the Little Red Reviewer

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what’s this, a book review?   I know, right?

 

Shorefall, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Published April 2020

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher (Thanks Jo Fletcher books!)

 

 

I meant to reread Foundryside before reading Shorefall. But then i was like do I really have time to reread Foundryside? And I liked that book, but did I like it enough to want to reread it?

 

So I dived into Shorefall, with very, very fuzzy memories of Foundryside.   I remember really digging the magic system, really liking Clef and his whole deal, being kinda meh on Sancia even though she has a tragic backstory and a metal plate in her head, and really digging the magic system.  Yep, that’s about all I remember from the first book.  I don’t remember all the details about Valeria from the first book, but she must have been really important.  That said, I do NOT recommend jumping into Shorefall if you haven’t read Foundryside. (Altho I am SUPER curious about people who did read Shorefall first. Could they get into it? is this a series that can maybe be read in any order?)

 

Shorefall opens with Sancia, Berenice, Gregor, and Orso putting the final touches on some new invention they’ve created in their workshop.   What exactly is this thing?   First I thought it was some kind of printing press,  then it seemed more like a magical photo copier, and finally I settled on that it was some kind of magical quantum button thing, that whatever one button does, the other button does it.

 

Even they have a tough time describing their invention,  and that makes a specific merchant house even more interested in getting their hands on it.

 

Of course,  getting their invention inside that particular merchant house is just the first step in their grand plan . . .

 

Something I’ve loved from the start of this series is the magic system.  It functions sort of like computer programming – you etch a set of sigils, and lines of sigils become commands,  and the commands that are etched into something, such as a metal plate, make that something want to break the laws of physics. Now, imagine if all the commands and how to combine them weren’t yet known, but scrivers messed around with things (a la mad scientists) to figure out new combinations that would make something work without it exploding. Larger discoveries effectively creating programming shortcuts, and new knowledge akin to a more advanced computer programming language.  Oh, and there are no computers, and hardly any advanced technology.  It’s all very Girl Genius, but with way less humor.

 

I was worried this book would suffer from “middle book syndrome”, and the book ended up being quite the opposite!  In fact, in my opinion, Shorefall is all around a better book than Foundryside.

 

I *think* I was supposed to connect with Sancia, and really follow her plotline and be super interested in the politics of what was going on in Tevanne.

 

What ended up happening was that Sancia had a scene or two  that tugged at me,  and then I lost track of all the fancy merchant families, and then I got super invested in Gregor and Crasedes and Valeria.  And then buckets and buckets of hella cool shit happened at the end of the novel.  And I mean really, really hella cool shit!

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Turbulence by Samit Basu

published in 2012

where I got it: acquired a used copy

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I describe myself as someone who doesn’t like Superhero stories, and then I read one and have a blast.  I think what I don’t like is the majority of american style Marvel/DC Superhero movies, which is an entirely different blog post, and also an entirely different thing from superhero novels and short stories.

 

Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samit Basu for SFSignal, and his books have been in the back of my mind ever since.

 

People in India are waking up with superpowers. It seems that everyone on a particular London-Delhi flight ended up with the special powers of their dreams.  One person could fly, another became an amazing inventor, another was able to control the weather, another could create multiple copies of themself, etc.  A lot of the “look what I can do!”  is ripped directly from American style comics, and there’s actually a lot of purposeful joking about superhero names, X-men style powers, and fourth wall poking.  Not only is Turbulence a hella fun story, it’s also a love letter to superhero stories.  I really can’t say enough good things about this novel. It’s fun, funny, kept my attention, and thanks to Basu’s writing style I was instantly and continuously invested in the characters.

 

The first “superhero” we really get to know is Uzma.  She’s  moved from London to Mumbai to become a Bollywood actress.  Beautiful and graceful, everyone likes Uzma, and she was my favorite character.  Overstaying her welcome with her cousin, Uzma answers an ad to rent a room in a big old house, only to learn that everyone who lives there is weird or crazy. The owner of the house, Aman, has figured out that something strange happened on that flight, and he tells Uzma he contacted her because she is powered, and he wants the powered people to stick together which is why when he finds powered people he lets them stay in this huge house for free. What he doesn’t tell her is that people who were on that flight are being systematically kidnapped or murdered, and he hopes by staying together they can protect themselves.

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Final Girls, by Mira Grant

Available April 30th, 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean!)

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Mira Grant (also known as Seanan McGuire), is famous for her novels and series – the Newsflesh series, the October Daye series, and plenty of stand alones. Having read a small sample of her work, my opinion is that Grant’s talent shines brightest in her short fiction.  Her new stand alone novella, Final Girls, can be enjoyed over the course of an afternoon. And trust me, you’ll only need the one afternoon to read this novella, because you won’t be able to put it down.

 

I wrote an entire page of notes just in the first 30 pages of this 112 page novella, and by the time I finished the story, all my notes were irrelevant because the story had twisted and turned in about hundred unexpected directions.

 

Esther Hoffman, a journalist who specializes in debunking quackery, has been assigned to do an investigative report on Dr. Jennifer Webb’s new methods of therapy.  Dr. Webb uses dream therapy – her patients read about a horrific scenario in which they face their deepest fears, and then they are put into a hypnotic dream state where they dream the scenario and play it out to it’s conclusion. The person is physically perfectly safe, and a technician watches their vital signs to pull them out if anything dangerous happens.  Ideally, the patient learns that they can, and will survive whatever hardships they’ve been facing, and that they can now move on and live a mentally healthier life.

 

At first blush, Final Girls feels like a cross between the movies Paprika and Inception. Except Esther brings plenty of baggage to Dr. Webb’s office, and Dr. Webb is only interested in seeing her name on research papers or a nobel prize.   Dr. Webb convinces Esther that the only way she can honestly judge the quality of this new research is to do a session of therapy, and see how or even if it changes her thoughts. As Esther signs the release forms, you can practically see Webb’s ulterior motives in the corner of her toothy grin.

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time-salvager-book-coverTime Salvager, by Wesley Chu

published 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

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I do like me some time travel books. And a time travel story where objects and people are brought into other times, and you have to go. . . . back to the future?  Great Scott, sign me up! Seriously though,  I’m a sucker for a good time travel.  That movie Looper? It made no sense and all, and I loved it.   So, it makes sense that Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager would be right up my alley.  The gist of the plot is in a few hundred years, Earth is in shambles. Chronmen go into the past to get resources, batteries, energy sources, valuable minerals, just about anything that’s worth anything.  ChronoCom uses the time travel technology to give Earth a few more years of existence. Anyone who can afford to left Earth long ago to live on a colony elsewhere.

 

Chronman James Griffin-Mars self medicates his way through too many dangerous missions. He’s left too many ghosts behind, too many people he couldn’t save, too many people he had to let die, because the history books said they died. You can’t rewrite history, you can’t change the future, everyone knows that.  When James brings a woman back into the future, he breaks every law of time travel, and he seals his own fate as a traitor to everything he thought he believed in.

 

Cinematic action sequences and high octane pacing,  this sounds pretty intense, right?

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the flux steinmetzThe Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

A few days after writing an emotionally fraught and migraine fueled review, I finished Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Flux, which although isn’t a heavy book, deals with a boatload of heavy shit.  I found myself laughing and smiling at all the videogame and pop culture references as huge lumps developed in my throat from #allthefeels. I kept running across things that transcended the page right to “this is super important to me on a very personal level” territory, and that list of things kept getting heavier and longer.  And all of that was all happening at the same time!  The closer I got to the end of the book, the slower I read. Because I didn’t want it to end. If you aren’t reading Ferrett Steinmetz, you really need to start.

 

You know how the middle book in a trilogy too often suffers from “middle book syndrome”, where that book is just a way to get to the 3rd book? The Flux is a middle book that reads like a first book. What I mean by that is the characters grow even more in this book than they did in the first, the stakes get higher, and the reader gets even more invested in what’s going on. Also? Steinmetz wisely includes just enough background so you can successfully enter the series here, and be hungry to go back and read Flex.

 

I really want to tell you all the everything in this book, but sorry peeps, I just don’t have the spoons to write the full on review that even comes close to doing this book justice.  Thus, the list.  The list of things in The Flux that were super important to me, the things that took this book from fun urban fantasy to self help book:

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hurrican feverHurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell

published July 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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Imagine the action, intrigue and espionage of your favorite James Bond thriller, now throw in fatal hurricanes and a lot of emotional investment. If that sounds good (of course it does!), you’ll get a kick out of Tobias Buckell’s newest near future eco-thriller, Hurricane Fever. This is a sequel to Buckell’s Arctic Rising, but it can easily be read as a stand alone. In the near future, much of the Arctic ice has melted, the seas have risen, low islands have been completely submerged taking people’s homes with them, and hurricane season means a deadly storm every week. Oh, and did I mention Hurricane Fever takes place entirely in the Carribean, where these deadly hurricanes tend to land?

Roo Jones is retired from the Caribbean Intelligence Agency, or at least, he’s convinced himself he’s retired.  He’s living the easy life in the Virgin Islands, raising his nephew Delroy, working on his boat, trying to forget everything he’s been through.  When an acquaintance mails Roo a USB drive filled with what looks like useless statistics, Roo knows two things: he never really retired from the CIA, and his old friend Zee is dead.

Once the action starts in Hurricane Fever, it never lets up. Roo barely has time to access the data on the drive before a mysterious woman claiming to be Zee’s sister shows up, and Delroy is killed. And that scene with Delroy? When the “simplicity” of his death is “explained”? It’s amazing how a short paragraph, how a few words made of letters and ink on paper can shatter a reader like that. This was one of those paragraphs, and at that moment, I gave myself to Buckell for the long haul. Roo was angry enough, and I’d just joined up to help him exact revenge. Zee knew his life was in danger, Zee was an adult, he knew what he was getting into. But to kill a teenager, because you couldn’t be bothered to check if it was the right person? Oh yes, I was as angry as Roo, and ready to cheer him on every step of the way towards revenge.

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exodus towersThe Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough (Dire Earth, book 2)

published in 2013

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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This is the second book in Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle, and due to some very important plot points revealed at the end of the first book in the series, The Darwin Elevator, there will be unavoidable spoilers in this review for the first book.

 

The Darwin Elevator was fun, but it certainly wasn’t my favorite book. Friends of mine kept telling me to give The Exodus Towers a try, that the series got better.  And they were right.  This second novel is far and away better than the first. The pacing is tighter, the characterization is better, the alien technologies are described better, the stakes are higher, the tension is built in a more effective way, it’s just a much better written book all the way around.

 

At the end of the first book, a second elevator plunged to earth, landing in Belem, Brazil.  The stations and levels that escaped the Darwin elevator were able to attach to this new elevator, and since then, Tania Sharma and Skyler Luiken have been slowly but surely building a new colony.  Hampered by a low population but helped by  mobile towers that protect from the Subs virus, it’s slow going.  Skyler spends most of his time on the ground scouting, and Tania is up in the elevator.  She takes comfort in group decisions, being cautious with their limited resources, and not taking action until a sure course is decided on. Skyler on the other hand, is comfortable making snap decisions with incomplete information.

 

Tania has lived the protected life of an orbital scientist, where if it takes two weeks to come to a decision it won’t really matter, whereas Skyler is more used to running from Subs and needing to grab scavenged cargo as fast as possible.  I enjoyed watching the two of them play off of each other, and I appreciated the time Hough took to really develop their personality differences.  So many times, they are both right, or both wrong, and sometimes they even see it.  There is some obvious chemistry between the two of them, but Hough keeps their relationship complicated instead of taking the easy route of allowing them an easy or simple romantic relationship.  

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sidekicksSidekicks!  edited by Sarah Hans

published in March 2013

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Alliteration Ink!)

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This anthology is about yup, you guessed it, Sidekicks. And every hero needs a sidekick, right?  Someone who will support them no matter what, help them be the hero of our own story?  Even if you’re not a hero, we all need someone like that in our life.  I was expecting this anthology to be all stories starring super heroes having superhero adventures, cape and utility belt included. I was expecting the collection to be good, but not great, to speak to an audience of Batman and Superman and Thor fans that I just wasn’t a part of.  Hey, guess what? Batman, Superman, Thor, all those heroes that I’m not all that interested in? This anthology isn’t interested in them either. For once, they aren’t in the spotlight.  Sidekicks! wasn’t merely good or even great, it was flippin’ fantastic.

I’m not so interested in superheroes doing superthings and getting superattention, but people who’d rather save the day from behind the scenes? Yeah, that I can totally get into. Most of them are about people doing the right thing (or believing they are doing the right thing), and getting too little credit for it.  Not sure who the sidekick is in the story? It’s the person who is most selfless, the person least interested in the limelight. . . most of the time.    Many of the stories are packed with emotion and depth, others are filled with fear and denial.  In some the characters aren’t sure if they are on the good side or the bad side.  You may not recognize many of the authors in the table of contents, but I guarantee this is a collection you’ll be thinking about for a while.

Enough with the intro, let’s get to talking about just a few of my favorite stories!

Hunter and Bagger, by Alex Bledsoe – This quickie opens with Ellen, who is tied to a chair in a shed.  She realizes she’s been kidnapped by the infamous Headhunter, the serial killer who cuts women’s heads off.  But it turns out The Headhunter isn’t one man, but two.  The two men demand that the woman tell them which one of them is the villain, and which one is the sidekick. Is this a trick question? Does she get to live if she answers right?  But how to tell, since the two men seem more interested in bickering with each other than acting heroic or in this case very villainous?  If she’s going to get out of there, she’s going to have to think fast. And thinking fast is exactly what she does. These have got to be the dumbest, thickest idiot serial killers ever, and Ellen would be laughing her head off, if she wasn’t in her underwear, tied to a chair, in a shed with two lunatics.
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The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu

published in April 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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What would you do if you started hearing voices in your head?  How about if those voices saved your life, and then helped you improve your life?  You’d listen to them. . .   right?

The Lives of Tao follows a sort of Hero’s Journey (which I have a major weakness for), and so often in tales like this the protagonist is already hero material – they’re in good physical condition from page one, perhaps already have weapons and or military training, it’s almost as if that person has been planning their entire life about one day being called up for a Hero’s Journey.  Not so with Roen Tan.   He’s lazy, unambitious, in terribly physical condition, and has self esteem issues. He firmly lives in the same real world you and I inhabit – crappy job, annoying boss, messy apartment, and he lives on frozen meals.  He’s the last guy in the world to buy into the fact that aliens have been among us for centuries, the last guy on Earth you’d want to invite on a Hero’s Journey.  Can I tell you how refreshing that was? It was really freaking refreshing.

Roen isn’t going crazy, but he is hearing voices. The alien Quasing have been among humanity for eons, riding along in our minds and bodies, helping to nudge humanity forward.  They only want to get back home, and to do that, we’ve got to become a space faring race.  Over the centuries though, factions have arisen, and the Quasing have split into the peaceful Prophus, and the more aggressive and warlike Genjix.   They’ve inhabited many of our famous leaders and innovators, such as Ghengis Khan, Shakespeare, Cardinal Richelieu,  how many people who influenced our culture and shaped history did so because they had a Quasing guiding them?

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darwin elevatorThe Darwin Elevator, by Jason M. Hough (Dire Earth Cycle Book 1)

published July 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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When Skyler Luiken was a kid, a strange alien ship took up residence over the Earth, and plunged a spun thread into the Earth’s surface, creating a space elevator with the original alien ship acting as an anchor at the other end. Suddenly, Darwin, Australia was the most important city on earth, and Neil Platz, owner of the property where the elevator landed, was the richest man in the world.

A few years after the elevator landed, the plague hit. Within days, anyone not within the Aura  of the Elevator base succumbed to the Subs disease, causing them to devolve to a near animal state. People flocked to Darwin, hoping to escape the disease, or at least slow it down.

These days, the area around the elevator base, known as Nightcliff,  is a cesspit,  and crews of scavengers use ancient shuttles and repurposed airplanes to travel to surrounding unsafe areas to find tools and machinery and metal, anything that can be sold. Soil and water go up the Elevator to the stations, and food and medicine come down. A small handful of people are immune to the Subs disease, including Skyler and the crew of his ship, The Melville.  Russell Blackfield rules Nightcliff with an iron fist, playing politics for a seat on the Elevator Council. Yes, there’s plenty of politics in this book too!

The plot of The Darwin Elevator is a lot of fun, and it cracks me up that the story’s most implausible aspect one of it’s best features. There is a lot of unexplained alien technology, and “the aliens did it!”, which at first was tough for me to swallow. Props to Hough for extending my suspension of disbelief.  Characters for the most part are interesting as well, Skyler isn’t exactly an hero or an anti-hero, he’s just a guy who wants to do his damn job, get his damn paycheck, and pay his crew. He doesn’t want to get involved in anything.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.