.

“Each section has a different atmosphere and habitat to cater for the many different species… how to design a spacesuit for a surgeon with eight legs?“

A bit very dated and conservative in terms of gender roles. Human characters are male, all aliens are „it“. Eventually a female nurse is mentioned and pursued by the MC in the off. Bizarrely she is not really considered a person nor a member of the staff. Very odd. It made me wonder about the personal life of the author, it feels very immature. Or just very, very old-fashioned, even for the early sixties. If you can get past that, this is an entertaining enough read.

Conway, the MC of all but the first story, is a doctor on the station. He generally does not show a lot of respect or trust for his fellow humans and alien colleagues, does not communicate well with others and is pretty worried about his own career and sense of importance. Not a very likable fellow. 

The lack of communication and withholding of information feels like a gadget to increase suspense. Something seen a lot in contemporary romcoms, where I also don‘t like it. There is also quite a bit of information sharing happening in the off, leaving the reader in the dark. Not very satisfying.

I read somewhere that the author was a pretty influential figure in SF in his time, although he did not win any major awards, as far as I can tell. There is definitely a Hard SF vibe going on. It shows in the different habitats he describes in his hospital. The whole thing is a little dry though. I had hoped for more emotions and drama, more ER and House, M.D. in Space… there is plenty of action with all kinds of odd aliens, but it all remains a little one-dimensional.

Read as part of the omnibus Beginning Operations. The individual parts seem to be collections of novellas and shorter works, that were bundled into books eventually. I am pretty sure that I will continue with the omnibus, as I am interested to see how the author and his style will develop.

Still to read: Star Surgeon, copyright © 1963, and Major Operation, copyright © 1971.

Further reading: Murray Leinster’s Med Ship series was mentioned somewhere.

Some tea, dear?

Explorer (Foreigner, #6)
by C.J. Cherryh (Author), Daniel Thomas May (Narrator)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The finale of the second trilogy. And it was a great finale. Quite a lot of action, pretty exciting. Everything that came before this was a great read as well. I loved the look at language and how it works or could work, verbally and body language.

We are headed towards that abandoned space station and potentially aggressive aliens. And Cherryh takes us in an unexpected direction again. She gets me every time. There are politics again as well, but the machinations between Atevi, Mospheirans, ship crew and Bren in the middle don‘t seem as strenuous this time around. Or maybe I am getting used to Bren‘s daily navigation through diplomatic minefields.

Bren Cameron is a pretty settled character by now. I really liked his ongoing letters to those he left behind. Then there is Ilisidi with her no-nonsense attitude and adorable Cajeiri—great addition. I really like him and I can‘t wait to find out into what kind of adult he will develop in coming books. I laughed a lot at the toy car shenanigans. 

Did I mention the great action? And new aliens. Exciting and a great first contact situation.

And isn‘t it nice, how sharing food and polite company break down all those barriers? Some tea, dear?

“Jase-aiji suggests this maneuver will be extremely long, even days, and that for comfort and dignity—”
“No,” Ilisidi said abruptly. “We will not go below.”
“Nand’ dowager . . .”
“Interesting things happen here. Not there. If I were reckless of staff safety I would send after hot tea,” Ilisidi said. “I forego the tea. In that, I have taken my personal precautions and my staff is settled in safety.” 

I am a bit apprehensive about the next trilogy. Can it possibly be this good?

Aliens, rinse and repeat…

Alien: Sea of Sorrows (Canonical Alien trilogy, #2)
by James A. Moore (Author), Dirk MaggsJohn Chancer (Narrator), Stockard Channing (Narrator), Walles Hamonde (Narrator), Laurel Lefkow (Narrator)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Very confusing intro and prelude. Had to check that I had picked up the correct book, aka the sequel to Alien: Out of the Shadows. Anyway, once the story starts with chapter one, we are in a plot very similar to that of the second Alien movie. The main character (barely) Decker is a descendant of Ellen Ripley.
He is sent to a planet to recover a Xenomorph. Settlers have been lost. The ship is staffed with marines/mercenaries and he is a consultant. They go down into a mine, some of them get snatched, the others try to recover them, there is a malfunctioning escalator… it‘s a bit like painting by colours… it‘s all very predictable, down to figuring out who the „synthetic“ is this time around. No big surprises and it doesn’t add anything new to this universe. It was ok, but you don‘t miss anything if you skip this.

The full-cast audiobook dramatization was well done, although the action with all the background noises was often unintelligible, aka you needed a lot of imagination to figure out what was going on.

My preview of the previous audiobook set in this franchise/series is here.

Avatars, aliens, robots and climate change

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Six 

I will update this anthology as I go along…

– ELSEWHERE by James S.A. Corey
A daughter visits her dying father with the help of an avatar. The story tells us why she can’t be by his side in person. I liked this one. Emotional, relatable. ★★★★½

– THIS WORLD IS MADE FOR MONSTERS by M. Rickert
Aliens visit a small village, a yearly festival ensues to celebrate the occasion. Low key, looking at the effects on the village. Fairly odd, I am missing a highlight, it didn‘t really engage me. ★★★☆☆

– FAIRY TALES FOR ROBOTS by Sofia Samatar
A fairytale collection for a soon to awaken robot, giving purpose, potential and warnings. I didn’t care for the story. At 10.000+ words too long, very unemotional, only telling without showing. ★★☆☆☆ 

Can be read for free here.

– THE TRANSLATOR, AT LOW TIDE by Vajra Chandrasekera
Another climate-change/end-of-civilisation story, presumably set in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Lyrical, sad and a little horrific. The translator nears the end of his life and reflects. 
2021 FINALIST: THEODORE A. STURGEON MEMORIAL AWARD. ★★★★☆

Can be read for free here.

Aliens and AIs

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Six 

I will update this anthology as I go along…

– TUNNELS by Eleanor Arnason

This was a pretty wacky story. I am not even sure how to summarize it. Lydia arrives at a planet with a job to do, ends up in an unusual place and meets even more unusual beings. She is in a pickle and needs to rescue herself and the others… I loved the alien and the world was definitely interesting. Hoot hoot hoot! ★★★★☆

“The city is full of cracks,” Yan said. “They heal, but then they break open again. People fall through.”

Can be read for free here: https://www.asimovs.com/assets/1/6/Tu…

– STILL YOU LINGER, LIKE SOOT IN THE AIR by Matthew Kressel

Gil is a priest of Muu, a alien intelligence, who has „abilities that seem to defy known physical laws of nature.” In other words, Muu is a god. Gil awaits a new pupil, because his last pupil was taken (died?) during worship. Gil struggles to come to terms with loss and his entrapment by Muu. ★★★☆☆

Can be read for free here: https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fi…

– KNOCK, KNOCK SAID THE SHIP by Rati Mehrotra
Deenu works on a trading ship with a slightly disturbed AI. She is a survivor of a destroyed colony and indebted to the ship’s captain. When the ship is attacked, she has to decide where her loyalties lie and also come to terms with the fact that not everything is black and white.

Nothing deep, pretty entertaining, well written. The relationship between Deenu and the AI is funny. ★★★★★

Atevi in Space!

Precursor (Foreigner, #4)
by C.J. Cherryh, Daniel Thomas May (narrator)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Book #4 of the series, first book of the next trilogy, continuing three years after the last books. Shuttles have started to go up to the station, the Atevi have reached space. Relations with Mospheira have improved. Tabini unexpectedly sends up Bren with with his Atevi household and a Mospheiran delegation. They are not exactly welcome on the station, despite agreements to the contrary. Relations with the crew of the Phoenix prove more difficult than expected and go downhill quickly.

I have to confess that I could not fully relate to the action of the ship‘s captains and their motivations. Was this simply a powerplay? Why stall and antagonize the people that they asked for help and in fact need so badly?

Bren‘s family is still a pain in the neck, especially his mother. And Ilisidi is hilarious, as always.

I am finally, finally hooked. This book so far was the fastest moving, with the most action. I enjoyed this a great deal and will definitely continue. Great start for the next subplot and trilogy.

Tentacle wars

Black Tide
by K.C. JonesJohn Pirhalla (Narrator), Sophie Amoss (Narrator)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Beth is a mess, a self-proclaimed „car wreck“. She is a professional house-sitter, sampling other people‘s lives. This time around she also dog-sits Jake, a golden lab, and makes friends with her neighbour Mike. Well, she starts by stalking him with her camera and then…Hello to an alcohol-induced one-night stand! And then the world ends and they end up stuck in a car on a beach, surrounded by something scary…

My recent track record with horror is not great. Psychological horror is lost on me, I usually get bored. And slasher stuff turns me off. Creature features are the most fun. This isn‘t exactly that, but a little. Plus there is plenty of action right from the start. Creepy, scary, sci-fi horror fun. Alien invasion with a twist.

I quite liked the reason for this particular end of the world and wish that it had been explored more.

Unfortunately I did not like Beth. Whiny, sorry for herself and a general failure at life. Bent on making the stupidest choices possible. Mike is self-destructive in another way. Together they make a couple that is potentially quite inept at survival under apocalyptic circumstances. 

Don‘t expect deep character development.

The audiobook is told by two narrators, one female and one male, alternating between telling the story from the POVs of Beth or Mike. They do a good job although there is one voice towards the end that doesn‘t really work well for me.

Bottomline, I liked the claustrophobic plot, but disliked Beth quite a bit. Good action, fast plot. Let‘s say 4 of 5 ominous bowling balls for now, I might raise that once I‘ve pondered it a bit longer.

And the void is staring back at you…

Eyes of the Void (The Final Architecture, #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Author), Sophie Aldred (Narrator)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The sequel and middle book. I really liked Shards of Earth, it was one of my favourites of last year and a great adventure yarn of a misfit crew and found family. Ambitious space opera. 

I struggled to stay focused though. So many characters, ships, planets, alien races and concepts. And there seems to be so much filler and endless talking. I think picking the audiobook was the wrong choice in this case. 

The audiobook narration is well done, if slightly over the top and a little grating at times. The complex and very dense story had me constantly struggling to keep everybody and everything straight. My mind kept wandering off, waiting for some action and plot progression.

So, great concept, world building, plot and well-fleshed out, likeable characters, but the execution of this story just didn‘t captivate me. I had to make an effort to make it to the end, it was a slog. I would pick up another book in the series though, when it is published, to get closure on all those unresolved plotlines.

My next audiobook is:

Dead Silence (Audiobook) by S.A. Barnes

Titanic meets The Shining in S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence, a SF horror novel in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.

From the book blurb