Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Autonomous is the debut novel from io9 co-founder Annalee Newitz, coming just a year after fellow co-founder Charlie Jane Anders published her SFF debut novel, which won the Nebula Award last year.  So there were big expectations for this book from the start, which is truly unfair because this is a very different book than Anders' All the Birds in the Sky.  Unlike that book, which was a light and charming story of two friends, Autonomous is a serious thriller dealing with issues of patent abuse/piracy and well, the autonomy of both human beings and robots.

It should be noted, as I'll go into further detail below, that despite using a corrupt future involving the evils of Big Pharma and Patents as a basis for the plot, the book really isn't that interested in dealing seriously with questions about big pharma and patents and where things should go - the book has an obvious answer to this question from the start, and it shows no interest in grappling further.  What this book IS really interested in however, is questions about Autonomy, and what it means for individuals (whether biological or not) to have it.  Hence the title, really.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novel Review: Brothers in Arms (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Brothers in Arms is the 7th (chronologically, not counting the distant prequel Falling Free) book in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, and the fourth book to feature Miles Vorkosigan as its central character.  It should be noted this is one of the early published Vorkosigan Novels (#5) and is thus from a period before my two favorite in the series so far (Barrayar & The Vor Game).  That said, while it doesn't live up to those two novels, the book is yet again another fun story with Bujold's great internal and external dialogue, so it's definitely a worthwhile read.

A note: while this is not a direct sequel to one of the prior books in the series (although it is kind of a sequel to the novella "Borders of Infinity"), this is not a book you will probably enjoy as a starting point in the series - you will want to have read The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game prior to this book to get full enjoyment (I'd also recommend reading Ethan of Athos beforehand, as that really reintroduces Elli Quinn.)

And as with the rest of this series (with the exception of Gentleman Jole), I read this book as an audiobook from the library.  The audiobook reader for the whole series remains excellent

More after the Jump:

Friday, October 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

The Strange Bird is a novella from Jeff Vandermeer, set in the same universe as his most recent Weird (as in the genre) Science Fiction Novel, Borne.  The story takes place largely at the same time as Borne, beginning probably prior to Borne and ending a little afterwards, so in theory you could read this without having read Borne, but I would not advise it - you'll probably be a bit lost (and Borne is pretty good, so go read that). 

The Strange Bird follows the eponymous Bird, really a created being (made of bird, other animal, and human parts) of a laboratory similar to that of the Company's seen in Borne.   The Bird doesn't know its purpose but is haunted both by strange dreams of a woman from the lab and an internal compass pressing her to go to a certain place for some strange unknown reason.  Unfortunately, the Bird will run into complications on her journey - namely, humans, who do not have her best intentions at heart. 

The story naturally winds up with the Bird spending a good amount of time in the territory we saw in Borne, with four of that book's main characters showing up (everyone except for Borne himself).  As usual, Vandermeer writes excellent descriptions and excels at describing the weird being that the Bird truly is.  However, the Bird is a very inactive protagonist - most of the events in the middle of the book are of things happening to HER, not of her doing things in and of herself, and there's a decent segment where she's literally just being there during the plot of Borne.  Vandermeer's writing is excellent enough to avoid this dragging, but it does mean that if you have no investment in this world (not having read Borne, mainly), you might not really enjoy this one. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy book, where the "Fantasy" elements come from classic Chinese folk stories (Journey to the West being the source for most, if not all of it, but I'm not knowledgeable enough about the background material to know if bits and parts are pulled from elsewhere).  It also features an Asian-American high school girl as its protagonist, trying to live high school life in a competitive largely Asian High School.

Oh and it's also very very fun.  I don't dip into books that are blatantly young adult very often (you'll notice a lot of the time I describe books as "young adult" on this blog or on twitter, I often am not sure about whether the tag should apply), but this one is excellent.  Sometimes you just want books that are just about a heroine trying to balance high school life with duties of having discovered special powers, and not anything totally serious or dark.  If so, this is definitely a good place to look..

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance is the newest book by Ann Leckie, author of the Imperial Radch (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy) trilogy, which won the Hugo for best novel and was nominated two other times.  The book is stand alone, featuring none of the characters from that trilogy, but takes place in the same universe.

In this universe, the story takes place in a world where humanity has spread to varying worlds with various cultures.  Humanity has encountered various alien cultures, the most scary of which are the Presger, whose technology is leaps and bounds beyond humanity's.  However, the Presger have created a treaty between humanity and the various alien races, whereby each race agrees not to harm the other.  Violations of the treaty are scary to contemplate, because no one can stand up to Presger technology.

Despite sharing the space opera setup with the Radch trilogy, Provenance is a more intimate book, almost fitting more in the heist genre than space opera (except there' heist).  That said, Provenance also differs from the trilogy in that it lacks anywhere near as strong a central character, and as a result I found it rather hard to care about large parts of the plot.

More after the jump:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H Wilson

Daniel H Wilson's The Clockwork Dynasty is a very entertaining novel.  It is not a SF/F work with a major focus on a message or issue (although, like EVERY book in existence, you can find a message in the book if you want), but is instead a pretty entertaining book focused upon a single idea:  What if our ancestors way way back built robots before forgetting how, and those robots have existed alongside humanity for millennia and are only now dying out from losing power?

Note: I read this as an audiobook, and the two audiobook readers are excellent.  So if you like to listen to the audiobook format, this is a solid choice.

More after the Jump

Thursday, October 5, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

An Unkindness of Magicians is Kat Howard's second novel, after last year's Roses and Rot.  I loved Roses and Rot (an Urban Fantasy Fae tale involving two sisters striving to reconnect with each other at a school for art) and was really excited for this novel as a result when it was announced.  That said, aside from both books falling within the large category of Urban Fantasy, the two books are very different.  That said, this book is still excellent, with a great world of magic and excellent characters who inhabit that world.

This is a book of magicians (think Wizards, despite them not using the name) engaging in magical (and political, yes) contests for the fate of the magical world.  It's also the story that involves lawyers working to keep the magical world in order, voluntary and involuntary sacrifices of human life and pain, a woman seeking to solve a magical murder, and a man of color trying to make a name for himself in the magical world while keeping his own good conscience.  And yet all of these very different things and people come together nicely to form a pretty excellent and recommended book.