Audiobook Review: Travel by Bullet (The Dispatcher, #3) by John Scalzi

Title: Travel by Bullet
Series: The Dispatcher, #3
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator:  Zachary Quinto
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: September 1, 2022
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 3 hours, 43 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Audible and New York Times best-selling “Dispatcher” series returns with a brand-new mystery, performed by Zachary Quinto.

The world has changed. Now, when someone is murdered, they almost always come back to life—and there are professionals, called “dispatchers,” who kill in order to save lives, to give those near the end a second chance. Tony Valdez is a dispatcher, and he has never been busier.

But for as much as the world has changed, some things have stayed the same. Greed, corruption and avarice are still in full swing. When Tony is called to a Chicago emergency room by an old friend and fellow dispatcher, he is suddenly and unwillingly thrown into a whirlpool of schemes and plots involving billions of dollars, with vast caches of wealth ranging from real estate to cryptocurrency up for grabs.

All Tony wants to do is keep his friend safe. But it’s hard to do when friends keep secrets, enemies offer seductive deals, and nothing is ever what it seems. The world has changed… but the stakes are still life and death.

I hadn’t been aware that a third Dispatcher audiobook was on the way, so I was surprised in the best way to see it available on Audible this month!

In the sci-fi/speculative world of the Dispatcher series, death has become much more optional. Death by natural causes is still death, but if someone is murdered, in 999 cases out of 1,000, the murdered person pops back into life with a “reset”, waking up someplace they feel safe — usually their own home — back in the condition they were in several hours earlier.

In this brave new world, professional Dispatchers are trained and licensed to turn natural deaths into murders, all for the sake of saving lives. A person on the verge of death from cardiac arrest, for example, gets a professionally administered bullet to their brain, and (unless they’re that 1 in 1,000 exception), they end up totally fine. I mean, they should probably go see a doctor ASAP for that heart condition, but they’re alive and have a chance to remain that way.

In Travel by Bullet, things have changed yet again in all sorts of interesting ways. The role of Dispatchers has been around for about 10 years at this point, and our main character, Tony Valdez, is tired. The world has been going through the pandemic for the past couple of years, and new laws have been instituted that give families the right to demand a dispatch for their dying relatives, meaning that Dispatchers are now employed full time in hospitals and are kept incredibly busy.

The problem is, for someone on a ventilator approaching death, a reset by dispatch isn’t really going to fix things. The patient will wake up in their own bed in a condition from a few hours earlier, but as in all dispatches, they travel without anything but their bodies — no clothes, and most importantly in these cases, no equipment. Often, desperate families who demand a dispatch are dooming their relatives to pain and confusion and inevitable death, but without the benefit of hospital staff to ease the journey. Tony spends much of his time trying to talk families out of using his services, but at the end of the day, he is required by law to perform if that’s what the family wants.

His daily grind is interrupted when a friend and fellow dispatcher is brought into the ER, on the verge of death and asking specifically for Tony. Tony knows that this person has been involved in the shadier side of dispatching, and the circumstances of the accident that brought him to the hospital are very sketchy.

Tony reluctantly gets drawn into his friend’s mess, and ends up at the center of a conspiracy that draws in the Chicago PD, the FBI, mobsters, VC billionaires, and assorted hoodlums. Tony becomes increasingly threatened as he struggles to keep his friend safe while not alienating other allies or putting his life and livelihood into grave danger.

It’s all very quick-paced and complicated, with crypto-wallets changing hands, billionaires behaving horrendously, and Dispatchers being used in some truly awful business settings (as well as providing the “travel by bullet” concept that gives this story its name).

In my review of the 2nd book, Murder by Other Means, I wrote:

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.

The same is absolutely true here! (Sorry, I don’t usually quote myself…)

Travel by Bullet is slightly longer, but still under 4 hours. Actor Zachary Quinto is marvelous when it comes to voicing Tony and handling the storytelling. His narration absolutely nails the noir vibe of the entire story, and it all just works.

I would recommend starting with the first book in this series, The Dispatcher, in order to get a good feel for the world of dispatching and its rules and quirks — but since they’re all relatively short, you’ll speed through them in no time!

Note: Travel by Bullet is an Audible exclusive as of now. The first two books in the series were also originally Audible-only, but were later released in print format too, so I’d assume that eventually, this one will be as well. For now, though, if you want to experience Travel by Bullet, Audible is the only option.

Shelf Control #336: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

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!

A programming note: I’ll be taking a mini-hiatus next week while traveling, and as of now, I’m not planning to do a Shelf Control post for 9/28. I’ll be back the following week!

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Published: 2008
Length: 382 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.

How and when I got it:

I bought a paperback copy about 3 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I do want to read this! I’ve heard about Little Brother for years, but in general, tech-focused sci-fi isn’t usually my jam. Still, check out those blurbs by Neil Gaiman and Scott Westerfeld!

This book pops up on a lot of “best of” geeky reading lists, but I didn’t have a copy of my own until a few years ago, when I picked one up thinking it might entice my son to read a book other than those assigned for school. Nope, he didn’t show any interest, but I’ve held onto it, thinking I’d want to read it eventually.

So far, I haven’t been motivated to pick it up and give it a try, so at this point, I’m inclined to think that Little Brother will go in the donate pile next time I need to clear more room on my shelves. But… I’m open to being persuaded that I should keep it and read it!

What do you think? Would you read this book? And if you’ve read it, do you recommend it?

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 Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Title: The Kaiju Preservation Society
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: March 15, 2022
Print length: 272 pages
Audio length: 8 hours 2 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Kaiju Preservation Society is John Scalzi’s first standalone adventure since the conclusion of his New York Times bestselling Interdependency trilogy.

When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.

What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble.

It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society that’s found its way to the alternate world. Others have, too–and their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.

If you’re looking for highly dramatic science fiction with dire stakes, intricate world-building, and mind-boggling technology… this is not that book.

BUT… if you’re looking for a super fun sci-fi romp that’s funny and fast and full of f-bombs and smart-asses, well, look no further!

The Kaiju Preservation Society is a feel-good story (yes, really) about an alternate-dimension earth where gigantic creatures known as kaiju are powered by internal biological nuclear reactors, everything in the environment wants to eat people, and a team of adrenaline-junkie scientists and grunts work to keep the kaiju safe, and to keep our Earth safe from them.

It’s 2020, New York is on the verge of lockdown as COVID hits, and Jamie Gray, expecting a promotion at work, is instead laid off, joining the ranks of food-delivery drivers during the pandemic. A chance encounter with an old friend leads to a job offer with KPS, an organization devoted to the welfare of “large animals”, as they explain to Jamie during the interview.

Before he can reconsider, Jamie is whisked off to a secret location (in Greenland, of all places!), where he and a few other newbies are ushered through a dimensional portal into an alternate world, where scientists work to study and preserve kaiju life. Jamie’s job, as he reminds people repeatedly, is to “lift things” — he’s one of the few non-scientists at the base, but he’s a good guy, a hard worker, and indeed, good at lifting things, and he’s soon fully immersed in the crazy life of KPS.

The action is non-stop, and it’s a wild world into which we (and Jamie) are thrown — there are tree crabs and giant parasites and swarms of flying insects, all of which would love to eat people. Not to mention the kaiju themselves, who are scary and huge and have a tendency to explode under certain circumstances.

When bad guys show up, the action gets even heavier, but the banter and humor never flag, even when our scrappy band of heroes face death at every turn. I mean, it’s pretty clear that the good guys will win, but the fun is in seeing just how that comes about.

I always love John Scalzi’s books, and The Kaiju Preservation Society feels like a throwback to the style and attitude of some of his earlier books (which I happen to adore), such as the ridiculously entertaining The Android’s Dream.

The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, who does many of Scalzi’s books, and is amazingly talented when it comes to narrating action and multiple character voices. He projects tons of humor, even when our lead characters are confronted by gigantic creatures that may eat them — even their fear and hysteria come across as funny.

I really appreciated that the audiobook included the author’s note at the end — many don’t, which is a pet peeve of mine. Here, it was incredibly helpful and enlightening to hear about the author’s experiences in 2020 and 2021, and why and how he ended up writing this particular book during the pandemic.

All in all, I’d say that The Kaiju Preservation Society has to be one of my most fun listening experiences of the year! If you have low tolerance for salty language and progressive politics, this may not be the best choice for you — but those obstacles definitely don’t apply to me, and I loved every moment!

John Scalzi is a go-to, must-read author for me, and The Kaiju Preservation Society is a total win. Coincidentally, just this week, his publisher announced his next upcoming novel, Starter Villain, to be released in June 2023. Sign me up!!



Shelf Control #334: Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

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!

Title: Victories Greater Than Death
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Published: 2021
Length: 288 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’—she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic—she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed. Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachael, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders.

How and when I got it:

I bought a hardcover soon after the book’s release in 2021.

Why I want to read it:

This is a more recent book for me, in terms of Shelf Control picks, since it’s only been on my shelf for a year. Still, I’ve had it for a year and haven’t picked it up… so the question is, will I?

I do know that Charlie Jane Anders is a writer I really enjoy. I used to read her columns quite a bit when she wrote for io9, and I really enjoyed her novel All the Birds in the Sky. At the same time, I do already have two other books by her on my shelves, still unread, so why did I add a 3rd?

I’m actually not entirely sure why I bought this book, but I believe I’d seen a few very positive reviews, and there was a hardcover sale that day, so I gave in to temptation! Victories Greater Than Death is not a long book, and it seems like it would be a quick, enjoyable read. It’s YA sci-fi, and space battles and clones and aliens sound like a winning combination!

This is the first in a trilogy (book #2, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, was released in April 2022, and the 3rd book, Promises Greater Than Darkness, is expected in 2023). I don’t think I realized that this wasn’t a stand-alone when I purchased it, but I suppose I’m up for giving it a try and then deciding if I want to continue.

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!

Book Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: July 19, 2022
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a lavish historical drama reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

Doctor Moreau is certainly having a moment!

Originally introduced in the sci-fi classic The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells, published in 1896, this character has remained in the public imagination ever since, as shown by movie adaptations across the years as well as more recent novels that put various spins on the original story. (See my links/notes at the end of this post for more).

In the original, Doctor Moreau works on a remote island, where he uses the practice of vivisection to surgically transform animals into humans. Here in The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, the story is set in the Yucatan, against a backdrop of a Mayan uprising against the colonial landowners.

The main characters are Carlota, the doctor’s daughter, and Montgomery, the new majordomo of the estate, a broken man who drinks to forget, but develops a strong loyalty to both Dr. Moreau and his unusual, beautiful daughter.

Through their shifting perspectives, we follow Carlota over the years as she grows from a young teen to a young woman, obedient to her father and dedicated to caring for the hybrids, whom she sees as family rather than as creations.

Despite the estate’s isolated location, the outside world intrudes, precipitating events that endanger the hybrids and Carlota herself. Secrets are revealed, and Carlota and Montgomery are forced into a battle for survival.

While there are interesting twists to this interpretation of the Doctor Moreau story, I did not find myself particularly absorbed or invested in the story. The narrative feels very episodic and exposition-heavy, and while I enjoyed the descriptions of the natural world of the Yucatan, the characters and the plot did not pull me in to any great extent.

The hybrids remain mostly in the background — unfortunately, since they’re the most interesting part of the story — and Carlota’s secrets, when finally shared, didn’t surprise me at all.

After a very slow start, the book takes a turn for the better and picks up the pace by the mid-point, but overall, for reasons I can’t quite define, I always felt at arms-length from the characters and the story. I wasn’t bored exactly, but I also felt that I could have put the book down and walked away at any point without experiencing much curiosity about the rest of the story. Despite the potential of the overarching story, this book felt a little too flat for me, which was disappointing.

As for Doctor Moreau having a moment — I’ve read two other books in the past couple of years that use The Island of Doctor Moreau as a jumping-off point:

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is the first book in a very creative YA trilogy, which stars the daughters of famous (fictional) scientists as the central characters — including a very different version of a daughter of Doctor Moreau.

And for something truly different, bizarre, and totally amazing, there’s The Album of Doctor Moreau by Daryl Gregory, which centers on a pop music boy band made up of animal/human hybrids. It’s so weird… and I loved it.

Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Title: Upgrade
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: July 12, 2022
Print length: 352 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The mind-blowing new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter and Recursion

“You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential. 

Upgrade is a fast-paced science fiction tale set in a not-too-distant future, in which genetic engineering is tightly controlled after the global disaster known as the Great Starvation. Logan Ramsay, once an aspiring genetic engineer, is now an agent with the GPA (Gene Protection Agency), whose mission is to stop illegal gene tinkering and prevent the next genetic disaster.

Logan is also the son of the brilliant scientist whose genetic enhancements inadvertently caused the Great Starvation. His family heritage haunts him, and while the raids and arrests he participates in make him physically ill at times, he sees he work as a penance for his mother’s legacy.

But after a raid gone bad, during which Logan was injured, he begins to feel… not himself. At first, he’s not sure, but eventually, the intense body aches, combined with the undeniable increase in his mental capacity, lead him to suspect that someone or something has tinkered with his genomes.

Things only get more terrifying, as he’s whisked away to a GPA black site for study and interrogation. At first, he’s suspected of self-editing, but even once this is shown not to be the case, the questions are enormous: What exactly was done to Logan? By whom? And the biggest question of all — why?

The action becomes intensely suspenseful, as Logan must evade capture, discover the mystery of his enhanced genetic make-up, and figure out how to stay alive when someone close to him ends up on the opposite side of his mission.

Blake Crouch excels at creating terrifyingly plausible worlds and memorable characters (as in Recursion and Dark Matter), and Upgrade is yet another scarily tangible story. The world in Upgrade is within a century of complete disaster. Humanity faces extinction, not at some far off point in the future that scares those paying attention but can otherwise be ignored, but within a few generations’ lifespans. And yet, people still don’t seem to be mobilized to do anything about the looming catastrophe. As the characters note:

One child dies in a well, the world watches and weeps. But as the number of victims increases, our compassion tends to diminish. At the highest number of casualties — wars, tsunamis, acts of terror — the dead become faceless statistics.

Simply put, humankind can’t internalize and comprehend the scale of loss that looms, and therefore, can’t be made to care enough to do something about it.

While Upgrade is clearly set farther in the future than our own reality, the scenario depicted seems frighteningly possible. Climate change and out-of-control genetic manipulations are driving forces behind Upgrade‘s awful world situation, but neither are unimaginable.

I found myself on the edge of my seat while reading this book, invested in Logan as a person (and oh, how he suffers!) as well as in the action-adventure elements and the futuristic fate of the world. While the science terminology sometimes went completely over my head, I could understand it enough to be both scared and fascinated.

Upgrade is a terrific race against time as well as a cautionary tale, and an altogether exciting and unputdownable read. Don’t miss it!

Book Review: Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson

Title: Drunk on All Your Strange New Words
Author: Eddie Robson
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: June 28, 2022
Print length: 228 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Lydia works as translator for the Logi cultural attaché to Earth. They work well together, even if the act of translating his thoughts into English makes her somewhat wobbly on her feet. She’s not the agency’s best translator, but what else is she going to do? She has no qualifications, and no discernible talent in any other field.

So when tragedy strikes, and Lydia finds herself at the center of an intergalactic incident, her future employment prospects look dire–that is, if she can keep herself out of jail!

But Lydia soon discovers that help can appear from the most unexpected source…

Eddie Robson’s previous novel, Hearts of Oak, was a 5-star read for me, so it’s not too surprising that this new book also gets ALL the stars!

In Drunk on All Your Strange New Words, the action takes place in a version of New York at some point in the future, where rising sea levels have devastated most coastal areas, New York exists as a tourist mecca behind sea barriers, and an alien race known as the Logi have established embassies and commerce with the population of Earth.

Main character Lydia works as a translator. The Logi speak mind to mind, and only those with an aptitude for telepathic communication can work in the field. Lydia is highly trained and very good at what she does, and she enjoys her time with “Fitz”, the human name the Logi cultural ambassador goes by. The only downside is that the work of mind-to-mind communication has a chemical side effect equivalent to intoxication, so the longer work hours or more complicated exchanges Lydia carries out, the drunker she becomes.

Can we just pause here to admire what an amazing set-up for the story this is? I’ve never come across anything like it, and I was immediately fascinated by the entire premise.

That’s just the beginning, though. The morning after a particularly challenging night of translation work, Lydia finds Fitz murdered in his study inside the Logi cultural residence. The doors were all locked for the night, only Lydia and Fitz were inside, and Lydia was so drunk from translating that she doesn’t remember anything at all past the middle of the evening. She’s clearly the prime suspect, and to make matters worse, she can’t even say with certainty that she didn’t do it.

The investigation into the murder is incredibly engrossing, with Lydia, the police, and other Logi diplomats carrying out their own inquiries. Lydia checks out clues and seemingly random connections, all of which seem to point to a larger conspiracy… or does it? It’s complicated, to say the least.

Drunk includes deft, intricate plotting, great character profiles, clever dialogue, and a fabulous new version of our world to think about. Grim and dark in many ways, it also includes a renewed interest in hard-copy books, so that’s something to look forward to if this future comes to pass! The author includes technology and slang that are different from our own, but not so impenetrable that it’s hard to follow. The writing is very accessible, and there’s an underlying sense of lightness and humor, even in dark moments, that make this a very enjoyable read.

Bottom line? I loved this book, and couldn’t put it down. Don’t miss it!

Book Review: In the Quick by Kate Hope Day

Title: In the Quick
Author: Kate Hope Day
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Print length: 251 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention who leaves home to begin grueling astronaut training at the National Space Program. Younger by two years than her classmates at Peter Reed, the school on campus named for her uncle, she flourishes in her classes but struggles to make friends and find true intellectual peers. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station—and a hard-won sense of belonging—but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world seems to have forgotten the crew, June alone has evidence that makes her believe they are still alive.

She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégé, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the relationship that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create—and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.

A propulsive narrative of one woman’s persistence and journey to self-discovery, In the Quick is an exploration of the strengths and limits of human ability in the face of hardship, and the costs of human ingenuity.

I’m not going to lie — I book this book on a whim based solely and completely on the fact that the pink astronaut cover grabbed my attention in a bookstore and wouldn’t let me walk away!

Much to my surprise, while In the Quick is a science fiction book about a young engineering prodigy whose obsessive need to understand the why of things leads her into a fiercely competitive astronaut program and ultimately, into interplanetary exploration… it’s also a retelling of Jane Eyre. How wild is that?

In In the Quick, June’s beloved uncle, a renowned pioneer in spaceship engineering, dies when June is twelve. He raised her to think, to question, to seek answers, and she delighted in hovering in the background while his students worked with him on challenging prototypes and design projects. But after his death, June is lost in her aunt’s house, unloved and misunderstood — and when the spaceship Inquiry goes dark after a fuel cell failure, June’s worldview is thrown into chaos.

The fuel cells were her uncle’s greatest achievement. What could have gone wrong, and why? Even past the point when the world seems to have concluded that the Inquiry and its crew are lost, June is compelled to seek answers. She soon enrolls at the National Space Program school, determined to forge a path for herself that takes her into space and gives her the knowledge to understand and unravel the mysteries of the failed fuel cells.

June’s journey ultimately takes her to a moon called the Pink Planet, where swirling silt creates a permanently pink atmosphere, and where exposure to the silt results in a hallucinogenic, numbed state. The Pink Planet is an outpost developed as a jumping off point for the vast voyages intended for the Inquiry and its sister ship, but once the Inquiry mission failed, the Pink Planet stations were left in a state of minimal use and shocking disrepair. Once on the Pink Planet, June reconnects with her uncle’s former student James, who is similarly obsessed with June’s uncle’s work. Together, they begin an intense creative phase to finally solve the puzzle of the fuel cells… and to figure out if there truly is any hope still of finding the Inquiry after all this time.

In the Quick is a fairly short book, and it’s a quick read. It’s oddly compelling — the forays into engineering and design are kept to lightly descriptive passages, so the science is never overwhelming for those of us without advanced degrees. The story of June’s growth and education is interesting, although she’s a somewhat hard character to love. We don’t get very deep into her inner life, apart from her never-satisfied quest for knowledge. We know she experiences loss and loneliness, but the friendships she forms along her journey always feel secondary to her scientific obsession.

It’s entertaining to see the Jane Eyre storylines woven into In the Quick. We’re not beaten over the head with them — if someone reading In the Quick hasn’t read Jane Eyre, they’re not going to feel lost or confused in any way. Instead, there are some basic patterns and motifs built into the story (I had to giggle over the opening scene of June reading a book while hidden away in a window seat), and it’s surprising to see how well it all works in a novel of space exploration and interplanetary travel!

I did find the overall plot to have a somewhat flat effect by the end. There are pieces that are never fully explained — in fact, given how central the Pink Planet is to the story, I don’t believe we’re ever told where it is. We know that it’s a moon, despite being named the Pink Planet, but a moon of what?

The book ends, in my opinion, on a very abrupt note, and left me feeling frustrated. Without saying exactly what the ending is, I’ll just say that I wanted more explained about what had transpired over the years since the Inquiry was lost. June’s obsession with the Inquiry leads to her conviction that the crew was still out there somewhere, alive but unable to power their ship or communicate — but if that’s true, how did they survive all these years? The lack of an explanation felt very unsatifsying to me.

If I had to categorize this book, I’d describe it as “literary science fiction”. It’s an interesting, ambitious novel, with themes of classic literature woven into a space story. Overall, I enjoyed reading In the Quick, but for me, I prefer my sci-fi with a lot clearer grounding in the science of it all. I want to understand the details and marvel at how a work of fiction can make it all seem possible. In the Quick is more about the moods and passions and human drives involved, and while it was a good read, it wasn’t 100% my style of science fiction.

Still, I’m glad I gave in to the impulse to grab a copy! In a year where much of my reading is planned well in advance, it was a treat to read on a whim and experience something unexpected. Jane Eyre in space? Well, that was definitely a new, unexpected twist for me, and I’m happy that I gave it a chance.

Book Review: Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Leviathan Falls
Series: The Expanse, #9
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: November 30, 2021
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again.

In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before.

As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win.

But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat.

And so, my friends, we come to the end. Excuse me while I wipe away my tears…

The Expanse series has been a thrilling ride since the very beginning, and the key to its glory is not just the politics and space adventures and battles (which are all excellent), but the people. Simply put, the characters in this series are incredibly human and real, and I love them all so much… which is why I’m feeling a bit emotional over reaching the conclusion to their journeys.

I won’t go into plot details for this book, because there’s little point when this is the 9th book in a huge, sprawling, intricately detailed series. What I will say is that the tension continues to ratchet up, almost unbearably. Even at 80%, I couldn’t imagine how the authors would manage to provide an ending that addresses the central conflict in a way that works.

Well, they did. And it works. And it’s devastating in many ways, but also right and satisfying and deeply moving.

As with the rest of the series, in Leviathan Falls I once again had to concentrate hard and still accept that some of the science and terminology and concepts would go completely over my head. That’s fine — the fact that I don’t really grasp the technological details doesn’t in any way keep me from becoming totally immersed in the story. I also struggle at times to visualize where the various systems and ships and planets and moons are in relation to one another, especially when all the different players are in transit and engaging and disengaging… but again, it only matters up to a point. There’s a lot of action and a lot going on, and I got enough to understand the basics of who’s where and what they’re doing.

The fates of certain characters absolutely broke my heart, but there’s a rightness and satisfaction in how it all ends.

It’s not easy to tie up such a huge story as The Expanse. After nine books (all 500+ pages) and eight novellas, there’s a lot of plot to resolve, but the authors pull it off magnificently.

I’m sorry to see it all come to an end, but wow, it’s been an incredible journey.

After finishing Leviathan Falls, what remains for me to read are:

  • The Vital Abyss: A novella that takes place between books 5 & 6. (Note: Between when I started writing this post and when I finished, I also managed to read this novella. Fascinating.)
  • The Sins of Our Fathers: This novella takes place after the events of Leviathan Falls, and I’m really excited to read it, probably coming up next in my reading queue. After a quick peek, I realized that it’s about a character whose fate I’d expected to see addressed by the conclusion of the main series, but wasn’t. Can’t wait to start!
  • Memory’s Legion: This newly released hardcover is a collection of all the previously novellas (The Sins of Our Fathers is new to this edition, as well as being available as a stand-alone e-book). I’ve already read the rest of the novellas, but I’m thinking I might read through them all again, either in print or via audiobook.

The Expanse series is truly a science fiction masterpiece, and Leviathan Falls is a fittingly excellent conclusion to the series.

All that’s left for me to say is what I’ve been saying all along: If you’re a science fiction fan and haven’t read these books, you absolutely must give them a try!

Book Review: Tiamat’s Wrath (The Expanse, #8) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Tiamat’s Wrath
Series: The Expanse, #8
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 26, 2019
Length: 537 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule — and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose – seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough… 

I’m not sure how much point there is in my writing reviews of the books in this series at this point. Tiamat’s Wrath is #8, and it’s amazing… but I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, and honestly, if you haven’t read any of the books, none of this is going to make any sense.

But trust me, this is a fabulous series, and #8 — the 2nd to last novel!! — is as excellent as I’d expected.

In this book, the underground begins to fight back against the overwhelming might of the Laconian Empire. Against the backdrop of intrigue and rebellion and intergalactic battles, we once again become immersed in the lives of the featured characters — including our beloved core crew, but also a couple of new lead characters who are surprising and who take the story in unanticipated directions.

The plot shifts between the various systems connected by the ring gates and the capitol buildings of Laconia. As the battles range, the dangers mount — but the most dangerous force is the ancient alien civilization that the Laconian High Consul has been intentionally poking. (Don’t poke the bear!!) The humans have wars to wage, but it’s this other force that ultimately may bring humanity to its demise.

Stakes are high, and the action is dramatic, but once again it’s the more intimate stories of the characters that touch me and intrigue me and, in some cases, leave me gasping and wiping my eyes.

It’s a rare talent in the world of sci-fi fiction that can strike at such an emotional level while still keeping the plot and action tearing along at an incredibly fast pace. The Expanse series continues to keep this balanced approach going, even this deep into the storyline, which is probably why I love it so much.

That, and I just adore the characters.

Once I started, I simply couldn’t stop, and tore through this hefty book as quickly as I possibly could (while still taking time for work and sleep). I do intend to enforce a break for myself at this point… must read other books before racing ahead to the end of the series!

When I do continue…

Next up for me will be the novella Auberon, a 78-page novella that takes place either during or after the events of Tiamat’s Wrath. (It’s listed as #8.5 on Goodreads, but I haven’t wanted to look too deeply into the plot details before I read it.)

And after Auberon… it’ll be on to the final book in the series! I’m really not ready for it to end.