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

Alive… again!

Mickey7 by Edward Ashton 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Midgard is the Earth in Norse mythology, in case you were wondering. That is where Mickey is from. He needs to get off that planet. He has no useful skills, so he signs on as an Expendable on a colony ship going to Niflheim — in Norse mythology the cold, dark, misty world of the dead, ruled by the goddess Hel. So, potentially a nasty ice planet with a mysterious underworld.

And what are Expendables, you ask? He gets to do all the dangerous and deadly jobs on the ship and later the colony. And if he dies, the others wake up his next incarnation. We start of with Mickey7. He does not die in the first chapter, but the others think so. And by the time he rescues himself with some help of an indigenous lifeform and gets back to base, Mickey8 has been woken up. Ops, not good. Because when the others find out, they both will most likely be offed. The expedition‘s leader hates Mickey‘s guts. What to do now? And what‘s going on with those lifeforms?

From the blurb I expected an action-filled novel, exploring the ecosystem and the sentient lifeforms on Niflheim. The beginning reminded me a little of Andy Weir in tone and my mind was heading in the direction of Project Hail Mary, just set on a planet. 

However, that was not really the novel I got. There were suspenseful parts and action — Mickey7 had died six times previously (hence 7!) and some of those deaths are lived through quite graphically. There was an unexpected amount of Mickey‘s and the Union’s past, aka other colonies and why the failed. And very little character development for Mickey8. Somewhere around the middle of the book I started to wonder about uneven pacing and lack of meaningful plot progression. It did all come together quite nicely in the end, but I am not a total fan.

Would I recommend this to a friend? Yes.
Would I read the next book by the author? Most likely.

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.

Sometimes activation sucks.

Activation Degradation
by Marina J. LostetterHayden Bishop (Narrator) 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really hesitated to get this book because of the Murderbot comparison in the blurb. I love Murderbot and don‘t want to read a rip-off. I think they probably did this book a disservice by linking it to Murderbot.

Our robot is brought online on a platform orbiting Jupiter, to protect a mining platform that is under attack by aliens. It turns out that the situation is quite different to what Unit Four was lead to believe.

I liked the beginning very much and listened to the first half of the book almost in one sitting. There was a pretty good reveal towards the end. Good action sequences. The more reflective parts could have been a bit more elaborate. The plot lost a bit of steam in the second part and my interest flagged a little. 

I am still trying to decide if I like the rather convenient ending. I find it almost impossible to talk more about this book without spoilers, so I leave it at that. I largely enjoyed this book and might give it another go in printed form to pick up all of the nuances.

This is my first book by the author and I got the audiobook. The audiobook narration was good, but I didn‘t love it.

Would I pick up a sequel? Maybe. Probably.

A relic goes on a trip

Relic
by Alan Dean Foster

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Ruslan is the sole survivor of the human race. Aliens finally make contact, when it‘s seemingly too late for humanity. They save Ruslan and want to recreate what was lost. He strikes a deal with them—find the origin planet of his race, Earth, and he will assist them in their venture.

Very typically Alan Dean Foster, creating imaginative, non-humanoid aliens and having a human main character who finds himself in unusual circumstances on some strange planet.

Reading a third of the novel, I hadn‘t encountered anything new or different. Besides that the characters were pretty wooden and everything had a very old-fashioned feel. This could have been one of Foster‘s novels of the 80s, setting as well as tone. Nothing terribly exciting had happened up to that point. I skimmed through most of the middle of this novel and dove in again towards the end. It was mildly interesting, but I am glad I didn‘t invest more time to read this properly.

Humans driving themselves to extinction, Ruslan as the sole survivor, the idea of an alien race wanting to resurrect humans and to recreate human society—this reminded me of Dawn. Not a huge success with me either. But actually from the 80s and a lot more thought provoking than this novel from 2018.

Not smelling of roses for me

Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy, #1)
by Tade Thompson

Rating: 2 out of 5.

An alien lands on Earth, burrows into the ground and presents as a illuminated dome. A shanty town develops around it. Eventually there is a opening through which something escapes and heals people. A city called Rosewater springs up around the alien dome, benefitting from these regular healings. 

We follow Kaaro, a „sensitive“, in the employ of some shady secret agency. His life story is told in three separate timelines, set around the biodome. The three timelines felt aimless, without purpose and never came together in a satisfying way for me. The author frequently lost me with all those jumps.

Kaaro is a thief, he is sexist, he feels like a clueless, self-centered, mysoginistic idiot to me. He is not interested in anything and meanders around aimlessly, propelled by others.

The trilogy is called „Wormwood Trilogy“. This nagged at me, so I googled it. Aha! Look for yourself, I am not telling… Suffice to say, this went in the direction I expected. And it also didn‘t. The ending felt anticlimactic.

I can appreciate the inventive world building, but the rest was a slog. The whole thing felt pretty pointless to me and I actively disliked Kaaro and especially his weird obsession with sex and his various orgasms. It was slightly disturbing and off-putting. 

I was mostly bored and heavily skimmed the last third of the book.

As the book won various awards and many of my friends liked it, I can only assume that I read this wrong. I will definitely not read the other two books of this trilogy and will also not recommend this to anybody. However, I did like something else by the author, The Murders of Molly Southbourne. Also disturbing, but with pacing and plot that were more my thing. Not an enjoyable main character either though.

First Line Friday — Rosewater

First Line Friday is a meme created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look around, grab your nearest book and post its first line in the comments there and in your blog.


Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy, #1), Book 1 of the Wormwood Trilogy, Winner of the Nommo Award for Best Novel, by Tade Thompson

I’m at the Integrity Bank job for forty minutes before the anxieties kick in. It’s how I usually start my day.

I just started this last night, so I haven’t read much yet. So far very good!

Part of my #ReadBIPOC2021 challenge. The challenge for August is this: Celebrating Award Winning Authors for the Reading Writers of Color Challenge.

If I have the time and inclination, I might pick up one of these for the challenge as well:

In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world.

Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down.

In this epic saga of magic and kungfu, four siblings battle rival clans for honor and power in an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.

Top Ten Tuesday and what made me want to read those books…

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

http://www.thatartsyreadergirl.com/top-ten-tuesday/

 This week‘s topic / August 3: Titles or Covers That Made Want to Read/Buy the Book

Tricky. I mainly pick up books that are recommended to me by my reading buddies. Or books by favourite authors, never mind the cover or title. But I will have a look at my want-to-read list and see if I can recall what triggered my interest.

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

I picked up this novella on Netgalley. I honestly can‘t remember why I chose it, but assume that the cover pulled me in and then the title. Because the blurb is not grabbing me right now.

In a far future city, where you can fall to a government cull for a single mistake, And What Can We Offer You Tonight tells the story of Jewel, established courtesan in a luxurious House. Jewel’s world is shaken when her friend is murdered by a client, but somehow comes back to life. To get revenge, they will both have to confront the limits of loyalty, guilt, and justice.

Sentient by Jeff Lemire

I went looking for comics written by Jeff Lemire, because I like him and want to work on his backlist. Here the title drew me in. I like SF about AI and this title suggest that something slightly unusual might have reached sentience and that offers unusual options…

When a separatist attack kills the adults on board a colony ship in deep space, the on-board A.I. VALARIE must help the ship’s children survive the perils of space.

Nemo Vol. 1: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore

Here I was looking for comics set underwater. I have a thing for anything underwater, from documentaries about the deep sea to cheesy creature features involving Megalodon. I definitely picked this one for the title. Captain Nemo is a classic. I don‘t expect this to follow Jules Verne, but who knows.

It’s 1925, fifteen years after the death of Captain Nemo, when his daughter Janni Dakkar launches a grand Antarctic expedition to lay the old man’s burdensome legacy to rest.

Oh yes, I have a thing for cheesy creature features set in Antarctica as well. Or adventure novels. That clinched the deal.

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

Definitely the title. A planet in the Goldilocks Zone is in a distance to the sun, where conditions are just right for human habitation. So, an SF about colonization? Or finding a new home for humanity… Instant winner.

This is The Martian by way of The Handmaid’s Tale – a bold and thought-provoking new high-concept thriller

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Granted, I added this to my list, because it‘s Adrien Tchaikovsky. But isn‘t the cover pretty? And doesn‘t the title remind you of some awesome MMORPG?

In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race, a junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to study to save a planet from an unbeatable foe.

Below by Ryan Lockwood

Title again. I did mention my fascination with all things underwater and creature features, right?

Now, off the coast of California, something is rising from the deep–and multiplying. Voracious, unstoppable, and migrating north, an ungodly life form trailed by a gruesome wake of corpses. 

The Audacity of Sara Grayson by Joani Elliott

Title again. I seem to be a title person. How audacious of me!

What happens when the world’s greatest literary icon dies before she finishes the final book in her best-selling series?
 
And what happens when she leaves that book in the hands of her unstable, neurotic daughter, who swears she’s not a real writer?

Sounds like fun, right?

The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Stories by Kel McDonald

Another comic. And… yes, there‘s an ocean in the title…

Ghostly warriors, angry gods, and monstrous tyrants? That’s just the start of this collection of folklore from the Pacific, retold in comics! 

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

This really was a recommendation by someone in my buddy reading group. The title piqued my interest and the cover sealed the deal. It‘s simple at fist glance, but very stylish. And then you notice those rock spires curving in, looking like claws. Hm…

This psychological sci-fi thriller from a debut author follows one doctor who must discover the source of her crew’s madness… or risk succumbing to it herself.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (The Singing Hills Cycle, #2) by Nghi Vo

Not sure how I ended up with this one, but I imagine that the cover drew me in… plus it has a very lyrical title.

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

So, that was more or less the last 10 books and comics that I added to my list and haven‘t actually read yet. Does anything here tempt you?