BOOK REVIEW: Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

BOOK REVIEW: Stars are Legion, by Kameron HurleyTitle: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Published by Saga Press
Published: February 7th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 380
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Set within a system of decaying world-ships travelling through deep space, this breakout novel of epic science fiction follows a pair of sisters who must wrest control of their war-torn legion of worlds—and may have to destroy everything they know in order to survive.

On the outer rim of the universe, a galactic war has been waged for centuries upon hundreds of world-ships. But these worlds will continue to die through decay and constant war unless a desperate plan succeeds.

Anat, leader of the Katazyrna world-ship and the most fearsome raiding force on the Outer Rim, wants peace. To do so she offers the hand of her daughter, Jayd, to her rival. Jayd has dreamed about leading her mother’s armies to victory her whole life—but she has a unique ability, and that makes her leverage, not a leader. As Anat convinces her to spend the rest of her life wed to her family’s greatest enemy, it is up to Jayd’s sister Zan—with no stomach for war—to lead the cast off warriors she has banded together to victory and rescue Jayd. But the war does not go at all as planned…

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about familial love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most imaginative new writers.

 When you understand what the world is, you have two choices: Become a part of that world and perpetuate that system forever and ever, unto the next generation. Or fight it, and break it, and build something new. The former is safer, and easier. The latter is scarier, because who is to say what you build will be any better?

I read this book in March, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it or recommending it since. Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion is on its way to becoming (if it’s not already there) one of those must-read science fiction books if you’re into even the barest sliver of science fiction. Science fiction often explores that question of “what if” and reflects on current aspects of life that are problematic in some way. Today, women’s bodies are policed. They are often told they cannot choose for themselves when and how to reproduce, and if a woman is control of her sexuality, she is seen as a threat. I sell this as a “politically charged womb-punk space opera that will thrill you and make you rage, oh, and there are no male characters in this at all.” Most of the time, I get a look like “… what?” My roommate even thinks that me liking this book so much is weird, but this book, at least for me, speaks of certain aspects of an experience that is difficult to convey to someone who doesn’t have a body part that has been consistently policed by men in positions of power.

Aside from this being an amazing space opera, The Stars are Legion has a cast of brutally unlikable characters, blood and gore up the wazoo, and feels like it could have come right out of that wave of sff that was written in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The characters are unlikable and cruel and you can’t trust anyone, but you’ll be rooting for them in the end. The Stars are Legion is a an angry, visceral yell into the void of space, and the world within the covers is just an expanse waiting for you to live in it for a while, get pumped up, and want to go kick some ass in the real world.

I mean, don’t you want to read about asexual ships that give birth to whatever the ship needs, cannibalistic women who eat their deformed young, and womb/uterus/placenta references (with all of the associated fluids) all over the place? Yes, you do. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot or the characters because half of the enjoyment of this is getting to discover that for yourself. Just read it. ASAP. The hardcover is out now, the ebook is h*ckin cheap, and the paperback is out in November.

BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire, by John ScalziTitle: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Series: The Interdependency #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: March 21st 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 333
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-newuniverse.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

 It worked because on a social level, apparently enough people wanted it to, and because at the heart of it, billions of humans living in fragile habitats prone to mechanical and environmental breakdowns and degradation, and with limited natural resources, were better off relying on each other than trying to go it alone. Even without the Interdependency, being interdependent was the best way for humanity to survive.

I feel like I should preface this by saying that other than this I have only read Old Man’s War (and his twitter/blog), so for a second excursion into someone else’s work, I was hoping for the same kind of humor, wit, and intelligence that I saw in Old Man’s War. And I did. I also felt like his writing strengthened all around, which is an excellent thing to see going from a debut novel to his most recent. (And now I feel like I really should get the ball rolling on reading everything else he’s done!) His work was pitched to me as SF101, something easy enough for the unseasoned science fiction to access but something even well-read science fiction readers will enjoy for the references and subversions of the genre’s tropes. Fun fact: I teach Old Man’s War in my science fiction freshman seminar!

The Collapsing Empire is the start to a new space opera series about a whole smattering of planets across the universe connected by something called the Flow, which bends the rules of physics and allows for relatively speedy space travel between systems. As one might imagine, trade develops between the planets, an interplanetary government is set up (called the Interdependency), and everything appears to be stable. But stability apparently is only an illusion.

In addition to his accessible science fiction, Scalzi is a master at creating a cast of characters with whom you’ll laugh and for whom you’ll root. Kiva, who swears like it’s going out of style, is probably one of my favorite characters in sf. Cardenia is the newly-throned Emperox who is easy to relate to because no matter how hard we try, we’re never really prepared when the big, difficult things happen.

The Collapsing Empire reflects on current events, especially climate change, political leaders, interplanetary/international politics, and the consequences of those things if we’re not careful and considerate. It also shows us the humanity behind those making the decisions and those affected by those decisions. The private lives of these characters are explored in an unrestrained way and are allowed to be whomever they are, and it feels weird to write that even today because a lot of sf tends to fall into “traditional” tropes of black and white ideologies. It’s nice not to bat at eye at the idea of bisexual characters, or characters on any part of the spectrum. It’s nice to find humanity in double-crossy, deviant, sweary merchants. And while feeling fresh on many levels, it feels like an homage to traditional space opera stories, making it a lot of fun.

My only major qualm with it is that the first book ends abruptly. Like literally right when the action ramps up. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the second one was coming out soon, but the wait is going to be agony! I need to know what happens next!

BOOK REVIEW: The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu

BOOK REVIEW: The Paper Menagerie, by Ken LiuTitle: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Published by Saga Press
Published: October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 450
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his multiple award-winning stories for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.
With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This mesmerizing collection features many of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon Award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).
Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and original voices.

 Time’s arrow is the loss of fidelity in compression. A sketch, not a photograph. A memory is a re-creation, precious because it is both more and less than the original.

Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read, period. It’s rare for me to read a short story collection and find something to enjoy and marvel over in each story, but I did with this one. I think the only other one that matches that ‘I love every story in this’ is Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others. After finishing The Paper Menagerie, I just wanted so much more, and I’m so looking forward to reading his Dandelion Dynasty series.

I think the thing I liked most about this collection of stories, aside from Liu’s deft skill at writing in and blending several different genres, is that so many of the stories focus on the idea of storytelling and what that means for us as people and as a society. In the collection, you’ll read about the ways in which species across the universe record their stories for the present and the future (“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”), the ways in which society tells us stories to keep us controlled and how difficult it is to break the illusions (“Perfect Match”), the literal power of words (“The Literomancer”), and the literal preservation of memory to be “read” and its upsides and pitfalls (“Simulacrum”).

This solid collection has fiction in all genres, and one of the heaviest stories to read was “The Literomancer,” because while it’s got a flavor of magic and magical realism, it’s firmly rooted in history, and it’s difficult to read about and stomach the atrocities people can do to one another, and it adds another layer of heaviness when the story is mostly from a child’s, an innocent’s, perspective, because we’re watching that loss of innocence unfold before us. I also really liked “The Waves,” and I found it one of the strongest recent science fiction stories I’ve read in a while.

Part of the joy of short story collections is the discovery within the covers, so I don’t want to go into too much detail about the stories themselves. But I will recommend this to you and everyone you know because it’s just that good.

Little List of Reviews #3

Little List of Reviews #3Title: Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
Published by Tor Books
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A great new stand-alone science fiction novel from the author of the Kitty Norville series.
Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly's plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.
Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there's more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

 Carrie Vaughn’s Martians Abroad reads like a science fictional school story in which two Martian-human kids are sent to Earth to a prestigious school and things go amok. It’s a well-written, yet straightforwardly simple story following Polly’s mishaps as she attempts to integrate into Earth’s way of things at this boarding school. A set of orchestrated, predictable events prove Polly’s worth to herself, her mother, and the other students as she risks her life to save a handful of the other students. While I was expecting more depth as it was marketed as an “adult” science fiction novel, I think this is a great introduction to science fiction for the younger YA set and a great bridge from children’s fiction to “older” science fiction. The story reads easily, doesn’t feature sex or explicit language, and the violence is on par with most violence found in books marketed to the middle grade and young adult crowd.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for a review copy!

Little List of Reviews #3Title: Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature by Jacob Weisman
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: July 12th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Invaders is a collection of stories written by “literary” writers exploring the concept of invasion in science fictional settings. While some of the stories didn’t grab my attention (and that can probably be attributed to timing and my state of mind more than anything else), it’s a solid effort to show that writers bleed through genre lines more often that we realize. I did, however, really enjoy the following stories: “Portal” – J. Robert Lennon, “The Inner City” – Karen Heuler, “Topics in Advanced Rocketry” – Chris Tarry, “A Precursor of the Cinema” – Steven Millhauser, “Monstros” – Junot Díaz, and “Near-Flesh” – Katherine Dunn. These explore the weirdness of human psyche and will linger in my mind for a long time.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Pub for a review copy!

Little List of Reviews #3Title: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham
Published by Bloomsbury Paperbacks
Published: January 24th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 176
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 The White Cottage Mystery, initially published in 1927, is a straightforward, classic mystery following the murder of a man who lives in a white cottage. The characterizations are simple, the story is simple, but the writing compels one to keep reading to figure out what happened. It’s shorter than I expected, and I finished it in a sitting and a half. While I was reading it, I was hoping for more depth in characterization, but it’s a solid, traditional mystery with all of those conventional twists, turns, and red herrings. Margery Allingham is part of those writers from the Golden Age of mystery writers and is one to whom Agatha Christie admired. If you’re a fan of Christie’s mysteries, you may be interested in this one!

Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica Roth

BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica RothTitle: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Series: Carve the Mark #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 480
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?
Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.
Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

So, I should preface this with a few key points. I work for a bookstore and received an ARC of this book through my job. All opinions are my own. This review is not an attack on the author, the publisher, or anyone else. I am also white, and I am aware this affects my position to call something out as racist. I find that it’s helpful to raise awareness of problematic representation in the media we consume.

In regards to advance copies being sent out to reviewers, I’ve noticed in a lot of Goodreads reviews that the bloggers state either at the beginning or the end of their review that HarperTeen (HT from here on out) sponsored these reviews. Further research led me to discovering that HT paid this set of bloggers to review Carve the Mark. This behavior from a publisher is unsettling. Generally speaking, if one is going to be paid for reviewing something, one will not review the thing unfavorably (and if one reviews unfavorably, that reviewer runs the risk of tarnishing the relationship with said publisher). This behavior by the publisher is akin to self-published authors paying readers to post positive reviews of the work in order to boost sales. That’s what I feel like HT is doing. Perhaps HT was aware of the problematic material in the book and decided to garner a set of positive reviews to boost sales before the book’s official release. I feel as if that money could have been better used to assist Roth in adjusting some of the problematic ideas presented in the book.

I stopped reading at page 66. I was simultaneously bored and unsettled by the book and set it aside. This being said, I do not know how the book ends or develops, and I honestly don’t care. Here are the main things I found problematic within those first 66 pages:

  1. The Thuve and the Shotet. The Thuve are presented as a lighter skinned race who are passive. Akos, one of the main characters, views the Shotet as a brutal and fierce race of people (the Shotet killed Akos’s grandmother). The first time the readers are introduced to the Shotet, the Shotet arrive to Akos’s family farm and brutally murder his father.
  2. The Shotet language is described as harsh and gutteral by Akos compared to his own softer sounding language (who discovers he has the ability to speak other languages without prior conscious knowledge of them). This view of languages is similar to the comparisons of the “music” of Romance (white) languages (French, Italian, Spanish) to the “harsh, guttural” (black) languages of the African continent.
  3. While the Shotet are described has having varying tones of skin, Cyra’s mother is described as having hair curly enough for fingers to be trapped in the curls while Cyra’s is not as curly as that. Um. Okay.
  4. Cyra’s brother Ryz forcibly trades one of his memories for one of Cyra’s. Cyra obviously struggles against it and can’t fight it, and you know what? That’s rape. Forcing someone to take something mentally (and inevitably physically) is an act of rape. Cyra was raped by her own brother. As a result of that rape, Cyra’s power manifests itself as pain. Literally. Pain. By page 66, Cyra cannot touch other people without feeling pain, and other people cannot touch her without feeling pain.
  5. Later, Cyra’s mother asks the doctor “You’re saying this gift is my daughter’s fault? That she wants to be this way?” And the doctor (male) says, “Cyra, the gift comes from you. If you change, the gift will, too.” So a man is telling a woman that her rape and her pain from that rape is her own fault and that she can change it at will. Yep. That’s a blatant reinforcement of rape culture.
  6. The religion of the Shotet draws heavily from Islamic ideology. Some of the religious leaders are called clerics, and some of the practices reinforce the negative views the West has on Muslim culture. We need to move past these harmful stereotypes.
  7. While I enjoyed the Divergent trilogy well enough for what it is (even if it’s a blatant knockoff of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, it is also somewhat original in its ending), Carve the Mark is a lazy reimagining of the Star Wars and X-Men universes. It tries to be unique and diverse, but the glaring insensitivity within the first sixty pages result in its failing.

I was excited for this because there aren’t too many science fiction novels lately for the YA audience. However, the problems in the novel fail its readers by relying on outdated, racist tropes that should be a thing of the past in 2017. Science fiction is about creating new worlds, exploring new ideas, and finding some kernel of society to examine. Carve the Mark does none of this. Instead of drawing on redundant, harmful tropes, science fiction should offer the author and the readers the ability to create something new, to flip tropes and reinvent them. It seems as if the editors failed to notice or didn’t care, knowing that they’d have a cash-grab with the popular name attached; or it seems as if Roth is privileged enough to be unaware of the damage she has caused with these themes. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

After the roller coaster of the last several years with the Black Lives Matter movement, the systematic oppression of Muslims, and the discussions I have had and read, I’m finding myself more and more sensitive to the plights of those who are oppressed. I want to give those people a voice rather than reinforce harmful views. Instead of purchasing or reading this, I recommend finding, like many others have suggested, an own voices/diverse work. My personal recommendation is N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.