Shelf Control #239: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Central Station
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Published: 2016
Length: 275 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.

At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive…and even evolve.

How and when I got it:

I bought myself a copy after reading another book by this author.

Why I want to read it:

One of the weirdest and most original books I read in 2019 was Lavie Tidhar’s Unholy Land, and it immediately made me want to read more by this author.

Unholy Land was my first encounter with Israeli science fiction. Central Station, published two years earlier, looks like another strange and fantastical trip to a futuristic world. The story includes space exploration and other dimensions, but is also set in that world’s version of Tel Aviv, and honestly, I can’t wait to see what it’s like.

The only reason that I haven’t read this yet is the perpetual problem of having way too many books to read and always finding something else that’s a higher priority. I really do want to get to Central Station!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Audiobook Review: Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi

Title: Murder by Other Means
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator:  Zachary Quinto
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: September 10, 2020
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 3 hours, 3 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From Hugo and Audie Award-winning author John Scalzi comes an exciting sequel to The New York Times best-selling, number one Audible hit The Dispatcher, performed by the incomparable Zachary Quinto.

Welcome to the new world, in which murder is all but a thing of the past. Because when someone kills you, 999 times out of 1,000, you instantly come back to life. In this world, there are dispatchers—licensed killers who step in when you’re at risk of a natural or unintentional death. They kill you—so you can live.

Tony Valdez is used to working his job as a dispatcher within the rules of the law and the state. But times are tough, and more and more Tony finds himself riding the line between what’s legal and what will pay his bills. After one of these shady gigs and after being a witness to a crime gone horribly wrong, Tony discovers that people around him are dying, for reasons that make no sense…and which just may implicate him.

Tony is running out of time: to solve the mystery of these deaths, to keep others from dying, and to keep himself from being a victim of what looks like murder, by other means.

If you’re looking for a quick audio listen that’s a noir/sci-fi treat, you have to check out this new audiobook by John Scalzi!

Murder By Other Means is the newly released sequel to The Dispatcher. Both are terrific. These Audible Originals are written by John Scalzi, narrated by Zachary Quinto, and just so much fun.

In the world of these books, death has been (mostly) defeated. For some unfathomable reason, as of about 10 years earlier, anyone who is murdered instantly zips back to life back in their own home, naked, and completely unharmed. This is not true, though, for natural or accidental deaths (basically, anything non-murdery). Die without murder, and dead is dead.

Hence, the rise of a profession known as Dispatchers. Say you’re going into surgery for a risky procedure — well then, keep a dispatcher on hand, so if things go wrong, one quick bullet in the brain will send you home again. There’s the 1 in 1000 chance that the dispatching won’t work, but most people are willing to take that chance.

In these audiobooks, our main character is Tony Valdez. Time are tough, and there aren’t as many legit dispatcher jobs these days, so when Tony is offered something that’s not entirely by the book, but that pays piles of cash, he does the job. And then things get screwy. After witnessing a robbery at his local bank branch, complete with dead and not-so-dead bodies, Tony is implicated, and when one of the investigating detectives ends up dead too, things go from bad to worse.

Tony has to figure out how to clear his name, get the cops off his back, and solve a puzzle regarding a slew of deaths in the city that can’t be murder… but they sure seem like they are.

At just barely 3 hours, this audiobook is perfect for a quick entertainment. The action is fast-paced, and the narration is terrific. The vibe is noir, but with enough weird elements to let you know you’re living in a Scalzi world. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t a Dresden book (minus the magic) — it’s that kind of smart, quick urban storytelling.

Murder By Other Means includes enough stage-setting that you can listen to it without being completely lost, but it makes a lot more sense to listen to The Dispatcher first, to gain a full picture of what life in a death-less world feels like.

Book Review: The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Trials of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #2)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: September 17, 2020
Length: 445 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The journey through M. R. Carey’s “immersive, impeccably rendered world” (Kirkus) — a world in which nature has turned against us — continues in The Trials of Koli, book two of the Rampart Trilogy.

The earth wants to swallow us whole… Koli has been cast out from Mythen Rood. Behind him are his family and the safety of the known. Ahead, the embrace of the deadly forests awaits.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, where the tech of old times was so plentiful it was just lying on the streets. And if he can safely lead Ursula, Cup and Monono to this sparkling city, maybe he can save the rest of humanity, too.

In a world where a journey of two miles is an odyssey, he’s going to walk two hundred. But the city is not what it once was…and around him, Ingland is facing something it hasn’t seen in three centuries: war.

Middle books in trilogies rarely are as great as first books or as satisfying as third books, but I’m happy to report that The Trials of Koli is a terrific 2nd book, and more than lives up to the promise of the start of the trilogy.

The first book, The Book of Koli, introduces us to a far-future world, long past the days of the Unfinished War. Main characer Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, population about 200, where survival is a daily struggle — especially since everything outside the walls, including the trees, wants to kill people.

In The Trials of Koli, we pick up where we left off , with Koli in exile from Mythen Rood, making his way with the healer Ursala, their prisoner Cup, Ursala’s tech — a surviving piece of long-ago technology that includes advanced medical equipment — and Monono, the artificial intelligence persona who lives inside Koli’s own piece of tech, a sort of IPod with a mind of its own.

The Trials of Koli also introduces a 2nd point of view, the young woman named Spinner whom Koli loved back in the village, but who married another boy in hopes of joining his influential family. In alternating sections, we follows Koli’s journey with Ursala and Cup through a harsh, unforgiving world, as well as Spinner’s experiences in Mythen Rood, where she gains access to forbidden knowledge and tech herself.

The Trials of Koli takes us across the dangerous terrain of Ingland, past killer trees and up against warrior bands from other villages, at the same time digging deeper into the inner workings of Koli’s home village, its people and their politics.

This book is exciting and strange. The author keeps Koli’s distinctive voice alive, full of odd word choices and attitudes, very much evocative of a different world than our own. Spinner’s voice is unique as well, a little more refined and with access to more education and knowledge than Koli has. Both characters are compelling, and I never really wanted to leave whichever character I was reading about to return to the other.

I can’t wait for the 3rd and final book, The Fall of Koli, due out in 2021. Meanwhile, now’s your chance to read books 1 & 2! Don’t miss out on this terrific saga of survival and community in a post-apocalyptic world.

Shelf Control #227: Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Lilith’s Brood
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: 2000 (individual works originally published 1987 – 1989)
Length: 752 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The acclaimed trilogy that comprises Lilith’s Brood is Hugo and Nebula award-winner Octavia E. Butler at her best.

Presented for the first time in one volume with an introduction by Joan Slonczewski, Ph.D., Lilith’s Brood is a profoundly evocative, sensual — and disturbing — epic of human transformation.

Lilith Iyapo is in the Andes, mourning the death of her family, when war destroys Earth. Centuries later, she is resurrected — by miraculously powerful unearthly beings, the Oankali. Driven by an irresistible need to heal others, the Oankali are rescuing our dying planet by merging genetically with mankind. But Lilith and all humanity must now share the world with uncanny, unimaginably alien creatures: their own children. This is their story…

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy several years ago — don’t remember when or where.

Why I want to read it:

I consider myself an Octavia Butler fan, but I’ve actually missed out on her two acclaimed science fiction series — Xenogenesis, compiled here in Lilith’s Brood, and the Patternist series, available in a compilation called Seed to Harvest. I’ve been wanting to read this volume for years now, probably ever since reading Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, both of which blew me away.

Lilith’s Brood includes three novels: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. Maybe I’ll start with Dawn this year, and then space out my reading of the remaining works next year.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Audiobook Review: The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut, #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut, #2)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: August 21, 2018
Print length: 384 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 14 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Fated Sky continued the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars. It is 1961, and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a colony on the moon. Elma York, the noted Lady Astronaut, is working on rotation, flying shuttles on the moon and returning regularly to Earth.

But humanity must get a foothold on Mars. The first exploratory mission is being planned, and none of the women astronauts is on the crew list. The International Aerospace Coalition has grave reservations about sending their “Lady Astronauts” on such a dangerous mission. The problem with that is the need for midjourney navigation calculations. The new electronic computation machines are not reliable and not easily programmed. It might be okay for a backup, but there will have to be a human computer on board. And all the computers are women.

I read The Fated Sky a year ago, but apparently didn’t write a review at the time. Don’t ask me why! But in any case, I’ve just completed a re-read via audiobook, and loved it all over again… so I think it’s about time to share my thoughts.

The Fated Sky is the follow-up to The Calculating Stars, which I love, love, love, love, love. A second book in a series is never quite as breathtaking as the first, in my humble opinion, because there’s already a familiarity with the world presented in the book. And so, while The Fated Sky didn’t blow me away the way The Calculating Stars did, it did keep me engaged in new and different ways, and was an altogether satisfying return to the world of the Lady Astronaut.

To get anyone new to this series caught up, here’s what you really need to know: It’s been about 10 years since a devastating meteor struck Earth, resulting in global catastrophe. The planet faces accelerating climate change, which will eventually become so extreme that human life on Earth will no longer be possible. In these dire circumstances, the international community comes together to pursue space exploration. After all, if people can’t live on Earth, they’ll have to live off Earth.

In book 1, we met Dr. Elma York, brilliant mathemetician and physicist, as well as a top-notch pilot who flew with the WASPs during WWII. Elma is married to Dr. Nathaniel York, an equally brilliant engineer. As the space program gets underway, Nathaniel becomes one of the lead engineers, while Elma pursues her dream of becoming an astronaut. It’s simply fascinating, and I urge you to read the book if you haven’t yet!

In The Fated Sky, we pick up in the early 1960s. Humans have established a colony on the moon, and the next target is Mars. The first Mars mission is about 18 months away — but not all on Earth are happy about the space program.

Earth Firsters are angry — they believe that space travel and colonization will end up being a privilege for the elite. How are the people left behind supposed to survive? With poorer areas still suffering the aftermath of the meteor’s destruction, with food, housing, and medical shortages, they feel that the country’s resources are being unfairly allocated to the space program. The protesters are becoming more outspoken, to the point of violence, in expressing their dissatisfaction.

Elma gained fame in book #1 as “the Lady Astronaut”, and when the IAC (International Aerospace Coalition) assigns her to the Mars mission, it’s clearly with an eye on public relations. But with this assignment, Elma replaces a dear friend who’d already been training for the mission, so she’s not only behind in her training but also facing resentment and hostility from the other crew members who see her as an interloper taking someone else’s place.

The Fated Sky takes place during the preparation for the Mars expedition, as well as the months of the actual journey to Mars. And while the science is absolutely fascinating, it’s Elma’s personal struggles and challenges that make it all so real and so deeply affecting.

Elma is a brilliant scientist. She’s also a devoted wife, a Southern Jew, a woman in a man’s world, and a white woman who’s not always as aware of her privilege as she should be. In the world of the Lady Astronaut books, the social unrest and upheavals of the real-world 1960s has largely been moved forward a decade along with the scientific advancements. We see women struggling for opportunity, even while being expected to maintain traditional standards of femininity (like always having their hair and makeup done before public appearances and deferring to their male counterparts even when they have superior knowledge or technical expertise. Not to mention that the female astronauts seem to be the only ones assigned laundry duty on their space mission. Argh.)

Racial inequality and civil rights feature much more prominently in The Fated Sky than they did in The Calculating Stars. There’s suspicion of the Black astronauts and whether they’re conspiring with Earth Firsters. Mission Control assigns them less prestigious assignments during the Mars expedition than their white colleagues, even when they’re clearly the better choice, which leads to disastrous results. And in myriad other, more subtle ways, the matter of race permeates the crew relations, so that even someone as well-intentioned as Elma ends up causing offense, until she’s finally told point-blank:

“One thing: Don’t explain my experience to me. It’s annoying as hell.”

On top of all this, one of the expedition crew members is a white South African, and remember, this is the early 1960’s — he’s so full of apartheid-era hate that it’s incredible that he was actually allowed to participate in the mission, and if not for international pressure related to South Africa’s financial backing of the IAC, he probably would not have been. By showing the Earth protests, the more subtle racial profiling and preferences on board the ship, and the blatant racism of this one particular astronaut. the author evokes a time of change and volatility — and sadly, exposes issues that still permeate society today.

Elma struggles too with her mental health. She’s suffered from anxiety for most of her life, which she’s worked hard to control. Her coping mechanisms are put to the test during the mission in response to the ongoing hostility she experiences from her fellow astronauts early on, especially as she realizes that she’s the only crew member who doesn’t really fit in and isn’t completely trusted.

I think maybe one of the reasons I had time loving this book the first time I read it had to do with how entangled my feelings were with Elma’s experiences. I felt so awful reading about Elma’s struggles and personal pain and how terrible she often felt. So it’s not that the book isn’t excellent — just maybe that I become overly invested in Elma as a person and didn’t like seeing her feel bad!

Anyhoo… the audiobook is such a treat! Author Mary Robinette Kowal is the narrator, and she’s a total pro. (She also narrates Seanan McGuire’s October Daye audiobooks, and does an amazing job with them.) She clearly knows these characters and what makes them tick, and I could feel Elma’s personality, as well as many of the other characters’, coming through so clearly. Fabulous.

I love the world of the Lady Astronaut, which the author first introduced in her short story, The Lady Astronaut of Mars (which actually takes place many years after the events of the books, but provides some additional context — you can read the story for free here.)

Listening to the audiobook was a perfect way for me to revisit the story of The Fated Sky. The 3rd book in the series, The Relentless Moon, will be released in July, and I absolutely can’t wait to read it!

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

Book Review: Hella by David Gerrold

Title: Hella
Author: David Gerrold
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: June 16, 2020
Print length: 448 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

Hella is a hella big place. It’s a large planet where, due to lower gravity as compared to Earth, living things grow to crazy huge size. And there are dinosaurs. And they’re HELLA gigantic. Herbivorous leviathans migrate across the plains, slowly stomping over everything in their path, and hungry carnosaurs attack them in groups, feasting for days on the huge carcasses that they manage to bring down.

Hella is not the most hospitable environment for humans, but these few thousand colonists are there to make it home. It’s already been a hundred years since the First Hundred made landfall, and since then, additional migrations of humans have helped the colony to grow and expand.

Caution is the highest priority. Everything is studied and planned for, because it’s crucial that the human population avoid cross-contamination with the Hella natural world. All food is grown within the enclosed colonies, and care is taken never to allow human-produced microbes or plants out into the planet’s own natural environment.

We get to know the world of Hella through main character Kyle, a neuro-atypical teen (roughly 13 years old in Earth years, or 5 years old in Hella years). Kyle is smart and detail-oriented, devoted to his family, but has challenges understanding nuance and reading other people’s emotions, doesn’t like to be touched, and is unable to leave a topic until he’s shared everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) he knows about it. He’s gifted and his talents can benefit the colony, but there are some who view Kyle as a freak and treat him that way.

While the colony seems to function on the principle of communal service toward the greater good, there are those who thirst for power, just like in any human society. When the chief power-hungry representative gets an opportunity to seize control, he takes it.

Hella is an interesting book, although I have some issues with it. At the beginning, the focus is on getting to know the planet and the colony. Kyle goes out on an expedition for the first time, and through his experiences, we get to see the plants, trees, strange creatures, and huge dinosaurs that roam the land.

We’re also introduced to the daily routines, the concept of work that’s at the foundation of this human society, and the myriad factors that go into maintaining safety and self-sufficiency.

We learn more about how human society has changed and evolved over the years since our own time as well. For example, gender is fluid and easily changeable. Kyle’s mother was born biologically male, but changed to female so she could experience pregnancy (which is in itself a fairly unusually choice, as many people prefer to have their babies bottle-grown rather than womb-grown). Kyle himself was born biologically female, but decided to change when his older brother did, largely because he too wanted to be able to pee standing up. Changing doesn’t have to be permanent; later in the book, Kyle has cause to rethink his decision and considers changing again in order to please his boyfriend (which is a frustrating reason to change, but fortunately, his boyfriend sees it that way too.)

By the second half of the book, the emphasis is less on the natural world outside the human habitats and much more on the political maneuvering within the human colony. There’s a conspiracy afoot, and Kyle and his friends may be in the best position to try to stop it. There’s plenty of danger and excitement as they chase through tunnels, hack networks, and try to avoid or defeat the bad guys.

My feelings about Hella are mixed. First off — cool planet! I really liked learning about this world, its dangers and its beauty, and what it takes for humans to adapt and survive there.

But, there’s just so much time spent with Kyle on the details! Granted, this is a piece of who Kyle is, but his need to go down the rabbit hole chasing every detail doesn’t always make for great reading, and I felt that the plot tended to bog down in detours.

At almost 450 pages, this book is longer than it needs to be. I think if 50-75 pages had been trimmed, the pacing might have improved, keeping the plot more on track and letting momentum build. As is, I didn’t truly feel caught up or swept along by the story until the 2nd half, and that’s too bad, as there are elements of a great story here.

As I said, I did really enjoy the (literal) world-building the author accomplishes in introducing us to the human society in this large and frightening world, and explaining how they find ways to improve their resources bit by bit, even while always protecting themselves from the dangers just outside their fences.

I was a bit startled looking at the author’s Goodreads profile when I realized that some of the characters in Hella appear in his earlier works. This made me wonder how much I was missing and whether a familiarity with other books would enhance the reading experience.

This is me being persnickety, but the author’s writing style got on my nerve in places. He has a tendency to throw commas into sentences to connect clauses. Random example:

Outside, the northeast slope was a rumpled landscape, hundreds of layers of lava flows had hardened here.

Just a little pet peeve of mine. Use a period! Separate your sentences! Or, you know, give semicolons a try!

Hella has a conclusion that ties up the major action of the story, but there’s certainly room for more storytelling about the colony, its people, and its politics — plus, it would be fun to get to see what happens next for Kyle, his family, and his friends.

I do recommend Hella, but wished that it was just a little tighter and faster overall. Still, it’s a fun and engaging story set in a really fascinating world, and I’m glad I read it.

Shelf Control #221: What If by Randall Munroe

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe
Published: 2014
Length: 303 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD ‘a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language’ which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It now has 600,000 to a million page hits daily. Every now and then, Munroe would get emails asking him to arbitrate a science debate. ‘My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ‘ He liked these questions so much that he started up What If.

If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive?

How dangerous is it, really, to be in a swimming pool in a thunderstorm?

If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce?

What if everyone only had one soulmate?

When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British empire?

How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?

What would happen if the moon went away?

In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, studded with memorable cartoons and infographics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy as a gift for my husband a couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

My husband usually likes weird science facts, but for whatever reason, he just hasn’t felt like actually reading this book. Meanwhile, I think it looks amazing. I also love weird science, and just reading the questions listed in this book makes me laugh. I’ve heard the audiobook is amazing, and I’ve read some excerpts from this book online, so I know I’ll love it once I actually dig in.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #220: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Last Astronaut
Author: David Wellington
Published: 2019
Length: 400 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.

Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.

She’s wrong.

A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.

Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.

But as the object slowly begins to reveal its secrets, one thing becomes horribly clear: the future of humanity lies in Jansen’s hands.

How and when I got it:

I received an ARC from Orbit last summer.

Why I want to read it:

I always love a good space adventure — and throw in women astronauts, especially one trying to save the world — and it all just sounds too perfect for me. My only excuse for not having read this already is that I’ve just had too much else to read, and never got around to it.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


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Have fun!

Book Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Title: Laughter at the Academy
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: October 31, 2019
Length: 376 pages
Genre: Horror/fantasy (short story collection)
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.

Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

There are two things I think I’ve established by now over the course of many years of writing book reviews: 1 – I love Seanan McGuire. 2 – I’m not a big fan of short stories.

So when Seanan McGuire releases a collection of stories, what’s a fan to do? Buy it immediately, then stick it on the shelf and delay, delay, delay…

Well, I’m here to say I’m an idiot. Because OF COURSE I ended up loving this book once I finally sat myself down and gave it a try. It’s Seanan McGuire! What’s not to love?

This collection brings together stories from 2009 through 2017, and as the author makes clear in her introduction, all stories take place outside of her “pre-existing universes” — so you won’t find October Daye or the Incryptid’s Price family members anywhere in these pages. All stories appeared in other publications and anthologies over the years, and it’s a treat to have so many available in one glorious collection.

Quick aside: I purchased the pretty hardcover special edition from Subterranean Press as a splurge, but it’s also available in e-book format for a much more reasonable price.

These 22 stories cover a wide range of themes, topics, and tones. Some are funny, some are sad, some are terrifying, and some are just downright creepy. Absolutely none are boring or skippable! One of the things I loved about this book was the mix — from story to story, it’s always something new, and so many surprises!

I’ll share just a few highlights about my favorites of the bunch:

The title story, “Laughter at the Academy”, is all sorts of awesome about mad scientists and a condition called “Schizotypal Creative Genius Personality Disorder”. It’s brutal and fun and, well, mad.

“Lost” is creepy and disturbing and sad, as is any story about children all over the world acting strangely at the same time. It made me think of Torchwood and Childhood’s End, although it isn’t really much like either one.

Seanan McGuire is excellent at unleashing hell on the world, so a story about viruses ravaging humankind is scary and perhaps too timely right now, but I loved “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells” all the same. Super frightening. And prescient — this is from her introduction to the story:

I also believe that the modern world’s disdain for quarantine and willingness to support structures which encourage its violation is going to do a great deal of damage one day… and that with the new diseases emerging regularly from a variety of sources, that day may not be particularly far in the future.

And as the story itself describes:

If they were to stay home, avoid the company of strangers, and wait for a vaccine, they might stand a chance. But no one listens to the doctors, or to the newspaper headlines begging them to stay indoors.

One of the coolest stories in the collection — so weird and unexpected — is “Uncle Sam”. Ever wonder why women go to the bathroom together? Read this and find out.

There’s also a story about Valkyries, a western sci-fi story…

Cherry’s first to the cattle call, her guns low and easy on her hips, her hair braided like an admonition against untidiness.

… military mermaids, a steampunk invasion of carnivorous plant-based aliens…

“A… diplomat?” Arthur blinked at me as our carriage rattled to a stop, presumably in front of our destination. “But the first thing you did was eat my sister’s maid.”

… a Peter Pan story, a Twitter-based ghost story, more end-of-the-world/end-of-humankind scenarios, a GoFundMe for bringing on eternal Halloween…

… and the story that’s given me nightmares ever since, “We Are All Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War”. There are dolls. And they’re scary as hell. This is creepy and brilliant, and if I ever get over my first reading of this story, I’ll come back and read it again!

Seanan McGuire’s writing is as amazing as always, and this collection shows her range and ability to try on any genre or style and make it work.

Obviously, I loved this book, and I’m so glad I got over my reluctance to read short story collections. Laughter at the Academy is a must-read for Seanan McGuire fans, but you don’t have to have previous experience with her work to appreciate the funny, scary, and strange worlds presented here.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with summery titles that aren’t really summer books at all

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is  Books that Give Off Summer Vibes.

Since I just did a Top 5 Tuesday post about summer books a few weeks ago, I thought I’d switch it up a bit and instead talk about books whose titles sounds full of summer themes… even though the books themselves aren’t exactly light, beachy reads.

  1. On the Beach by Nevil Shute: On the beach? Excellent! Except not, because it’s the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust and radiation is coming to wipe out the last remaining survivors.
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert: Glorious rolling sand dunes along a beautiful beach? Sorry, nope. It’s sci-fi on a desolate world. With killer sand worms.
  3. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian: Little girls playing in the sand with their parents on a sunny day? No. This one is set during and after the Armenian genocide.
  4. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green: An epic summer romance about star-crossed lovers? Not at all. It’s about a lonely American girl and a German POW.
  5. The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff: Yes, there’s a beach! But it’s really a wartime love story with lots of sadness and loss.
  6. Sunshine by Robin McKinley: A bright sunshiny day? Ha ha. No. This is one of my very favorite vampire stories, very dark and creepy.
  7. Firefly: Big Damn Heroes by Nancy Holder: Chasing lightning bugs on a summer lawn as evening falls? Nope. A super fun sci-fi space western, but nothing to do with actual fireflies. (Or summer.)
  8. Summer Knight by Jim Butcher: A chivalric tale about knights and ladies and a summer joust, perhaps? No, it’s all about Chicago wizard Harry Dresden and the dangerous, deceptive faerie courts.
  9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: A little beach town, with a country lane leading to the shore? Sorry again. This is a terrific fantasy… but it’s not about a beach vacation.
  10. In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien: Ooh, a country get-away by a romantic lake? Well, there’s a lake, but it’s not peaceful or romantic. This is really disturbing suspense, without a hint of summer fun and relaxation.

Can you think of more books with summer-themed titles that just aren’t summery at all?

If you wrote a TTT post, please share your link with me! Tell me about your favorite books with summer vibes!

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