Novella Review: The Undefeated by Una McCormack

 

She was a warrior of words.

As a journalist she exposed corruption across the Interstellar Commonwealth, shifting public opinion and destroying careers in the process.

Long-since retired, she travels back to the planet of her childhood, partly through a sense of nostalgia, partly to avoid running from humanity’s newest–and self-created–enemy, the jenjer.

Because the enemy is coming, and nothing can stand in its way.

What a cool story!

This brief sci-fi tale follows writer Monica Greatorex, a worlds-famous journalist who’s spent her life on the front-lines of inter-planetary battles for conquest, as the Commonwealth expanded and expanded to take over and absorb the planets on the periphery.

Now in her 60s, Monica heads back to her home planet of Sienna, going against the tide of desperate humans fleeing the outer planets for the supposed safety of the Commonwealth core. Monica is accompanied by her companion Gale — a jenjer, a genetically engineered human whose people were originally created as an indentured servant class.

And now, the jenjer are ready to rise up, and it’s becoming clear that nothing can stand in their way.

In The Undefeated, Monica’s trip to Sienna brings up memories of her childhood, and in particular, a key occurrence that led to her family’s flight from their home to the structured, wealthy, bland life of the Commonwealth. Her reminiscences about her youth and everything that came after are fascinating, and are key to understanding the fear and inevitability of the story’s main sequences.

This is a short piece, but really captivating, with excellent world building and character development. Highly recommended!

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The details:

Title: The Undefeated
Author: Una McCormack
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: May 14, 2019
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

Book Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

 

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

Y’all know how much I love Seanan McGuire, right? I mean, I have gobbled up pretty much everything of hers that’s come my way, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. And I’m not now.

Which is to say… I thought Middlegame was weird and challenging, and I loved it.

Let me start by adding that the synopsis above doesn’t feel very accurate to me. Yes, Roger and Dodger are twins… kind of. But I don’t think the books itself refers to attaining godhood. So I’m glad I didn’t read the synopsis very carefully before starting, because it might have created some bizarre expectations that definitely would have gone unfulfilled.

In Middlegame, Dodger and Roger are creations, but they spend most of their lives not knowing this. They were created by a powerful alchemist, himself a creation of a powerful, game-changing alchemist, and they have a specific purpose in life — to manifest the alchemical concept of the Doctrine of Ethos.

Huh?

Yup, that was my reaction… but the confusion is part of the experience of this book, and I was happy to just go with it. Roger and Dodger each have a gift — language for Roger, math for Dodger. Raised on opposite sides of the country by adoptive parents, they discover a psychic connection as young children, and as they grow up, their bond develops, strengthens, and becomes powerful, dangerous, and more and more inexplicable. Meanwhile, Reed and his allies monitor the pair carefully, charting their progress toward manifestation, making sure to keep them apart when their progress threatens the greater goals of the project.

It’s all just so twisty and timey-wimey and mind-bending and GOOD. And as always, I love Seanan McGuire’s writing. Does she have a bit of Roger’s ability to create reality through her words? All signs point to yes.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, mainly because I just finished this long, complicated book and I’m still sifting through it all in my mind. There’s a lot to puzzle through and unravel. So rather than digging further into plot threads, I’ll share some lines and quotes that jumped out at me as I was reading:

…and she can no more conceive of failure than a butterfly can conceive of calculus.

Roger thinks that’s the trouble with grownups. The more effort they put into deciding what kids are going to do or think or be, the more things so wrong for them.

People who say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” don’t understand how words can be stones, hard and sharp-edge and dangerous and capable of doing so much more harm than anything physical. […] Words can be whispered bullet-quick when no one’s looking, and words don’t leave blood or bruises behind. Words disappear without a trace. That’s what makes them so powerful. That’s what makes them so important.

That’s what makes them hurt so much.

You can’t skip to the end of the story just because you’re tired of being in the middle.

Everything is perfect. Everything is doomed.

On and on they go, the shorthand becoming more extreme, the air going hot and heavy around them, like an electric storm rolling in, like another fire getting ready to ignite, a fire that needs no flame but only the constant friction between the two halves of something which has never, in all the long years of their lives, been fully realized.

Roger has never understood the math that calls to her, but he feels it now, thrumming in his veins like a promise of miracles to come. Dodger has never grasped the need to put a name to the things she knows to be true, but she understands it now, and accepts the names he throws her way gladly, transforming them through the alchemy of her observations before she throws them back to him.

Here’s one that makes my brain ache:

She knows that, as surely as she knows that every second takes away more of her slim opportunity to escape becoming the future self of a girl she, as yet, never was.

And on a slightly lighter note:

“Wake up,” he says. “We need to let my terrifying ex-girlfriend tell us how we’re supposed to manifest a primal force of reality before asshole alchemists set us the fuck on fire.”

I really don’t think there’s much I can say or add that will do justice to the headlong rush of tragedy, violence, excitement, and true deep emotion that mixes together in Middlegame. So I’ll just wrap by saying that this is an awesome adventure of a read, and I’m sure I’m going to want to read it again after my mind relaxes.

Oh, and I love the fact that one of the super-powerful alchemists wrote a best-selling children’s fantasy book series, full of magical quests along the lines of a Narnia/Fillory tale — but that these stories really are code for alchemical inquiries into controlling the powers of the universe. Which made me wonder just a bit if there’s more to, I don’t know, Harry Potter? than meets the eye…

Extra gold points for great use of San Francisco landmarks (Sutro Baths!)… and how can you not love a book that includes the phrase killer death alchemists as if it’s a normal thing to say?

Seanan McGuire fans, rest assured — our beloved author strikes again, and it’s fabulous.

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The details:

Title: Middlegame
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy
Source: Purchased (and also, review copy via NetGalley)

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Take A Peek Book Review: Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

My Thoughts:

I loved Trail of Lightning, the first book in Rebecca Roanhorse’s The Sixth World series, and Storm of Locusts is an amazing follow-up! Picking up right from where book #1 left off, the story rejoins Maggie after the big fight at Black Mesa, where she battled a Navajo god and seemingly lost her only friend. Now, mere weeks later, she’s healing emotionally and physically, when she’s called on by a sometimes-ally to help with a bounty hunt that goes badly wrong. After the bloody incident, Maggie has a new responsibility, her ally’s niece Ben, a teen girl with clan powers of her own.

Immediately on the heels of this event comes news that Kai has been kidnapped, and Maggie is soon on the trail of a cult leader whose powers include the ability to summon and control hordes of locusts. Gross. And scary. Storm of Locusts ends up as a road trip/quest kind of book, as Maggie, Ben, and Rissa, sister of the boy kidnapped along with Kai, set out to track their missing friends and get vengeance on the White Locust. For the first time in these books, their search takes them outside the walls of Dinétah and into the greater world beyond the Navajo people’s protected lands, where corruption and extreme danger come in many forms, and where despite the strangeness of the new reality, the gods still have powers too.

I’m really adoring The Sixth World series, its characters, legends, and world-building, the mix of old traditions and a new post-apocalyptic landscape. Author Rebecca Roanhorse has a magical, masterful touch with her storytelling, creating a people and society that feel real and lived-in. Maggie is a terrific, layered, conflicted heroine, a total win as a lead character. I want much more of her story! The book ends with a final scene that makes it clear that Maggie’s troubles are far from over, which is fine with me — more trouble for Maggie means more excellent stories for us to enjoy.

Can’t wait for #3!

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The details:

Title: Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: April 23, 2019
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Speculative/dystopian science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: Golden State by Ben H. Winters

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought. My newest “take a peek” book:

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

A shocking vision of our future that is one part Minority Report and one part Chinatown.

Lazlo Ratesic is 54, a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service, from a family of law enforcement and in a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else. This is how Laz must, by law, introduce himself, lest he fail to disclose his true purpose or nature, and by doing so, be guilty of a lie.

Laz is a resident of The Golden State, a nation resembling California, where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life, and governance, increasingly impossible. There, surrounded by the high walls of compulsory truth-telling, knowingly contradicting the truth–the Objectively So–is the greatest possible crime. Stopping those crimes, punishing them, is Laz’s job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths–to “speculate” on what might have happened in the commission of a crime.

But the Golden State is far less a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify, and enforce the Objectively So requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance, recording, and record-keeping. And when those in control of the truth twist it for nefarious means, the Speculators may be the only ones with the power to fight back.

My Thoughts:

Golden State is a weird mind-f*ck of a novel, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. In a society where adherence to the Objectively So is the primary goal, the crime of telling a lie can lead to lengthy imprisonment or even exile, a fate assumed to be equivalent to death. Law enforcement agents like Lazlo can feel when a lie has been told, and their ability to sense anomalies leads them in pursuit of those who attempt to subvert the State with their untruths. People greet each other on the street by stating absolute facts (“A cow has four stomachs.” “A person has one.”), and the ringing of clock bells leads to streams of statements about the time, hour after hour.

I loved the explanations for the rules and moral certainties of the Golden State, which we’re led to believe has been in existence for several generations already as of the start of this story:

You go back far enough in history, ancient history, and you find a time when people were never taught to grow out of it, when every adult lied all the time, when people lied for no reason or for the most selfish possible reasons, for political effect or personal gain. They lied and they didn’t just lie; they built around themselves whole carapaces of lies. They built realities and sheltered inside them. This is how it was, this is how it is known to have been, and all the details of that old dead world are known to us in our bones but hidden from view, true and permanent but not accessible, not part of our vernacular.

It was this world but it was another world and it’s gone. We are what’s left. The calamity of the past is not true, because it is unknown. There could only be hypotheses, and hypotheses are not the truth. So we leave it blank. Nothing happened. Something happened. It is gone.

Golden State is a book that I’ll need to revisit, probably a few times. The writing is spot-on, conveying the strange realities of its world from an insider’s perspective, immersing the reader in the weird double-speak of Speculators and Small Infelicities and Acknowledged Experts — it’s strange and alien, yet we inhabit it through the characters for whom it’s all just part of the normal lives they lead.

Reading Golden State is a treat. I wanted to stop to highlight passages practically everywhere — there’s so much clever wordplay and inversion of our understanding of what things mean. It’s a great read, highly recommended. Now I need to get back to the other books on my shelves by this author, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to love them.

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The details:

Title: Golden State
Author: Ben H. Winters
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Length: 319 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Take A Peek Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

My Thoughts:

What a cool set-up! Sometime after the world we know is left mostly underwater and the United States is no more, survived by pockets of humanity living in rogue states, the Navajo nation is thriving within the magical walls erected before the flood by prescient elders. Within the walls, the Dinétah people live in a world where magic and gods have returned. And for some of the mortals, clan heritage has manifested with special powers and gifts — among these, Maggie Hoskie, whose speed and ability to kill have made her a powerful monster-slayer.

Maggie struggles with the emotional upheavals that have brought her to this point, and is joined by Kai, a former outsider who has secret clan powers of his own, to try to tame the evil that has brought monsters to the land. The story combines the grit and violence of urban fantasy with the natural beauty and starkness of the Dinétah land.

It’s a rich and fascinating world, although the world-building itself felt incomplete to me. While we’re introduced to Maggie and some of the elemental powers and gods, I felt that the story needed a bit more grounding and expansion. I always felt as if I was missing some tiny element that would push this book over the edge into full-on greatness for me. I would have liked to get to know Maggie more as a person, and the same is true for Kai.

Still, I loved the use of language and culture to paint a picture of the people, the land, and the magic. Trail of Lightning is the first book in a series, and I really can’t wait for more. I’m hoping the next book will give me the greater picture of this world that I’m dying for, so I can feel fully immersed.

As a side note, my city’s public libraries have chosen this book as the citywide “On the Same Page” book for January/February, which I think is all sorts of awesome. It’s really terrific to get a taste of fantasy fiction with a Native American heroine and cast of characters — really a unique set-up, and a world I want to know more about!

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The details:

Title: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: June 26, 2018
Length: 287 pages
Genre: Speculative/dystopian science fiction
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

Written in gorgeous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking novel that startles and provokes, about the possibilities contained within a human life—in our waking days and, perhaps even more, in our dreams.

My Thoughts:

While I love the premise of this book, the execution screams “literary fiction” rather than “science fiction”, and that may be why The Dreamers didn’t thrill me in the end. It’s an awesome set-up: A mysterious illness begins spreading through a remote college town, with no known cause or cure. People infected simply fall asleep, and stay that way. Without medical care, they’d die of malnutrition and dehydration, and soon the hospitals and emergency triage centers are overflowing with these strange sleepers. As the weeks drag on, those who remain awake find themselves trapped within the quarantined area, living in an eerie world of deserted homes and stray dogs.

Should be exciting, right? And yet, the narrative isn’t focused on the epidemiology or the science, but rather on the individuals, their relationships, and their meditations on the meaning of life, connection, time, and reality. How do we know that what we think is reality isn’t really a dream? How do we know that our dreams aren’t an alternate reality? When does the passing of time represent a loss? Can we mourn what we’ve never had? Is it more ethical to save many strangers than to save one person that you love? On and on.

While there are some interesting developments and characters, the metaphor-heavy presentation didn’t particularly work for me. As with this author’s previous novel (The Age of Miracles), I felt that a nifty sci-fi scenario became the canvas for a meditative literary piece, and that just wasn’t what I was hoping for. Perhaps this author just isn’t for me. I don’t regret reading The Dreamers, but I can’t help wondering how the story might have gone if written by a more action-driven, science-driven sci-fi writer.

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The details:

Title: The Dreamers
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: January 15, 2019
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Science fiction/comtemporary fiction
Source: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway

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The Monday Check-In ~ 12/10/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Quuen by Tamora Pierce: I read both books in the Daughter of the Lioness duology. Sadly, a fairly weak story in the world of Tortall, which I really struggled to get through. My thoughts are here.

 

 

 

I also posted wrap-ups of two series that I loved:

Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi


Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce

In audiobooks, I listened to two terrific Audible Originals:

Check out my review of both, here.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 404, “Common Ground” (aired 11/25/2018) – my reaction post for the 4th episode is here.
Episode 405, “Savages” (aired 12/2/2018) – my reaction post for last week’s episode is here.
Episode 406, “Blood of My Blood” (aired 12/9/2018) – my reaction post for last night’s episode is on the way! I was too tired to stay up late enough to finish… so watch for my post later Monday or early Tuesday.

Fresh Catch:

Two new science fiction books arrived this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Library Book by Susan Orlean: I’d been wanting this book… and then a wonderful family member gave it to me for Hanukkah! I swear, I did NOT drop any hints. I’m just getting started, but loving it so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne: I got this from the library on a whim, while waiting for something else to come in. I’m just starting it today — wish me luck!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — getting close to the end for both!

  • Classic read: Middlemarch by George Eliot — we’ll be done in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon — just a few chapters still to go!

So many books, so little time…

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Wrapping up the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi (books 4 – 6)

Finally, after threatening to read these books for oodles of year, I’ve done it! As of this past week, I’ve finished the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi. I’m definitely feeling a sense of satisfaction over seeing this through — but what will I put on my reading resolution list for 2019, now that this perennial favorite has moved to the “already read” shelf?

After finishing the first three books in the six-book series, I wrote a wrap-up post (here) to share my thoughts from the halfway point. So now, I’ll dive back in and focus on books 4 – 6, which take the series in a decidedly different direction.

Book #4, Zoe’s Tale is THE EXACT SAME STORY as the one told in The Last Colony. The catch is, this time around we see events through the eyes of Zoe, adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan, and biological daughter of a man who came close to destroying all of humanity. (Spoiler alert: he failed.) Once again, we journey with the family to the new colony of Roanoke, where things go spectacularly badly for the human colonists.

Zoe is a fun point-of-view character, giving us the teen girl take on being dragged across the universe by her parents, being forced to leave her friends and technology behind, and engage in the dirty, difficult business of building a new home out of practically nothing.

Zoe is smart, and a smart-ass, and it’s exhilarating to see her come into her own and make a difference in intergalactic politics and intrigue. Plus, Zoe — by virtue of her birth father’s contributions — is a hero to an entire alien race, and seeing Zoe interact with her Obin bodyguards is worth the price of admission all on its own.

As a side note, throughout the series, Scalzi excels at creating multitudes of alien races and making them distinct and endlessly entertaining. Some are weird, some are scary, some are practically beyond description… and it all just adds to the fun of the Old Man’s War books.

You might think it would be dull to read about the same events in a second book, but trust me, it’s not. It’s kind of a blast to hear Zoe’s take on what happened, and to see how her version dovetails (or not) with her parents’ side of the story. Really, Zoe’s Tale is a great read — and I think best appreciated if read immediately following The Last Colony.

Zoe’s Tale is, in a way, an end of the main piece of the story, at least if you consider the series to be specifically about John Perry and his family. The next two books continue with events in the Old Man’s War universe, but have a very different format and focus.

Books #4 and 5, The Human Division and The End of All Things, are written (and were originally published as) a series of interconnected stories. John Perry’s actions at the end of the previous books pretty much blew up the uneasy coexistence of the Colonial Union (representing humanity) and the Conclave (an alliance of 400+ alien species). In these two books, we see what happens next.

Previously, Earth was kept isolated from the Colonial Union. Earth humans had the option of joining the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces) when they turned 75, but it was a one-way relationship. Earth was kept mostly in the dark about the goings-on out in space, and had no say in how humans interacted with the various other species they encountered.

John Perry broke through that barrier, and in The Human Division and The End of All Things, we see the fall-out. Earth is no longer willing to be merely a supplier of people and goods to the Colonial Union, and wants its own voice heard. In these two books, we meet diplomats — lots and lots of diplomats — from Earth, from the Colonial Union, and from the Conclave, each of whom represent their people’s interest, but carry layer upon layer of secret agendas as well.

Of course, these are John Scalzi books we’re talking about, so in addition to diplomatic negotiations, we have daring space rescues, lots of things blowing up, a brain in a box (yup!), wise-ass soldiers wielding mighty weapons while discussing ancient pop culture, descriptions of very interesting and sometimes scary alien beings, and more snark than might seem possible to fit into two paperback books.

As I said in my wrap-up of the first three books in the series:

Ever since discovering John Scalzi’s amazing books, I’ve know that I needed to make time for this series, but after talking about it for so long, it started feeling like a huge undertaking — and I’m not quite sure why. Now that I’ve dived in (and read three books in the space of a week), I can tell you that this series contains all the trademark Scalzi wit and smart-assery (is that a word? it should be a word) that we know and love from books like The Android’s Dream, Redshirts, and Lock In. I was afraid that Old Man’s War would be all hard sci-fi, serious and full of space battles, and I’m happy to say that that’s not the case. I mean, yes, there are space battles and the eradication of planets and species… but these books are funny, dammit, even while containing moments of deep emotion and moral dilemmas.

Now that I’ve reached the end of Old Man’s War, I can say that I’m 100% happy to have read the series! John Scalzi is consistently smart and funny in everything he writes, and I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan for life. I haven’t started his newest series, The Interdependency (which consists of two books so far, The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire) — so I guess I do have something Scalzi for my goals list for 2019 after all.

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The details:

Zoe’s Tale – published 2008; 325 pages
The Human Division – published 2013; 431 pages
The End of All Things – published 2015; 380 pages

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A view from the halfway point of the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi

The Old Man’s War series has occupied a place of honor on my TBR list for years now… I almost feel like I’m breaking with tradition by actually reading these books, rather than featuring them in yet another January post about my reading resolutions for the year.

Ever since discovering John Scalzi’s amazing books, I’ve know that I needed to make time for this series, but after talking about it for so long, it started feeling like a huge undertaking — and I’m not quite sure why. Now that I’ve dived in (and read three books in the space of a week), I can tell you that this series contains all the trademark Scalzi wit and smart-assery (is that a word? it should be a word) that we know and love from books like The Android’s Dream, Redshirts, and Lock In. I was afraid that Old Man’s War would be all hard sci-fi, serious and full of space battles, and I’m happy to say that that’s not the case. I mean, yes, there are space battles and the eradication of planets and species… but these books are funny, dammit, even while containing moments of deep emotion and moral dilemmas.

The series kicks off with Old Man’s War, which sets up quite a neat bit of world-building. From the opening lines, we know we’re in for a treat:

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited by wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

John Perry is the main character — a nice, decent man who misses his late wife, and has nothing much tying him to life on Earth. So, John enlists in the Colonial Defense Forces, a space-based military whose purpose is to protect human colonists across the depths of space, as they fight other species for possession of habitable planets. Why would a 75-year-old enlist? Because the CDF only accepts senior citizen recruits, enticing them with the prospect of technology that can make them young again. Sure, there are a few catches, like never being able to return to Earth again, and — oh yeah — going out and killing aliens in battle after battle, but the elderly recruits are all eager for a new chapter in their lives, so off they go.

What follows is an intriguing story of warfare, military training, the bonds between squad-mates, unimaginable danger from unimaginable aliens, and a rip-roaring good adventure. The morality is decidedly grey, and John Perry becomes more and more aware of the fallibility of the CDF powers-that-be. Danger, adrenaline, and even love come into play. It’s an awesome start to the series, although Old Man’s War can certainly stand on its own as a single-volume story, for those not looking to make a long-term investment in a series.

 

Book #2, The Ghost Brigades, shifts gears and perspectives quite a bit. While some characters cross over into this book, for the most part, The Ghost Brigades introduces a brand new cast of characters and a new set of dilemmas and conflicts.

The question of free will and consciousness is front and center. What does it mean to be a person? Are you still a person if your consciousness has been manufactured? Can a non-self-aware species become self-aware through technology? And if so, should they?

The adventure here feels much more personal, as it focuses on a few key people and their struggle to do the right thing, even when the right thing isn’t always obvious. The technology in this book expands on what we know from Old Man’s War, and is quite fascinating.

I did feel that the first third or so of the book was rather slow-moving, as it throws us into a new situation amidst new people and species, and spends a lot of time laying out the framework of the current conflict. I missed John Perry quite a bit (he’s absent from this story), although by the later sections of the story, I found myself just as invested in the new characters’ lives.

Things definitely pick up by the end — I couldn’t put this book down, and had to immediately move on to the next book to see what happened next…

Which brings us to The Last Colony, the third book in the series. As you might guess from the title (and as is clear from reading the author’s acknowledgements), The Last Colony was meant to be the end of the story. And a great end it is! Although apparently enough people loved these books for the author to continue the story for three more books, but I haven’t gotten there yet!

In The Last Colony, we’re reunited with John Perry, who’s once again at the center of a galactic battle for domination between the CDF and the non-human species who have allied together to put a limit to non-authorized planetary colonization. John is sent to head up a new colony on a new planet (which the CDF names Roanoke, not that that’s ominous or anything).  But the aliens aren’t particularly happy with this bold move by the humans, and they’re willing to do something about it.

I won’t give away too much about what actually takes place. It’s quite a good story, full of military maneuvering, intelligence gathering, high technology… and also domestic drama, snarky colonists, and plenty of awesome wordplay and quippy, snippy arguments. I was completely engrossed by this book… and now that I’ve finished, I’m trying to force myself to hit pause and read something different before diving into the 2nd half of the series.

Yes, there are three more books in the Old Man’s War series, and at this point, I can safely say that I’ll be reading them all… probably very, very soon.

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The details:

Old Man’s War – published 2005; 351 pages
The Ghost Brigades – published 2006; 347 pages
The Last Colony – published 2007; 320 pages

 

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/17/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal: Definitely a favorite for 2018! Read my love-fest of a review, here.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo: My book group read for September. My review is here.

Vox by Christina Dalcher: A look at a US society in which women’s voice have literally been silenced. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce: Book #3 in The Immortals series. Excellent addition to the world of Tortall!

Pop culture goodness:

Has anyone else watched Forever on Amazon yet? It’s weird and funny and totally surprising. Maya Rudolph is just as good as you’d expect. I’ve watched half of the available episodes, and recommend checking it out! (It’s pretty low commitment for a binge-watch, just eight half-hour episodes).

Fresh Catch:

I added even more Kindle books to my never-ending TBR list, thanks to various price drops that popped up this week. Here’s a peek at my newest acquisitions:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory: After some heavier reads, a little light-and-fluffy romance might really hit the spot.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Realms of the Gods (The Immortals, #4) by Tamora Pierce: Finishing up the Immortals quartet!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing our group read of the Lord John works, it’s lovely to revisit The Scottish Prisoner, which stars Lord John Grey and everyone’s favorite Scottish laird, Jamie Fraser. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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