BooksOfTheMoon

Reborn: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 4 stars

Reborn picks up the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project story about a year after the last book finished, with Prism heavily pregnant but as busy as ever. The driving force of this book is that Aiden, Prism’s brother, is alive (following the revelation for the reader at the end of the last book). Now on the one hand, it’s an long-established trope that superheroes rarely stay dead for long, but on the other, I had thought the treatment of Prism’s grief and growing acceptance of Aiden’s death in Redeemed was very well done, and this revelation felt like it undermined it a bit.

Still, the book does deal with the consequences of finding that Aiden is alive. Prism will stop at nothing to get him back, and she finds her mental balance thrown, as it’s repeatedly pointed out to her that there might not be enough left of him to save.

It’s Fade that’s most interesting here though. He’s someone who’s never had anything to lose in the past, and now he has not only a wife, but a child as well. This leads to some… dubious decisions. We didn’t see much in the way of consequences of that this time, but I expect chickens coming home to roost at some point. It also led Fade becoming over-protective to the point of being on the edge of being controlling. It’ll be interesting to see if that goes anywhere, or if I’m just being overly sensitive.

As always, there’s not enough Keeper (and Yui) – but then I’m biased towards there being more Scots in media – nor enough Tanvi, who’s probably my favourite character at this point. We got cameo appearances from some of the teens from the last book, along with their adopted parents, which was nice to see.

As with the rest of the series, the book is extremely readable. I enjoy the superhero world writ large, and this series scratches that itch admirably. Intrigued by the hook in the epilogue and already looking forward to the next one.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Year of publication: 2020

Redeemed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 4 stars

This book picks up a few months after the events of Reformed, with the whole team still reeling over the shock of Aiden’s death in the previous book, but with Prism and Fade a strong couple. Tanvi injures a sable who she sees breaking into a house and is shocked to find that it’s a just a teenage girl. She persuades Prism to recruit the girl, Alma, as the next recruit for the Supervillian Rehabilitation Project. But Alma has secrets of her own and is running from her past.

I enjoyed this short book a lot. Prism and Fade being an established couple works much better for me than bringing them together, and the interpersonal problems of a devoted Christian and a hand-waving theist make for surprisingly real drama.

I liked that we got to see much of both Tanvi and Bob this time round, although they’re still not PoV characters, and Yui also played a much more active role in the plot. Sidenote: I really liked the idea of Bob’s wife always being around, but nobody has any idea about it. It’s a neat little idea that tickled my fancy.

The true villain of the piece, Handler, was one that made me want to shower every time he was on the page. I really hate the idea of mind control, so his powers (not to mention his ruthlessness) made him an effective villain in my eyes.

Unlike the previous book, this one definitely ends on a cliffhanger, and I look forward to reading the next two books in the series, as they come out.

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Children of Ruin (Children of Time #2)

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 stars

After receiving signals from another world that may be part of the diaspora of fallen Earth, the Portiids and Humans of Kern’s World launch an expedition towards the distant star. There, they find something that the terraforming team that had launched at about the same time as Avrana Kern had stirred up and which may have been best left buried.

So this book is to octopodes, octopi, octopuses, what Children of Time was to spiders. One of the terraforming team that comes to the worlds later known as Nod and Damascus is fond of the creatures and harbours hopes of uplifting them. The cephalopods have the advantage of not having to start from scratch, and are able to build on the technology that their human creators left them, creating a civilisation that expands to fill their solar system, to the wonder of the Humans and Portiids that find them.

What I loved about this book was just how alien the octopus mind was. Tchaikovsky extrapolated from modern octopuses and the way that the tentacles have almost their own sub-mind to create a very different way of thinking for his creatures. At times I struggled to comprehend such a way of thinking, where the surface, conscious, level is all emotion and reaction (the what), while the logic and maths (the how) is left to the tentacles, without the seat of consciousness necessarily being aware of what was going on.

Communicating with such creatures is necessarily difficult, but Tchaikovsky manages to both describe the difficulty and the way that the gap is bridged in a strong, and interesting, way.

One of the more unexpectedly interesting characters in the book was Avrana Kern, who is something between the operating system for all Portiid technology and grumpy old mentor. We see multiple instances of Kern, running different systems, and get somewhat inside her ant-filled head (I still love ants as computing substrate). The complexity of a thinking AI that is aware of how much it has lost in terms of ability to feel emotions is fascinating.

Spoiler
And that epilogue! A true co-operative interstellar civilisation. It raised goosebumps as I was reading it. And can we get a book about corvids next, please?

A worthy sequel to Children of Time, with lots of great ideas and characters. Also a great attempt at writing a non-human sentient species that isn’t just humans with lumpy foreheads.

Oh, and never has the phrase “we’re going on an adventure” been so sinister…

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ISBN: 9781509865857

Noumenon Ultra

By Marina J. Lostetter

Rating: 3 stars

You certainly can’t accuse Noumenon Ultra of lacking ambition. Picking up where the last book left off, about a hundred thousand years in the future, it accelerates from there, going ever-further into an unknowably-distant future. We start with the AI, ICC, that has held the Noumenon convoy together for so long waking up from hibernation to find itself about a hundred thousand years in our future, and although its humans have long vacated its ships, there is life within it once more. It eventually learns to communicate with the sentient life of the terraformed world that now bears the name of its convoy and later regains contact with the descendants of its crew, and they all have to work together to solve a problem that could threaten the future of the entire universe.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this book. We pick up characters from Convoy Twelve from the second book, as well as further clones of the crew of Convoy Seven and spend time with the post-humans that most of humanity, other than the remnants of homo sapiens from Convoy Twelve, has now evolved into. We don’t spend as much time as I would have liked with the post-humans, or see more than a glimpse of the way that they interact with their ancestors, but life in the galaxy at large is only tangential to the story being told here.

I enjoyed this book, but I felt it was missing a spark that both the other two books had. While the first one jumped in time quite a lot, there was conflict and drama in each segment. The second one had the parts of the book that followed Convoy Twelve to ground it. While this book had the time jumps from the first and some of the characters from the second, there was little conflict. Everyone was working together for a larger goal, without any great deviation from that or misunderstandings or disagreements on the nature of the work.

In my review of the previous book I complained that there was no closure on the alien megastructures that the convoys had encountered. Hoo-boy is that resolved here. And in an incredibly mind-blowing payoff as well. So while it has a lot of that sensawunda that we often talk about in SF, it’s lacking in the characterisation to truly make it great.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008412852

Reformed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 4 stars

I’m a bit of a sucker for traditional superhero stories, so this short novel set in world of regulated superheroes with its strong thread of redemption was a compelling draw. Prism is the young leader of a superhero team, eager to carry on her father’s work in rehabilitating former supervillains. She chooses Fade: someone who had started on the road to redemption and then relapsed.

I love a good redemption story, and while this isn’t entirely the route that the book takes, it’s still fun. There’s a romance between the two leads, signposted very early on, which gave me cause to grumble at the start, as the the chemistry between them felt more told rather than shown. Normally, I roll my eyes at that old cliché, but I guess it’s a cliché for a reason. It wasn’t until quite late in the book that I felt emotionally invested enough in the two characters for their budding relationship to really work for me.

Other than that, I enjoyed it a lot. Of Prism’s team, only her and her brother get a lot of character development, with Keeper (animal control) and Tanvi (super strength) playing supporting roles. I hope they’ll get more to do in future books (especially with the revelation about Keeper towards the end of this one).

Fade never really feels as dangerous or likely to turn on the team as the cover blurb suggested, but the external threat that Prism’s team has to deal with alongside integrating Fade is powerful and works well as a unifying force within the group.

The world is fun and the book doesn’t treat itself hugely seriously. Despite my few gripes, it’s just what I needed in the moment.

(and it’s part of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, so you can read it for free if you’ve got a Kindle and Amazon Prime)

Book details

Year of publication: 2020

Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night and Other Stories

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

This book collects four short stories set in the Alita-verse, two of which feature Alita herself. We open with a story featuring Ido, shortly after he was banished from Zalem and his discovery of a girl who needs his help (sound familiar?). It’s quite a melancholy story, but gives us more insight into Alita’s ‘father’.

Second up, we have Sonic Finger, set during what I think of as a golden period of Alita’s time in the Scrapyard. She’s finished with Motorball and being a hunter-warrior, but is beloved by them and trains them. When someone attacks her with what appears to be a gun, her friends all rally round. There’s a lot more action in this one, but no real depth. We don’t get any character development or even any real reason as to why Sonic Finger was doing it.

The third story is a short one with hardly any dialogue, featuring a Deckman who left the scrapyard, and its encounter with Alita. This one manages to pack a lot of punch into a short, almost wordless story. We see the Deckman learning about the world outside the Scrapyard, playing with children and seeing the beauty of a sunset. All the while being trailed by Alita in her A-1 TUNED phase.

The final story is set after the end of the main series, following Koyomi’s attempts to be a journalist photographer, and her desire to find the rumoured still living leader of the Barjack rebellion again, just so that she can have a purpose in life. Again, not a huge amount of action, but some nice character development for Koyomi.

These are an enjoyable set of stories in the Alita-verse that help round out her world, but are by no means essential.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632367105
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2018

Federations

By John Joseph Adams (editor)

Rating: 3 stars

This is a nice idea for an anthology: stories set in and imagining large-scale interstellar societies. There’s a mix of reprints and originals, and I tended to find the originals tended to match the brief better than the reprints.

There was a mix of stories here. There weren’t any that I outright hated, but I couldn’t remember enough about Ender’s Game to appreciate Orson Scott Card’s Mazer in Prison, set in the same universe, before Ender’s time; and I feel there was some mythology in LE Modesitt Jr’s Life-Suspension that I missed which probably stopped me getting the most out of it. Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy by Harry Turtledove was probably a bit too comic for my taste; while Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason just felt grim, after a hopeful start.

The story I had the most problem with was Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Returned, which is another story abut the brainship Helva, The Ship Who Sang. I was very fond of another Brainship book, The Ship Who Searched in my youth, but this makes me very wary of going back and revisiting it. To put it kindly, there’s a lot of outdated notions of womanhood and ability, not to mention outright rape jokes that really left a sour taste.

On the other hand, there were some great stories as well, including Spirey and the Queen by Alistair Reynolds about two (too-)balanced factions fighting a war in a distant solar system; Mary Rosenblum’s My She about telepaths who form the basis of the communication network between the stars; The One With the Interstellar Group Consciousness, about the conscious Zeitgeist of a civilisation that just wants to settle down and get married; and finally Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy which is a great story that paints a society through wine.

So a great idea for an anthology, but the execution could have been better.

Book details

ISBN: 9781532739941
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Year of publication: 2016

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 4 stars

Murderbot is on its way back to Dr Mensah, with additional evidence against the shady-to-full-blown-evil GrayCris corporation when it discovers that she’s been kidnapped. So, once again ignoring its Risk Assessment Module, it immediately goes off to rescue her. En route, it runs into some old acquaintances (friends, Murderbot, they’re your friends) and has more Feelings that aren’t about entertainment media.

Like the rest of the Murderbot books, this is fun, pacy, and with more emotional punch than you would expect from a sarcastic, misanthropic killbot. Despite its best efforts, Murderbot really does care. It wants to protect those who were kind to it and who treat it like a person, and it wants to beat (in both senses of the word) those who are trying to harm them.

It’s not world-shattering stuff. It’s pretty lightweight, and popcorn reading, but it’s good at what it does and is highly entertaining. Recommended.

Like the others in the series, this is short, easily readable in a couple of hours. I got given the middle two volumes in the series as a birthday present, which is what then pushed me to pick up this final novella, as otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered, given that they’re priced close to full-sized novels. If Tor releases the novellas as a pretty omnibus on paper, they’ll have a built-in market (I’d certainly buy it, despite now owning all of them in electronic format). Come on Tor, why won’t you take my money?!

Book details

Publisher: Tor.com
Year of publication: 2018

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 5 stars

The third Murderbot novella sees M leave his pal ART and aim for an abandoned terraforming project that was carried out by GreyCris, the ever-more-evil corporation that tried to kill it and its humans in the first book. It’s looking for evidence that there were more shady dealings going on here, that it can feed back to help shore up the case against them, and totally not because it feels guilty at how harried his favourite human from that group looks since it disappeared.

This book widens the world a bit as it introduces Miki, a bot that is integrated into the group trying to take over the abandoned terraforming project and who is treated like a person. Murderbot treats Miki somewhere between contempt and envy as it, once again, poses as a security consultant to try and get what it needs, and finds itself unable to abandon its charges when things go pear-shaped, as they inevitably do around our favourite soap-addicted, murdering, wannabe-misanthrope.

Despite Murderbot’s disdain, I really liked Miki and the relationships it had obviously formed with those around it, including its nominal owner, Don Abene. Miki has led a sheltered life (up to this point) without even knowing what a SecUnit is and has an open, trusting nature that contrasts pleasingly with Murderbot’s cynicism.

I must confess that I didn’t see the twist coming (plus ça change), but it worked well. And this one made me Have Feelings by the end of it! And ending on a (sort of) cliffhanger! I shall be moving swiftly on to the next, and final, novella in the sequence.

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Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 4 stars

Murderbot got its clients away from the really quite nasty GreyCris corporation on the survey world it had been guarding them on, and after its client bought it, just walked away. Now it decides that it needs to know about its past, about the event that caused it to give itself that name. Aided by a research transport vessel, it ends up taking on a small group of clients as a security consultant and finds that despite what it wants, it cares about them too much to skip out on them.

Murderbot is, despite, you know, the whole murder thing, a delightful protagonist. It’s fun and sarky and, despite its best intentions, isn’t nearly as misanthropic as it wants to be. It just wants to be left alone to watch space-Netflix all day, but instead keeps getting involved with humans it can’t bear to leave to die horribly.

While I’m still not convinced about any society that creates sentient cyborgs and then enslaves them, I think that Wells has given us enough hints that a) she doesn’t consider this to be a place anyone would want to live and b) not the whole of human space is like the bit that built Murderbot.

The research transport that Murderbot sort of befriends (ART) is a lot of fun, and you can’t help wanting to protect its clients/cover story, as they’re young, innocent and just adorable.

Final thought: Murderbot is horrified at the idea of being hugged. I would do some murdering of my own for a hug right now (stupid coronavirus).

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