The Goodall Mutiny

By Gretchen Rix

Rating: 1 star

I did not enjoy this book at all. It’s about an officer and a bunch of her subordinates abandoned as half their spaceship is jettisoned by the captain. We’re introduced to Lieutenant Joan Chikage as she’s searching for escaped beetles, and it never starts making more sense after that. Chikage is neurotic, completely out of her depth, unable to command her crew and undermines her own authority all the time. Her internal monologue doesn’t exactly help the reader sympathise with her either.

There’s a huge amount left unexplained here, and stuff that just doesn’t make any sense. This should have been an intriguing mystery, but it’s left completely open at the end, with no sense of closure or any questions answered. There’s a sequel, which may answer some questions, but I just don’t care. It was just bloody-mindedness that kept me going through this book and I have no desire to read more about Chikage or her universe.

Book details

Publisher: Rix Cafe Texican
Year of publication: 2016

Queen of Roses

By Elizabeth McCoy

Rating: 3 stars

I got this book as part of the 2019 feminist future story bundle, and it was the excerpt from this book that honestly sold the whole bundle to me. Sarafina is an AI, until recently working for a bank, which has now gone into administration. Her tenure is sold to the owner of a cruise ship, and she finds herself installed as the main passenger interface AI on the Queen of Roses. Here she has to deal with people on a regular basis, including passengers, crew and a drunkard, intolerant captain. Add a bunch of stowaways into the mix and it’s not exactly an easy first cruise for her.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot, but looking back at it, I do think it could have done with another pass from an editor, especially towards the end, as the plot started to ramp up, and I’m not sure that McCoy kept hold of all the threads all properly. There were some minor things (such as the specifically mentioned handed salutes between two characters) and some less minor things (such as how did Mrs Selsda get hold of Sarafina’s programming key?), but in general I liked both Sarafina herself, and Pilot, the other AI on the ship. The “biologicals” were a mixed bunch, who mostly played to type: the drunkard captain; the roguish first officer; the competent engineer, but were all decent characters.

I liked how McCoy showed us how Sarafina split her attention amongst her myriad tasks, something that can’t be easy to imagine or describe given that humans can’t split our attention amongst more than a handful of tasks. I thought the world-building could have been improved. We didn’t get any real impression of how the galaxy is organised, or about the Xanadu system or why it was a threat, not to mention more about Keevey and Keelin. And most importantly for me, no real discussion of the ethics of (even temporary) enslavement of sentient creatures. Yes, the AIs can work their way out of debt, but it still feels icky to me. We don’t make our children pay back the cost of their creation and raising, after all, why should we do that for an AI? I can totally believe that it would happen, but it would have been nice to get at treatment of it in the book.

The prejudice against AIs, on the other hand, requires no leap of the imagination to believe, but I’m glad that the opposite was there as well. The relationship between the free AI Loren and Mr Corvhey was quite sweet.

An enjoyable, if flawed, romp with a very likeable lead character, and bonus points for that lead being very both female and very believably non-human.

Book details

ISBN: 9781476412122
Publisher: Smashwords
Year of publication: 2012

The Tea Master and the Detective

By Aliette de Bodard

Rating: 4 stars

I’d heard a lot of good things about this gender-swapped Holmes and Watson in space. However, in amongst that, nobody thought to mention that “Watson” is actually a mindship; a biological person, but wrapped into a starship shell close to birth and genetically engineered to live longer and fit into that system. It sort of reminded me of Anne McCaffrey’s Brain/Brawn books. Like Watson, The Shadow’s Child is traumatised, although moreso than Watson ever was, and Long Chau, the consulting detective that she partners with, is more abrasive (and drug addicted) than Holmes (even the Benedict Cumberbatch version) ever was.

I enjoyed the story a lot. I’ve read other short fiction set in the same universe, but this grabbed me more than any of them. While I found Long Chau extremely irritating, as a character she’s marvellous, and I really want to read more about her and about The Shadow’s Child. The universe is very interesting as well, and although I didn’t really understand the “deep space” that left The Shadow’s Child so traumatised, I want to find out more.

The fact that it’s a novella means that the story is pared back, and I would love to see a longer piece, to let the protagonists just be for a bit, and give a bit of space to the background as well. (Also, being a novella, the paper versions are priced around the same as a full-length novel, although the ebook version is cheaper).

So can we get a full-length novel? Pretty please? With sugar on top?

Book details

Publisher: JABberwocky Literary Agency
Year of publication: 2018

Magic for Beginners

By Kelly Link

Rating: 2 stars

I’m afraid I really didn’t enjoy this book much, and what’s worse is that I feel bad for not enjoying it. The author is obviously very familiar with story and storytelling, and the stories in this collection reflect that familiarity and her playing with it and twisting it. Unfortunately, what we ended up with was something well out of my comfort zone and into the surreal. Now I don’t mind a certain level of surrealism (I’m very fond of Robert Sheckley, who didn’t object to going down strange narrative roads at times) but this was too much for me.

I got the book as part of a Humble Bundle and it took me literally years to get past the first story. Having managed that in the end, I struggled with the rest of it. Sometimes the story was just bizarre from the start, without much in the way of structure or plot (The Hortlak, The Cannon) but others start off interesting, or at least hinting that there’s a plot but spiral into strangeness (The Lull, Stone Animals). The one I found most disappointing, possibly because it was the one I enjoyed the most, right up until the last page, was Some Zombie Contingency Plans about a guy who’s not long out of prison and drives around, with a painting in the boot of his car, crashing parties. I was enjoying the slow pace and the actual structure of this. I just don’t like where it went in the end (assuming that I’m reading it right).

So a strong collection if you like works that know the limits of story and are happy to go beyond that, or works with a strong streak of surrealism running through them. Unfortunately, I like neither of those, so I’m afraid this is not for me.

Book details

Publisher: Small Beer Press
Year of publication: 2005

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 4 stars

I enjoyed this little novella quite a lot. A friend has raved about the Murderbot books for quite a while and after finally acquiring an ebook reader, I picked this up. Our protagonist is a SecUnit, a cyborg, with a piece of software designed to keep it under control at all times. Murderbot, as it refers to itself, hacked its ‘governor’ but rather than going on a killing spree, it prefers to download and watch serials and other entertainment, while putting minimal effort into its actual job as a security detail, at the moment for a survey team on a planet that may be available for colonisation.

Murderbot is cynical, misanthropic and gets very uncomfortable talking about its feelings. (So it’s British then.) But under that shield of armour and bravado there’s a kind being that wants to protect its humans. And there’s a lot of scope for world-building and in the idea of the ‘Units’, which appear to be sentient, and could be regarded as slaves.

I really like Murderbot as a character and would like to read more about it. Unfortunately, the novella format works against this, as they’re short (easily read in a couple of hours), but priced equivalent to a full length novel (other than the first one, which, I assume, has a lower price to act as a hook). I hope that an omnibus edition appears at some point, as I really want to see what Murderbot does next.

Book details

Year of publication: 2017

Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders, #1)

By Robin Hobb

Rating: 2 stars

I’m afraid I didn’t finish this (on this occasion, anyway). I got about a fifth way through it but just wasn’t enjoying it. I had no joy in picking it up, even though it was a moderate page turner once I was reading it. But there are other books to read, so I’m giving up on this one, I’m afraid. I didn’t hugely like any of the characters and was told that there’s no conclusion at the end of this book, that for that, I’d have to finish the whole series, and that’s far too much commitment for something that I’m not enjoying.

I’m sure there’s a huge, complex world to unpick in here, but (as I say, at the moment, at least), it’s just not doing it for me. I’m not hugely fond of high fantasy ( The Lord of the Rings being a clear exception), preferring urban fantasy and science fiction so this was always going to be a struggle. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later.

Book details

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year of publication: 1998

Daddy-Long-Legs (Daddy-Long-Legs, #1)

By Jean Webster

Rating: 5 stars

This is a short little novel from the early part of the 20th century that takes the form of a series of letters from Judy, a young orphan woman, to her benefactor. She knows nothing about this man, other than that an essay of hers amused him enough for him to put her through college on the condition that she write him regular letters without expecting anything in return.

It’s short, but Judy’s voice is clear and a whole lot of fun. It’s lovely to see her develop during the course of the letters that she sends, from a shy, reserved girl into a confident woman who is happy to take her benefactor (who she calls Daddy Long Legs, due to the only sight that she’s ever had of him being a distorted shadow from a car’s headlight) to task. The twist is fairly easy to spot, but that’s not really the point of the book. Webster gives us a very clear portrait of an orphan, and the various insecurities that brings. She’s a lovely character and her portrait of her new, expanded world, along with her roommates is delightful to read.

Book details

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 1912

The Promise of the Child (The Amaranthine Spectrum #1)

By Tom Toner

Rating: 3 stars

In the far-distant future, Humanity has splintered into a Prism of related species, with the Amaranthine at the top of the pyramid: a small number of immortals who rule ever more precariously, keeping their power by playing the various Prism races against each other. Sotiris, one of the Amaranthine, must travel to Earth (the ‘Old World’) following the death of his sister. Meanwhile, Lycaste is a mortal, living on the Old World, who’s fallen in love with Pentas, but who doesn’t love him back. The arrival of an outsider into their small community changes Lycaste’s life forever.

There is a huge amount of world-building going on here, especially in the early chapters of this book. It throws you right into the middle of things, with explanations only coming later. It makes for a difficult first half or so. It didn’t help that this was the first book that I read after getting an e-reader for the first time, and although there’s a search function, flipping around to reread something the context of what I’ve just read was much more difficult than it would be on paper.

However, even once I got past that and was into the main body of the story, I found it difficult. I didn’t really care an awful lot about Lycaste for most of the book. I found him pampered, whiny and irritating. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that he goes through a lot in the course of the book and develops as a character, but he’s still not really fun to hang around with. Sotiris, our other main PoV character, doesn’t really work for me for a different reason. He’s an immortal, over twelve thousand years old. To him, the mortals are mayflies, and although he tries to protect Lycaste, his motives aren’t pure. And I felt he remained a cipher for the duration of the book (although to be fair, it must be really difficult to write the mind-state of people that old).

The nominal adversary, Aaron, someone who lays claim to the throne of the Amaranthine by virtue of claiming to be older than anyone else, is mostly a shadow figure, only gaining any solid definition in the final pages of the book. But his motivations remain opaque.

Although the pace picked up a lot towards the end of the book, I’m afraid I just don’t feel invested enough to read the rest of the series.

(I got a copy of this book for free from NetGalley[1] in exchange for an honest review)

[1] The author messaged me on GoodReads, *goes to check* good grief, two years ago, and asked if I’d like to review the book. Many apologies for how long it’s to read and review it!

Book details

ISBN: 9781597805902
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Year of publication: 2013

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