BooksOfTheMoon

Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 5 stars

Now living on Preservation and working security for Dr Mensah, Murderbot is currently assigned to a survey team. It successfully gets them away from pirates on the survey planet, but as they return home to Preservation, they’re attacked by an unknown vessel. Murderbot and Dr Mensah’s daughter Amena are captured and taken to an unknown system. Our friendly rogue SecUnit is miffed when it reboots after being knocked out, but that’s nothing compared to how it’ll feel once it finds out what ship it’s on.

I love the narrative voice that Wells uses for MurderBot. It’s self-assured, snarky, and vulnerable, all at once. It’s a joy to read, whether it’s describing violence against things that are trying to harm MurderBot’s humans, or trying, and often failing, to avoid having feelings that aren’t related to media.

This being a full novel rather than a novella, we have more space to let the characters develop. We get to spend a bit more time with Arada and Overse, as well as getting to meet new characters, like Amena, who has a knack of getting under MurderBot’s skin to some degree and understand its feelings. It also leads to a more complicated plot, including the welcome return of ART, from Artificial Condition. I did struggle at times to keep track of the various lost colonies and who was from what polity and what they all wanted. But it was totally worth it, and I’ll be reading it again at some point. Now that I know what happens, I can focus on the details on the next read (well, that’s the theory at least, Wells keeps the whole thing ticking over at a breakneck pace, without much in the way of chance to catch your breath, so I suspect I’ll be just as desperate to read the next chapter next time round too).

If you’re already a fan of MurderBot, you’ll love this. If you’re not, technically you could read this without reading the preceding novellas, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s best if you get to know MurderBot, Mensah and the other humans and it cares about, and, of course, ART. Then, by the time you get here, you’ll be a fan of MurderBot.

And now that I’m finally finished this review, I can go back to enjoying my media…

Book details

ISBN: 9781250229861
Year of publication: 2020

Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 8: Catalysis

By Thomas Siddell

Rating: 5 stars

Gunnerkrigg Court continues to be, as far as I’m concerned, the best comic on the web. Volume 8 of the collected series collects chapters 69 to 77 and deals with Annie’s return from the forest after her meeting with Loup, only to be confronted with, well herself. It covers the two Annies having to get to grips with each other and their relationship with others around them, as well as Kat’s ongoing work (the robots and their growing religion, with Kat the centre of it continues to be intriguing and not a little creepy).

Reading Anthony’s interactions with Forest-Annie after her return is so much more poignant in light of current events in the comic. I hated Anthony so much when he first came back into Annie’s life, but we’ve had windows into his soul since then and now I pity him more than anything.

I love the characters in this series, and I love the way that the two Annies start to have their own distinct personalities and how they work out the problems between themselves and become stronger. And Kat, dear Katerina, bending time itself to her will to save her friend, but not able to talk to Annie about her own doubts and fears. The characterisation is so good, but Siddell keeps the balance between plot, character and humour perfect, sometimes using no more than a glance or a single panel to convey so much.

Also, wow, showing the Tick-Tock birds, right back in volume one, and then dealing with the resolution of that seventy-odd chapters — and fourteen years — later! That’s some impressive planning going on there.

So yeah, a great ongoing story, loveable characters (gossipy Cvet is my favourite new character in this volume) and constantly maturing art. Absolute brilliance.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684156658
Publisher: Archaia
Year of publication: 2021

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 stars

I was in two minds about whether I wanted to read this as soon as I got it. On the one hand, I’ve adored every Wayfarers book so far, but on the other, this is the last book in the series and when I finish it, it’ll be over. But I’m really glad that I did, it’s a fine way to end a wonderful series.

Three disparate aliens all stop at an interstellar hub, between legs of their journey, and while they’re there, an accident traps them there for a while, and these three strangers, and their host, end up getting to know each other better than they had intended.

In the same way that the previous book in the series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, was mostly a book about humans, this one is mostly a book about aliens. One human does have a cameo part, and Ashby (captain of the Wayfarer, of course) haunts the book through his partner, Pei Tam, who’s on her way to see him when she gets stuck. The other aliens are Roveg, an arthropod Quelin, and Speaker, a bird-like Akarak, with Ouloo, a Laru, as their host, along with her child, Tupo.

The others all start the book wary of Speaker, which confused me until I remembered that the pirates who attacked the Wayfarer in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet were Akaraks. We learn more about them in this book, and why they have a right to be as angry as they sometimes seem, although Speaker is adorable. I think the exiled Roveg is possibly my favourite character though. He designs virtual environments (sims), is jovial, and is a bit of an aesthete.

The themes are typical of the Wayfarers series: optimistic and humanistic (if that isn’t a chauvinistic term for a book about aliens). We know that the interstellar civilisation of the Galactic Commons isn’t perfect – their treatment of the Akaraks and the ongoing war between the Aeluons and the Rosk is proof of that, and it’s no spoiler to say that although Pei is a cargo captain, the cargo that she mostly carries is weapons. But on an individual level, people are people and most of them just want to do the right thing. This is summed up best by Ouloo, at the end of a tense scene between two of the others.

This is a slow-burn of a book, that builds its relationships slowly as the three visitors who start off regarding the others as aliens start to see them as people on an emotional level, not just an intellectual one. It didn’t have the instant appeal of Small Angry Planet but it’s a lovely book and one that I will definitely return to. I’m sad that Chambers is wanting to leave the Wayfarers universe behind, but I’m excited to see what she creates next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473647664
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2021

Exhalation

By Ted Chiang

Rating: 5 stars

Ted Chiang isn’t a prolific author, but that means that every new story is a big deal. This collects his most recent stories and it’s an astoundingly good collection. I try to avoid hyperbole for the most part, but this is one of the best set of stories that I’ve read in a very long time. Of the nine stories collected, six were either award-nominated or award-winners. That is an astonishing ratio and the stories really live up to it. They’re almost platonic ideals of science fiction: taking a single “what if? and running with it. What if there was a device that effectively made human memory perfect? What if young earth creationism was right after all? What if you could talk to other versions of yourself in parallel universes?

The title story, Exhalation is a discussion of thermodynamics and the ultimate end of the universe through the medium of air-powered sentient robots, one of whom auto-dissects himself in order to find out how his brain works. The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is a wonderful story about time travel wrapped in a fable told in the style of the Arabian Nights. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is the longest work in the book. It’s a novella about raising an artificial intelligence. The story tells of next generation virtual pets some of whose owners get very attached to them, and keep them running for years, running into decades. In the notes at the end, Chiang notes that humans take constant interaction and 15-20 years before they become mature, why should that be different for AI? It’s a great story, tying the lives of the humans into that of the AIs that they’re raising. There’s a few short pieces as well, usually written for specific things, such as The Great Silence, a piece about the forthcoming extinction of parrots, with a killer last line that choked me right up.

A friend gave me her copy of Chiang’s previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Others because she felt that he wasn’t good with characters and characterisation. This is something I fundamentally disagree with (we didn’t quite fall out over it, and I’m glad I was able to give her copy of the book a good home), and this book has some wonderful characters. Ana, the protagonist of The Lifecycle of Software Objects is really interesting in her obsession; Dr Dorothea Morrell, the archaeologist in Omphalos, whose faith is tested; and most complex and interesting of all is Nat from Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, someone who’s trying to leave her past behind her and whose brush with alternate universes help her come to terms with herself.

Chiang’s genius comes with teasing out the big questions of life, and presenting them in a thought-provoking and entertaining manner that will stay with you for a long time after you finish the story. Unreservedly recommended to any lover of literature and student of the human condition.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529014495

The Dark Archive (The Invisible Library #7)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 5 stars

Irene is juggling the peace treaty between the dragons and the fae, helping her pal Vale out on a case, dealing with a new apprentice, and trying to keep up the day job of stealing books for her interdimensional Library. She’s quite put out, then, when there’s a number of assassination attempts on her and her friends, pointing to a mysterious new criminal mastermind. Irene needs to find them and stop them, before it’s too late.

This is very much a book of two halves. Whilst you can’t complain that the first half of the book is slow, the pace definitely picks up in the second half. We get to meet Irene’s new apprentice, Catherine, and start to get a feel for her as a character. She’s fae, so is inevitably drawn into stories and archetypes. She wants to be a librarian archetype (subtype TBC, but not spy) and so is quite upset that her work involves more running and hiding than cataloguing and recommending). It’s early days, but I’m warming to Catherine quite a lot already.

The rest of the supporting cast is present and correct, with Vale a major presence in this one, which I always like to see. I wonder where Vale’s story is going – since he’s got fae heritage and the “Moriarty” character plays into his Great Detective archetype. I fear as much as Irene that he might get sucked into his own story. We also get to meet more of Kai’s family, no spoiler to say that we end up liking them about as much as Kai does.

The second half of the book really shifts up a gear as revelation is piled upon revelation, old enemies crawl out of the woodwork, and Irene has to work harder than ever to just stay alive. This feels really exciting, even if you’re reasonably confident that our protagonists will get out of it in one piece. And the epilogue gives us just a taste of the secrets buried in the Library itself.

There are some great set-pieces, with the oversized science fair (in my head like something out of Girl Genius) being my favourite. But there’s also time for some character beats. There’s a moment near the end where we’re reminded about how ruthless that Irene has to be and the sorts of split-second decisions that she has to make, and that she’ll have to live with the consequences for the rest of her life.

An excellent addition to one of my favourite series, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529000603
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2020

The Wicked + the Divine Deluxe Edition: Year Four

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 5 stars

The final volume of the excellent The Wicked + The Divine brings the series to a close with a bang. This collects the final two volumes of the main story, as well as a set of historical specials that help contextualise it. We learn Baal’s big secret, find out about the Great Darkness and have several fist-pumping moments of pure comic book joy, as well as reveals that break the heart and a surprisingly tender coda that left me in tears.

Jamie McKelvie continues to draw the main story, with guest artists for the specials, which fit just before the last chunk of main story and look back at previous Pantheons including the Roman era, the middle ages and the 1923 one we saw right at the start of the story. That one is a mixed comic/prose story that works really well.

Can I take a moment to talk about the edition itself? All the Deluxe Editions are absolutely gorgeous, but this final year of the story was so big that they needed an extra volume to fit it in. The core of the story fits into one volume (which is, itself, bigger than the previous Deluxe WicDivs), and the supplementary material that normally goes at the end — the alt covers, the makings of and, of course, the writer’s notes, as well as a couple of additional specials that aren’t essential to the story — is in a whole separate volume.

The two remaining specials are the “Christmas annual”, which tells some side stories that were hinted at previously but are now made explicit (and include a lot of the cast getting it on with each other), and the “funnies”, little stories written and drawn by people that the creators invite, often poking fun at Gillen and McKelvie themselves. My favourite of these was The Wicked + The Canine, which imagines all the gods as dogs, and my goodness are they adorable (the alt cover with dog-Amaterasu is the best thing ever).

We finally get Ananke’s story here, as her history and that of the gods finally spills out. We see some of that history (in fact, we see something out of each recurrence), and because the internet is sometimes amazing, someone out there has written a set of blog posts that give you the real world history of the time and place of each recurrence (warning, there are spoilers here if you’ve not read the book yet).

Gillen also gets to heavily troll the readers in one issue with 90 panels, across 10 pages that are just black. This made me laugh out loud at his audacity, but it definitely fits with some of the playfulness of WicDiv, in amongst the grief and pain.

This has been an epic journey, which ended on a much more hopeful note that I expected, and it’ll definitely be an experience to go back and read the whole story again at some point, with the full knowledge of the characters and events.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534313583

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer

Rating: 5 stars

My sister recommended this short epistolary novel to me, and while I’m not usually a reader of historical fiction, I absolutely devoured it. Set just after the end of the Second World War, author Juliet Ashton has just finished a tour for her last book and is now casting about for what to do next. Serendipitously, she gets a letter from a stranger on the Isle of Guernsey, which leads to a correspondence and an introduction to the eponymous Society.

Guernsey was the only part of the UK that was occupied by the Germans during the war, and the correspondence between Juliet and the members of the Society teases out the complexities of the occupation and the relationship. It was a terrible time, and there were many atrocities, but there were kindnesses and love as well, and the book balances that well.

The members of the Society are well-drawn, and, interestingly, one of the clearest is someone who doesn’t write any letters of their own but is a prominent figure in many of the others. To say any more would be a spoiler. Possibly my favourite character is Isole, a hedge witch and keen practitioner of phrenology. She’s an awful lot of fun and I love her voice when she’s writing. A delightful romance also develops later in the book which is lovely to read.

The epistolary form through an entire novel is unusual and, I imagine, hard work to do. I did enjoy it though. The voice for the period is mostly well done as well.

I had all the feels while reading this book, I loved it.

Book details

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Year of publication: 2009

The Best of All Possible Worlds

By Karen Lord

Rating: 5 stars

This is a remarkably sweet and uplifting book for a story that starts with genocide. The planet of Sidira is destroyed, leaving only small groups of survivors. One of these groups is resettled on the planet of Cygnus Beta, a world that prides itself on welcoming all those who seek refuge. A government civil servant, Grace Delarua, is seconded to help the new settlement. When the colony decides to scour the planet looking for those with genetic heritage from their world, to help rebuild their society, Grace is assigned to travel with a group, including Dllenahkh, one of the Sidiri leaders.

There’s not a huge amount of plot to this book, it’s mostly a travelogue through various societies on Cygnus Beta, having minor adventures en route. It’s the characters that shine through. The warmth with which they’re portrayed is delightful, especially given the awful nature of the event that brought them there. The Sidiri are known as an intellectual and thoughtful people, not prone to burst of emotion (I pictured them as slightly more laid back Vulcans) and the dry wit that Dllenahkh shows, and his surprisingly tender romance with Delarua is a pleasure to read.

This also feels very much like a book for our times, showing us an example of how a society should handle those in need of refuge: with grace and open arms. In a world where more and more countries are turning their backs on their fellow peoples, we need to be reminded of the alternative. Where the host encourages those who come to them to develop and grow and become they best they can be, while those who take up that offer in turn grow into their host culture, while maintaining their own traditions.

The focus here is very much on Cygnus Beta, with only minor hints being dropped in about the wider galactic society and the four peoples (including Terrans) who make up humanity as a whole. The world-building is nicely done, and slides neatly into the story.

This isn’t a flashy novel, but it’s one that I found has worked its way into my heart without me really noticing. I cared about the characters and their relationships, which, to me, means the book is a success.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780871684
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2014

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern

Rating: 5 stars

I’ve never found the circus hugely appealing, until I read this book. I remember it coming to our small town a couple of times when I was a kid, but I never found the wonder that some others seemed to find in it. But I so want to spend time in the Night Circus. Exploring its myriad tents, the monochrome colours and finding wonder and amazement around every corner.

This is a story of competition, of co-operation, of found family and love. I found the characters enchanting and the story riveting. The strange proxy competition between Hector Bowen and Alexander H has a dreamlike quality to it, never seeming quite real, right up until the stakes are revealed, right at the end. Celia and Marco, our protagonists, are people that you grow to care about, moreso than the people who raised them did. Hector is clearly an abusive parent to Celia, and while Alexander isn’t in that sense to Marco, he’s distant, never offering anything that could be seen as affection. These two, who are older than they seem, have lost touch with what it means to be human, seeing people as just pawns and playthings for their own competitions.

The contrast between them and their children is stark. Celia and Marco feel vivid and alive, thriving in the circus and building relationships while the elders do nothing but observe and plot.

The book was a pleasure to read, with smooth and joyful language that gets under your skin. Its structure involves lots of time-shifting, so you really have to pay attention to what’s happening when, but it’s very rewarding for it. I suspect it would reward rereading.

This was a beautiful book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Heartily recommended to anyone who’s ever enjoyed the circus or even wanted to enjoy the circus. It has the added benefit of having no clowns.

Book details

Publisher: Vintage
Year of publication: 2011

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 5 stars

Picking up right from where the last book left off, this volume sees the Athena Club rush back to England to try and find and rescue one of their own and in the process they uncover a larger plot that threatens the throne itself.

While I had some problems with the previous book in the series, this more than made up for them. It’s tight, tense and terrific. The interruptions from the other Athena Club members into Catherine’s writing process are much less irritating than the previous volume (although there are some adverts for previous books, Mary clamps down on that) and they’re now something I looked forward to rather than sometimes groaned at.

I love all the members of the club, they’re great characters (I think Diana has become my favourite), and although we got to spend more time with Alice this time round, the newest member, Lucinda gets little to do, which is a shame. It would have been nice to spend longer in the head of someone who’s just starting out on her journey as a vampire and is still trying to figure it out.

I’ve read a number of books recently where the villain’s motivation is plain racism. I find that particularly difficult to read, but it’s important – Moriarty’s way of thinking in this book is gaining far too much ground in the real world, and anything that can remind people that it’s not a sensible and acceptable way of thinking is to the good. I was very glad to see the Golden Dawn (urgh) get their comeuppance here.

Spoiler
The one thing that didn’t quite work, I thought, was the climax – the fight with Queen Tera. I thought all the members of the club were caught and held too easily, and then the way that Laura calmly shot her and got Diana to saw her head off was unpleasant. I do think that Goss could have spent more time both with the climax itself, and with the aftermath.
After cutting someone’s head off with a knife, Diana calmly goes back to eating jam roly-polys, apparently without a care in the world. But killing someone isn’t something that can be shrugged off that easily, especially in such a grisly fashion. I would have liked to have seen more fallout from that. Yes, she’s Edward Hyde’s daughter, but I’d still have liked to have seen how she felt after doing the deed. Or at least the reaction to the other Club members when they learned what she’d done.

I’d drop half a star for the grumble in the spoiler, but still round it up, ending the trilogy on a high note.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534427884

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