the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘space opera


Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

published May 2020

where I got it: received eArc (thanks!!)

 

 

Generations ago, humanity created an AI to help us become better people. We wanted to be more compassionate, less violent, we wanted to be better versions of ourselves, and we thought an AI could help us do that.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

 

At some point in the past, and for some reason, we abandoned the AI on a planet, while we explored the universe. Did the AI need to mature? Did we?

 

TL;DR:

  • AI who loves humanity, what could possibly go wrong? Check.
  • Stylish lesbians? Check
  • Some hot sexytimes? Check
  • Secret identities? Check
  • Subtexts on maturity and transcending our regrets? check.

 

While we colonized, warred, survived, and lived lives scattered across the stars, the lonesome AI named itself Samsara grew into her programming, and came to find us in our colonies in the dark skies.  Where the Samsara found us, it maimed and destroyed, allowing a small portion of refugees to come live on its planet, Anatta.  Warlords and Empires fell before Samsara.

 

Immigrants who behave become citizens, with all that the status of citizen offers.

 

Citizens who misbehave risk losing their citizenship and being sent back to the refugee camps, or worse, being sent to an off-planet refugee work camp.  Samsara, the all seeing AI knows everything about you, where you live, where you work, what you ate for breakfast, who you socialize with, how long you lingered somewhere.  Your thoughts are private, between you and Samsara.  You believe everything you see on television when you live on Anatta, because to do otherwise is to fight an all-powerful AI who is holding your citizenship hostage.

 

Suzhen Tang works at the Selection Bureau, her job is selecting potential future citizens out of the waves and waves of filthy starving refugees.  And like in C.S.E. Cooney’s Twice Drowned Saint, these people are desperate and will do anything and say anything to get into the famed cities of Anatta.

 

If only they knew.

 

As the story first unfolded, I thought Suzhen was boring. I wasn’t sure what to make of her. Well, she’s not boring, she’s careful.  If Samsara were to find out who Suzhen’s parents are, she’d surely be arrested and pulled in for questioning.  Suzhen’s armor is her silence. For her safety, she wears the mask of a shy introvert who has no hobbies. She takes no risk that she might tell her secrets to a friend or a lover.  The few people she socializes with, she won’t even tell them that she was once a refugee too, although I’m sure Taheen guessed ages ago.

 

Ovuha is a refugee, and Suzhen finds herself drawn to this tall, well spoken woman, and grants her probationary, barely potential citizenship.  Regardless of her  Ovuha will have to prove she is worthy.

 

This is where I’m gonna stop telling you about the plot, and tell you all the things I loved about this novella, and the one thing I wish had been different in it.  The plot is fucking fantastic, by the way. But you know me, i gotta talk about all the other stuff instead.

 

First off, the language, oh dear God the prose!  Please let me grow up to be an audiobook narrator so I can read this entire novella out loud! (hmm. . . i do have a voice recorder on my phone…. ) Sriduangkaew does this a lot – these gems of words that are placed just right and phrases are just barely flirting with meter, it’s like walking through prisms of agate and watching the light fragment into all it’s colors, and you just want to fall into it all. Let me try to explain in a way that makes sense – if you read This is How You Lose The Time War and thought to yourself “this language is beautiful, but this plot is I dunno?”, and you wanted to get you a novella that can do both, Machine’s Last Testament is that novella.

 

Yeah, so I have a total fan-girl crush her writing style, ok?

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Witchers,  Space Adventures, and Vodka.  those three things all go together, right?

 

well, they do in the way that you can be reading a Witcher Book and a Space Adventure Book at the same time, and also be infusing Vodka in a mason jar on the counter. . .   at the same time.

 

Last weekend I went on a farm stand adventure, and found what is now my favorite local farm stand. Fresh sweet corn, chard, pick-your-own herbs,  and my first ever gi-freakin’-gantic fennel.  What to do with all those grassy, slightly licorice-y fronds?  throw ’em in a jar with booze, that’s what!    It sat on the counter for 5 days, and I tasted it last night.

 

 

this smells and tastes 100% better than it looks, I swear.  it’s got a slightly medicinal start, that turns a little grassy, and ends with a clean and slightly licorice finish.  Smells more licorice-y than it tastes.  I had it with Ginger Ale and it was nice and refreshing.  Might not try this particular infusioni again, but my pickling / fermenting obsession might have just turned the corner into an infusing obsession (although the mint infused oil was an epic fail).

What about the books you say?   Oh Yes, buckets of reading happening!  I’m ever so slowly coming out of my reading slump.  It was a matter of not putting any expectations on myself, of reading “easy” reads, and of feeling absolutely zero guilt about NDFing things and reading guilty pleasures.

 

I blew through The Time of Contempt, and once i got into it, I really enjoyed this Witcher novel.  The beginning is a little all over the place, and it ends with a bit of a fizzle, but the middle!   Not a spoiler, but Yennifer drags an annoyed Geralt to a sorcerer gathering, and everyone at the gathering is spying on each other, stabbing each other in the back, there’s buckets of intrigue, and Geralt is all like “this is dumb. When’s dinner”.  There’s also mention of the Tower of Swallows, eeeee!!!! The dialog is dry and hilarious and flirty and adorable. This series is such a guilty pleasure!!!

 

The Architects of Memory is Karen Obsorne’s debut novel. An outer space thriller, it’s tons of failed grav-drives,  first contact gone horribly wrong, and so, SO many secrets.  I’ll share more into after the book releases, at the end of August.  I am pretty sure I met Karen Osborne at a scifi convention, and if she is who I think she is,  she is the nicest, kindest person who loves Space Opera and is a total and wonderful nerd.

 

Much thanks to my friend Elizabeth who mailed me her extra copy of Dread Nation, which I started reading the other day.  the narrator, Jane, has a super fun voice! And that dress she has on, on the cover? I WANT THAT DRESS!   But? This book is way more YA than I expected.  While I’m not sure if I like the YA writing style,  I AM enjoying that it is a super fast read,  I enjoy the narrative voice, and how can you not like a civil war alt history book with zombies?  And? with my middle aged (aka: shitty) eye sight, the fact that the lines of text aren’t crammed together so tightly on the pages is also a selling point.

 

 

Well, that’s me the last week,  what have you been up to?

 

 

Anyone else “save books for special occasions”?  Like, you’re going on vacation, or a long train ride, or you know you’ll be home recovering from a surgery, or something?

I bought Hexarchate Stories when it came out last summer, because I absolutely had to have it. When the order arrived, I gently put the book away, unopened, knowing I was saving it for a rainy day.

There was no specific rainy day in mind,  but I knew a day would come, when damnit, I just wanted to hang out with Cheris and Jedao and everyone else again. Yes, Sure, there was a good chance horrible things would happen to them (holy shit, did you read Revenant Gun??), but I wanted to see them again.

 

I’ve had plenty of favorite scifi/fantasy characters over the years, people who I can’t get enough of.  Locke Lamora. Vlad Taltos.  Mendoza (and Joseph, and Lewis).  and now Jedao firmly joins that list.

(yes, yes I do have a thing for orphans. i also have a thing for loyalty, heartbreak, long simmering anger that can happen in the same moment as the unexpected joy of a wonderful meal,  and that the journey is more important that the destination. )

 

So anyway, there is no rainy day, so specific occasion, all I have is all of this *waves handles wildly, implying everything *.    I needed some escapism, I needed some snark, and damnit I needed some Jedao.   And boy did Hexarchate Stories deliver in the best possibly way.   I meant to slowly read this, teasing it out? Yeah nope, read the whole thing in like 3 days,  then reread a few favorite stories. Will probably be rereading most of the book, because I can, and because it’s that good.

 

Hexarchate Stories is tons and tons of short stories, flash fiction, and a few longer stories from Jedao and Cheris’s youth.   Which means,  if you haven’t read Machineries of Empire trilogy, go read that first, otherwise most of these short stories aren’t going to make any sense to you.   About half of these stories were previously published online, and about half of them are original to this  collection. If you’d like a taste of what to expect, there’s links to some of these on Yoon Ha Lee’s website.

 

Remember how anguish-yand emotionally wrenching  Machineries of Empire was?  Good News,  the majority of the stories in Hexarchate Stories don’t have any of that!  Many of these are super short,  they are just moments in people’s lives, there is humor and snark and people just living their lives.  The stories are presented in mostly chronological order and there is a timeline at the beginning of the book. Lee gives Author’s Notes at the end of each story, just a few sentences maybe about something funny that inspired the story, or that it game from a flash fiction story prompt, or that it had plot holes that needed be fixed, etc.  By the way “chronological order” means we get plenty of stories of Jedao’s youth and him as a teenager, and some stories of Cheris’s youth.   Them as kids? omg YES PLEASE.

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This was the book I didn’t want to review.

 

I didn’t even want to read it.

 

I don’t know why, but I felt the need to save this book for some time when I really needed it.  Like it was the last bottle of whisky from a famous yet shuttered distillery. And once I opened it, it would evaporate and soon barely the scent would remain.

 

When I did crack the book open,  of course the first story I read was The Battle of Candle Arc.  And then I read that story again. And then I read Iseul’s Lexicon, which I then, read again.

I consumed this collection in such a strange way,  I consumed it the same way I use a cookbook. Once I identified a story I enjoyed,  I’d reread it three, or four times, getting into into my rotation. When I felt ready, I’d try another story/meal.

 

Strange, I know.  But you already know that I’m strange.

 

The time came for me to start thinking about the review.

 

I didn’t want to write it.  I didn’t want to put Conservation of Shadows back on the shelf along with all the other books that “I’m done thinking about”.   I’m not ready for these characters to not be in my life anymore. Can I reread these stories any time I want? For sure. But there’s something different about a book that is floating around the house because you are still thinking about it, and a book that you’ve put back on the shelf and categorized in your mind as “I’m done thinking about that book”.

 

This is what Yoon Ha Lee does:  writes fiction you don’t want to stop thinking about. You might be done reading the book, but the book isn’t done with you.

 

To write this review, I’ve made a bargain with myself:  I purchased Hexarchate Stores, so I can dive right into that,  and Conservation of Shadows is going to live on the coffee table for a while longer.  This review is not an agreement that I’m done with this book. In fact, it’ll be really fun to reread these stories in 6 months or a year, and see if they have changed, or if I’ve changed.

 

Thank you for letting me get all of that out of my system and put words to my feelings. You’ve been very patient.  I guess it’s time I talk about this collection, yeah?

 

Most of the stories touch on language (which of course, I have zero interest in), colonialism and occupation, assimilation, destruction of cultures through destruction of their language, how sometimes things just don’t translate, and how war makes us strangers to ourselves.

 

One last thing before I actually talk about the stories!  Fun new words!

 

sumptuary           morphophonemics      escritoire

logographs              entelechy

 

Isn’t “escritoire” just the most beautiful word you’ve ever seen?

 

Ok, I am getting to the stories now, I SWEAR.   In no particular order:

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Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

published September 2017

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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Acadie, by Davie Hutchinson, is a surprise package, and I mean that literally.

 

A tiny little novella, sexy space opera cover art, strangely generic back cover copy that seems to describe a story far too large to fit into this tiny book. It feels like something doesn’t quite add up. Of course I needed to learn this book’s secrets!

 

Your immediate enjoyment of Acadie will depend 100% on how you feel about the main character, Duke. Told in first person, if you enjoy Duke’s narrative voice, you will love the story. If you find Duke annoying, you should keep reading anyway.   I liked Duke’s narrative voice right out of the gate – he’s sarcastic, he’s a not scientist surrounded by mad scientists, and he’s resigned to the fact that he can’t avoid meetings forever.

 

With a strong narrative voice, a post-scarcity community,  humorous snark, and truly genius ending, Acadie will scratch your Iain M. Banks itch. Fan of Steven Brust’s Agyar? In a way, this book will scratch that itch too.

 

Duke is the ad-hoc President of a sort-of secret Colony.  A few hundred years ago, a famous geneticists got in all sorts of trouble for doing all sorts of stuff, because she could. Instead of turning herself in, she and her disciples stole a colony ship, and set off for the stars where they’d be safe to continue their generic experiments. The colony has been living quite happily ever since, breeding new Kids with fancy genetics, and recruiting norms with specific skill sets from home space as needed.  Duke is one of those norms, and he was chosen to run the joint because of his management background and his abhorrence for authoritarian leadership.

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The Tea Master and The Detective, by Aliette de Bodard

available March 31, 2018

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thanks Sub Press!)

 

 

Aliette deBodard’s newest novella, The Tea Master and the Detective (available March 31 from Subterranean Press)  wears the disguise of a space opera Sherlock Holmes type story, complete with an insensitive detective who is a master of deduction and the annoyed lackey who follows behind until finally seeing the light. I say wears that disguise because while this is a highly enjoyable and  tightly focused mystery, it functions better as a showcase for deBodard’s characterization and worldbuilding prowess. If you’ve not yet experienced the beauty of one of deBodard’s Xuya stories, The Tea Master and The Detective is an excellent entry point. (click here for an in depth chronology and list of Xuya stories, many of which are available to read online) If you enjoy character driven narratives, beautiful prose, and multi-sensory worldbuilding, this is the story for you.

 

Us reviewers, we’re always talking about worldbuilding –  which among other things is literally how an author builds a world and how successfully they transport us, the reader, to that world. How big is the city? How wide is the river? How many ships are in the harbor? How small is the escape pod? What color are the androids?  How dark is the forest?  What color is her dress?

 

Did you notice something about all those worldbuilding questions?

 

They are all visual.

 

Don’t get me wrong, visual worldbuilding is important! I want to know that the city is so large you can’t walk across it in a day, that the river is narrow here but wider further south closer to home but I walk a ways to cross here because I refuse to pay the bridge toll, that there aren’t many ships in the harbor because of those idiotic tariffs, that this damn escape pod is so claustrophobically small that i can barely turn around and i’m about to lose my damn mind, that the android is a dull gun-metal grey, that the forest is as dark as midnight, and that her dress was blood red.

 

But there is more to the world than seeing.  Smell, taste, texture, memory, if presented right, those sensory experiences will tell you more about how a character has moved through a world than anything else.  deBodard does that kind of worldbuilding exactly right.

 

There is this gorgeous short scene (the best always are) where two shipminds are having tea together. They have tea and snacks, and they just chat.  There is tea, of course, but also a medley of sumptuous dishes. Both shipminds know that none of this is real. There is no food on the table, the two of them are physically incapable of actually eating or drinking anything. But the concept of the food reminds them of their families. The pork is the same dish from childhood festivals, the scent of the tea is the same of family discussions and decisions generations old. All of that and more, in a few short paragraphs about a meal that neither of the participants are actually eating. A meal that doesn’t actually exist, but symbolizes everything of import, connects these two people to family members and conversations that have been dead for decades.  More worldbuilding and characterization in that small handful of paragraphs than I sometimes find in an entire novel.  I’ve read this short scene like three times now. It gets better every time, like shining light through a prism and having it come out a rainbow of the rest of the story on the other side.

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Nearly a week into January and I’m just now getting up my first Vintage Science Fiction post? What is the world coming to?  Thank you to everyone who is participating in Vintage Science Fiction Month, make sure you link back to your posts in the comments of the Vintage Scifi tab up top so everyone can find everything.  On twitter? follow @VintageSciFi_ and #VintageSciFiMonth for Vintage goodness all month long!

I may have gotten started a little late, but wow this first novel I read for Vintage Month was incredible!!

Nova, by Samuel R. Delany

published in 1968

where I got it:  from Richard at Tip the Wink

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Mouse grew in up a traditional culture that didn’t encourage pilot training or getting cybernetic plugs.  Raised in the school of hard knocks, he often stole to eat. His prized possession is a rare musical instrument that produces not only sound but also images and scent. Lorq Von Ray’s youth was the opposite of Mouse’s in every possible way. A child of wealth and privilege, he knew from a young age he’d be inheriting a business that controlled half the transportation of the known galaxy.

 

When an aged, scarred, and obsessed Captain Von Ray plunges into a portside bar looking for a crew for a trip that if successful could mean fame, infamy, societal disruption, or more likely death for everyone involved, Mouse signs up.  The Captain doesn’t explicitly say this is a trip designed around a long game of revenge, but those who listen closely, those who know where that disfiguring scar came from, they know.

 

What is Nova?  It is a quest story, a revenge story, a coming of age story, it’s the edge of every ending simply being another beginning. It sounds overweight and dangerously ambitious, but it reads smooth and weightless. The plot feels narrow at first, but it expands like a light cone,  pulling in what it needs, and easily setting aside what it doesn’t.  And there is plenty in this book that isn’t in this book  – what I mean by that is Delany has put a lot of subplot between the lines. The glances characters give each other, the words they don’t use.  It’s hard to believe this novel is less than 250 pages long!

 

The plot never sprawls, but the possibilities of everything else that happens and may happen to these characters just outside the confines of this story are endless.   The main characters are fully fleshed out, and even side characters are given just enough screen time that you start filling in the blanks of their lives yourself. For instance, I know there is so much more to Tyy, and I’d love to learn more about the twins and their other brother.

 

I loved everything about Nova, I don’t even know where to start talking about it. So I’ll just start, and hopefully this all makes sense.

 

Von Ray’s rag-tag crew is a lot of fun, they put me in mind a little bit of the TV show Farscape. Mouse and his shipmate Katin are perfect foils for each other, Katin reminds me of one of the nerdy guys on The Big Bang Theory, Mouse is the wide eyed kid going on his first Star Run. These two bond over being the least strange members of Captain Von Ray’s  crew.

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Cover art by Matthew Stawicki www.mattstawicki.com

Why, hello fellow bloggers and book reviewers!   Please raise your hand if you’ve ever participated in a blog tour.  Keep your hand up if you’ve received an e-mail from me about a blog tour I’m putting together (last week, maybe?), or a scifi-month project, or some other “I came up with this great idea at 4am!” project I   have in mind that I’m asking/begging you to be a part of.  A couple of hands still in the air?  Some of you have even planned your own projects, inherited them, or played around with blogging community projects until you found the one that works best for you.

 

If you raised your hand, thought about raising your hand, or want to raise your hand sometime in the future, this amazing #allthefeels guest post from Julie Czerneda is for you.

#ImNotCryingYouAre

 

Also?  This is just the beginning!  Follow #GuardAgainstTheDark on twitter for all the blog tour goodness, while I sit back and relax. 😉

 

photo credit: Roger Czerneda www.photography.czerneda.com

Thanks For That!

This post is going up during my third official Tour d’Internet, aka that thing authors now do before a book comes out called a “Blog Tour.”

It’s work. A post, be it a short essay like this or an interview, takes time to write (and edit, and let sit for a day or more to be sure it’s good enough, and possibly be shared with a trusted few first to be SURE it’s good enough…etc.). It’s work—and time—for the blogger hosting it as well. There’s formatting, scheduling, emails to anxious authors (is it good enough?), not to mention what comes afterwards. Oh yes. It’s not just about the post. As Michelle Sagara informed me, with some urgency, shortly after my first few blog posts went up, “It’s all about the comments, you know. You need to be there and answer them.”

I did?

I did. And do. However, the presence of comments? Is because the bloggers take more of their time to invite people to come and see the post. They moderate. (I envision the horrors kept from the public commentary section.) Since this is a tour, they even share the blog posts of OTHER BLOGGERS.

Thanks for that, by the way.

It’s the part that makes me feel most at home. That sharing. That joy to be part of a wider event. It reminds me of conventions and fandom. It reminds me of the great community that exists in science fiction, fantasy, and I’m sure horror, though those people are Very Scary. (Not really, some of my dearest friends write horror and don’t at all expect me to read it. Thanks for that too.)

I hadn’t thought, during what becomes a wild and hilarious stint of odd, rarely sequential tasks to promote my new book—most often, by pure chance, at the worst time to be doing anything but writing the NEXT one, especially digressing on the internet—to find blog tours such a joy-filled, inspiring process. Yet it is, because of you. Those who read these things. Who comment. Yes, hopefully you’ll win something, but you’re reading this because you’re willing to give me some of your precious time and attention.

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The Emperor and the Maula, by Robert Silverberg

available Sept 30th 2017

Where I got it: received advanced review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

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Robert Silverberg’s The Emperor and The Maula is exactly what it says on the tin: this is a space opera version of the story of Scheherazade – in which a woman is sentenced to die at dawn and purchases another day of living by spinning a compelling tale for the emperor with dawn as her cue for a cliffhanger.

 

I love the idea of a space opera Scheherezade. Just think of how far an author could scale things up!  A number of years ago, there was a scifi anime made of The Count of Monte Cristo, with aliens, and travel to other planets, alien technologies and a very cool artistic style.  The writers took an earthly story and scaled it way the hell up, and it was brilliant.

 

What gives this wonderful little novella the “more” factor are its publishing history and the galactic scale a space opera environ allows. If you’re one of those readers who always skips introductions offered up by authors or their friends, make an exception for this one.  The history of this novella as seen through the logistics of the publishing industry is an adventure itself – rife with cliffhangers, cancelled publishing projects, word count requirements, adventures in selling the same story twice, concluding with the original novella being shoved in a file and forgotten about.   And now after twenty five years,  Silverberg fans can finally read The Emperor and the Maula in its nearly original form.  Funny, compelling, suspenseful, and given the space opera scale-up, this is exactly the kind of story an Earth woman might tell to an alien overlord on a planet far, far, away.

 

The Ansaaran Empire, benevolent ruling power of the known galaxy, brings culture and civilization to all planets.  Races living on backward planets are known as maulas, a word that translates to “barbarian”. If these people can ever find it in themselves to become cultured, perhaps one day, hundreds of years from now, they may be welcomed into the empire as citizens.

 

As an Earthling, Laylah is a maula and as such is forbidden from stepping foot on the sacred homeworld of the Ansaarans.   Knowing that the punishment is death, she travels far and wide, every year getting closer to her goal, and finally stepping off a starship and on to the sacred planet. Where she is summarily arrested. And then passed from one bureaucrat to another in a bureaucratic comedy of errors, as all of them know the punishment for her crime is death, but none of them want to be associated with the poor loser who will actually be responsible for someone’s execution.

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The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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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.