Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Reviews: All Systems Red and Down Among the Sticks and Bones

This post will be reviewing a pair of SFF Novellas that were published this year and I suspect will be under consideration next year for the Hugo Award.  The two Novellas being reviewed in this post are:

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Both of these Novellas are part of a series of Novellas - McGuire's Novella is the 2nd in the Wayward Children series (although it's a prequel) and All Systems Red is the first in Wells' "The Murderbot Diaries."  One of these Novellas I loved, the other was disappointing.

Actual reviews after the Jump:

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red is the first of a series of Novellas by Martha Wells, with the series titled the Murderbot Diaries.  The next three of the series are scheduled for next year (with one apparently already completed by the author).  I've loved Wells' Raksura series, so I was extremely excited to see how this Novella would hold up.

The answer is: it's really good.  This is a story of a SecUnit - a grown cyborg (essentially) who has been leased by its company to a survey team of scientists/explorers.  Unbeknownst to the Survey team however, this SecUnit - who has named itself "Murderbot," although only privately - has hacked its own governor unit, so it doesn't need to follow orders and has complete free will.  Of course, Murderbot just wants to use its free will to watch TV/Film Serials and to avoid dealing with humans at all costs.....but events will transpire that reveal its secret autonomy and force it to make choices to keep the human survey team alive, when someone else seems to hack the local AI to devastating results.

Again, this is really good - Murderbot is a very interesting character - an introverted robot essentially who just wants to be left alone and to lead his own way in life, although he's more caring of his humans than he would even tell himself.  The story is very solid from beginning to end, with a fun/solid plot and again, a strong main character.  The ending works too, while at the same time keeping open the world to sequel novellas.

Recommended, and highly likely to be on my hugo nominee list for next year.


Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the prequel to Every Heart a Doorway, McGuire's nebula winning Novella from last year.  I didn't love EHAD - while I've loved McGuire's October Daye series, her worst works tend to be the ones involving mysteries, and EHAD was no exception - the world involved in it was fascinating, but the ending and story just didn't work.

This novella is a prequel, focusing on two characters from EHAD, Jack and Jill.  This universe is one in which children sometimes find mysterious doors to other worlds where they disappear into for years at a time.  In EHAD, we're introduced to Jack and Jill, who both entered a world where Jack found himself apprenticed to a mad scientist and Jill found herself as the favorite child of a vampire.  This Novella tells their stories in this world, and how they wound up where they were in EHAD.

The problem is that this novella fails to justify its own existence: as a prequel, we know pretty much from EHAD what is going to happen but the book takes a lot of time getting there (50 pages before we're even in the fantasy world). At the same time, the book skips around a LOT of years in time to get on with the plot....except the plot is exactly what we were told in the previous book.  A prequel can't simply tell what the reader already knows from the original work, it needs to add something or explain it differently - but this novella oddly just skips around to highlight the plot we were already introduced to.

Given my dislike of EHAD and this Novella, I suspect I will not be reading the third novella in this series which also comes out this year.  

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