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Ninefox Gambit 4 stars

Interesting concepts, and good execution

4 stars

This is the kind of book that really gets into worldbuilding, especially in the earlier parts. The reader is introduced to all sorts of weird concepts in the universe, and even if the earlier introductions feel like a bit of a dump, they are smooth—the setting is inventive with its space magic empire, but shows that it is a space magic empire from the get go. The overall concept of the book's universe is, by itself, also captivating.

There are ways to do vast, dystopian interstellar empires well, and there are ways to do them badly. Fortunately, Ninefox Gambit does them well. The story is pretty dark, and the setting is grim, but it doesn't feel gratuitous. Horrible things do happen to characters, but they happen to characters, instead of merely as an arbitrary background violence that punctuates the point. The story feels like it is, appropriately enough, about …

Ancillary Justice (EBook, 2013, Orbit) 4 stars

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing …

Cool space opera

4 stars

This is a fun space opera that has all the fun space opera things: giant interstellar empires; worldbuilding on various interstellar cultures, and how they interact with each other, and how they do gender; exploration of how cognition and identity works in entities that are not (or not entirely) human; grand plots and conspiracies.

The overall plot is perhaps a bit simple, and some of the characters lean perhaps too much into one-dimensional archetypes, but it does not matter that much against the lively worldbuilding, and how it ties into the whole story.

"The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end. Peace and order are …

Content warning general Terra Ignota series spoilers

Doors of Eden (2020, Orbit) 3 stars

This really parallels my universes

3 stars

It's one of those Adrian Tchaikovsky novels that has alternatively-evolved sapient animals in it, but it also has an unexpected amount of queer characters. Tchaikovsky tends to be good at the former, and this book is not an exception; he also handles the latter well enough, though if you are not okay with bigotry exhibited by some of the more contemptible characters being part of the plot, you may want to skip this one.

The novel starts out kind of slow and takes a while to ramp up while you want to scream at the characters to figure it out already. In the middle, it may seem to be a bit predictable, although it does take some interesting twists in the last third, which subverts that impression a bit.

Overall, a fun parallel universe story, if you're into that sort of thing, even if not an exceptional one.

All Systems Red (EBook, 2017, 4 stars

All Systems Red is a 2017 science fiction novella by American author Martha Wells. The …

Go Murderbot

4 stars

From the plot alone, this novella would be a bit of perhaps cliche science fiction. What makes it both unique and compelling is that the story being told from the perspective of the "Murderbot" (hence The Murderbot Diaries), a cyborg generally treated by society as a piece of equipment.

Martha Wells's writing does a good job of showing Murderbot's personality, its particular anxieties, its relationships towards humans, and general attitudes towards life. Even if the plot is cliche, Murderbot as a character is the opposite.

Machine (2020, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) 4 stars

More better White Space

4 stars

Elizabeth Bear's second White Space novel is, in some ways, better than the first. Once again, the story is told through the eyes of a compelling and complex character. The setting of the novel—a post-scarcity interstellar polity called the Synarche—is once again central to the novel, but the this time the inner workings of the Synarche, the relationship of its various citizens to it, and its flaws are examined in greater detail and from a more internal perspective, which makes the setting more interesting.

The novel suffers from pacing that could be better at times. We get to hear a lot of what the protagonist's thoughts are, but sometimes this feels redundant, with her explaining her already previously stated feelings on the situation multiple times, which does help to establish the stakes and motivations, but past a certain point feels a bit redundant.

Once again, this is an entertaining novel …

All the Birds in the Sky (2016, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars

An ancient society of witches and a hipster technological startup go war as the world …

Nice blend of fantasy and science fiction

4 stars

All the Birds in the Sky is, broadly, a novel about the conflict between science and magic. Less broadly, it's a novel about growing up, love, empathy, hubris, mistakes, and the desire to do good.

The story is told mostly from the perspectives of the novel's two main characters, Patricia and Laurence. The overarching plot of the novel may have some awkward twists, and its resolution may arrive a bit abruptly, but it generally works well anyway, considering the novel's focus on the character's individual experiences, and how their relationship plays into the larger events.

Genre-wise, the novel is a blend of science fiction and fantasy, and tone-wise it is a blend of serious and whimsical. While the plot does go to some dark places, the book's writing tends more towards wistful than grimly dark. The style may seem a bit weird, but it works with a story that is …

Ancestral Night (Hardcover, 2019, Gallery / Saga Press) 4 stars

An enjoyable space opera

4 stars

Ancestral Night is a space opera, of the sort that features a crew of a small starship getting into some adventures in a universe of interesting aliens and colorful characters.

The book is written from the perspective of its protagonist, in a generally lighter tone, which works well for that character. The overall arc of the plot also does not get too dark—Ancestral Night belongs to the subgenre of space opera that features universes which, while perhaps not entirely utopian, are generally not unpleasant places to hypothetically exist in. The plot, nevertheless, involves the old favorites such as ancient mysteries of the universe and space pirates, which Elizabeth Bear utilizes to generally good effect in crafting a space adventure.

The novel is not just pulp, however. An underlying plot concerns the questions of individual autonomy versus collectivism, and the use of transhumanism to better societies as a whole. The …