BooksOfTheMoon

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 ├ža 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.

Book details

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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Flotation Device: A Charity Anthology

By E.M. Faulds (editor)

Rating: 4 stars

This anthology from the members of the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle was put together quickly after the start of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, in aid of various charities. All the authors donated their stories, so all the money (minus PayPal fees) went to the chosen charities. Given the cause, how could I refuse?

There’s quite a variety of stories here, light and dark, and of varying lengths. The opener, Of Gods and Monsters was strong, with a modern take on a fantasy Quest, where the princess gets pregnant with the Chosen One’s child and the Mighty Wizard storms off in a huff, so they have to find another solution. Sweet and funny, a fun way to start the collection.

Other highlights included The Map, or a Pocketful of Dog’s Teeth about a carny and their con trick against a punter; Amaranth, a metaphor for depression wrapped in a superhero story and The Snow Baby about a boy and his younger brother who’s been hidden from the rest of the village for fear they’ll kill him, which turned out better than I was expecting.

Some stories are short but pack quite a punch, such as The Anniversary by Ruth EJ Booth. Christopher Napier’s The Sea Calls its Own is longer, but has father-son feelings going on, and an end that punched me in the guts.

There are some well known names in here, such as Hal Duncan, with Threnody. I’m sorry to say that having read several pieces by Duncan in different collections, I’ve never entirely clicked with his style. Neil Williamson also contributed a story: Rare as a Harpy’s Tear, which is lyrical and melancholy.

I’m saving my favourite story for the end though. I must proclaim an interest here, in that I know Brian Milton personally and he’s a lovely chap, but I always perk up when I see a new story by him. His style is whimsical and light, but always full of heart. Here, he contributed Some of the Great Old Ones are on the Pitch, a story in broad Scots about a kerfuffle at a Partick Thistle football game. And, because some people apparently found this difficult to interpret, he’s provided a translation into the Queen’s English on his website. Heartily recommended if you need a smile today.

This is a good collection, with many of its stories based in Glasgow or Scotland, and for a good cause. Definitely worth your money and your time.

Book details

Publisher: Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle
Year of publication: 2020

Robots vs. Fairies

By Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (editors)

Rating: 4 stars

This is another gem from Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” over on Whatever. The idea of an anthology features robots and/or fairies tickled me, and I’m very glad I picked it up, as it’s a very strong anthology with a lot of big names in it.

It opens with Seanan McGuire‘s Build me a Wonderland (featuring both robots and fairies), which is a great read that satirises theme parks, consultants and HR. This is followed by a thoughtful story by Ken Liu on life in Silicon Valley, robot nannies and the way they change the social fabric around them. It’s also filled with geek popular culture references (particularly from the Star Trek episode Darmok), which always goes down well with me.

Other highlights include Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt, about a human librarian of a fairy library, which is a huge amount of fun; Just Another Love Song about a New York banshee just trying to make a living as Fae disappear around her; and To a Cloven Pine, Max Gladstone‘s science fictional take on The Tempest.

Hmm, looking at that list, it looks like I’m on Team Fairy, which surprises me, since I would consider myself much more Team Robot. The things we learn about ourselves.

Special mention to Catherynne M. Valante‘s closing story A Fall Counts Anywhere, which, like the opening story, also features both fairies and robots, this time in a very literal take on the anthology title, with robots and fae fighting it out, Battle Royal-style, in a WWE-style wrestling ring. Very fun, and with a surprising amount of pathos for such a silly concept.

So a great anthology for any fan of fairies and/or robots. With an absolutely beautiful cover to boot.

Book details

ISBN: 9781481462358
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2018

Transition

By Iain Banks

Rating: 3 stars

Despite being marketed in the UK as an “Iain Banks” (mainstream litfic) book, this is very much an “Iain M. Banks” (science fiction) novel: its core conceit is a shadowy conspiracy whose members can travel between alternate Earths in the multiverse. That seems pretty darn science fictional to me!

The book is pretty odd, and it never entirely worked for me. This is partly to do with the characters: it’s told from a number of different viewpoints, and none of them are really sympathetic. You’ve got the assassin, the corrupt politician and the torturer. There’s the hospital patient, I suppose, but he’s hiding from people chasing after him, and he used to be an assassin.

There’s also not much in the way of plot. There’s very interesting world-building going on but when it comes down to it, the plot is mostly about fighting for control of a bureaucracy. It doesn’t exactly set my heart racing. Mind you, there’s an awful lot of sex in the book that could help with that (that and a somewhat unnecessary section on child sexual assault, albeit off-page).

Spoiler
I don’t really understand the end either. How did Oh get his superpowers? Mrs Mulverhill doesn’t seem entirely surprised, and she’s levelling up as the book goes on too. Is it supposed to be natural? Something that the Concern was keeping from its members? Gaining those powers just in the nick of time seems a bit deus ex machina to me.

So slightly disappointing as the last new science fiction from Banks that I’ll ever read, but an interesting curio in its own right.

Book details

ISBN: 9780349139272

Empress of Forever

By Max Gladstone

Rating: 4 stars

Vivian Liao is a tech billionaire, on the run after making powerful enemies. As she schemes in the bowels of a Boston server farm to fix her life and make her enemies pay, she’s pulled into a far future ruled by the almost omnipotent Empress. Here, she has to gather together a group to help her survive and somehow stop the Empress from destroying the universe in her ongoing battle against the Bleed.

I loved this book! While I wasn’t entirely sure that a tech billionaire was going to be the most relatable protagonist, Viv is a very fun character. And her fish-out-of-water status helps to ground her. The other characters that eventually form part of her crew are larger than life as well. From the monk Hong, to the tragic pirate queen Zanj. Following them and exploring their world along with Viv is thoroughly enjoyable, as is seeing how they grow and change through their meeting and friendship with the woman from the past. And the mystery of Viv, and her ability to affect the world around her, keeps the book going forward.

The world-building is also excellent. There’s a sense of huge scale and a rich past that we pick up on through the natives of this time. Another thing I liked was that the book does answers questions as it goes, setting up new ones in their place, which helps to keep the pace up and means it never feels too frustrating.

It’s also a standalone book, which is welcome in this era of overwrought trilogies. The book tells its story and then ends. And while there’s scope for more stories in the world, I’d be sort of hesitant about going back, after a very well-suited ending here.

4 1/2 stars (rounded down)

Book details

ISBN: 9780765395818
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2019

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition, Vol. 5

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

In the final volume of Alita’s story (well, her first story, at least), Alita storms Nova’s lab, with only Kaos for backup. At one point, she utters the immortal line “My rage is ultrasonic”, which, I must confess, made me giggle a lot. Meanwhile, since his attack on Zalem failed, Den is making a suicidal charge against the Scrapyard, alone, except for Koyomi.

There’s a lot to enjoy here, especially Nova’s second entrapment of Alita in the Ouroboros program, and Den’s mental battle with Kaos, but I was very disappointed with the canonical ending. It just seemed very abrupt and, frankly, a rubbish way to end Alita’s story.

This is continued with a non-canonical coda, almost, that takes Alita to Zalem and sees her and Nova, along with Lou, confront the master computer of Zalem. This improves a bit on the canonical end, but seems very odd. Nova in particular behaves in very odd ways that don’t seem to follow from his previous actions. Why would he restore Alita like that, and give her that new, nigh-on invincible body?

There’s also a short story set in the Motorball world, not featuring Alita, with a slightly different art style. That was interesting, with quite a melancholy tone to it. The volume finishes with a couple of interviews with the author where, amongst other things, he talks about the end, and how it’s not what he wanted, but various factors converged to force him to end the story where he did.

As for myself, I think I’ll content myself with the non-canonical ending, and not seek out the sequel series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632366023
Year of publication: 2018

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition, Vol. 4

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

This volume picks up 10 years after the end of the last one, with Alita having left Figure Four at some point and is back working for Zalem again, in her guise as TUNED unit A1. This volume sees her encounter with Den, the leader of an anti-Zalem army, and Kaos, someone who can read an object’s history by just touching it. She also finally finds her lost father-figure Ido, although that reunion doesn’t exactly go as she expected.

This is a strange volume and the story felt sort of incomplete. Possibly inevitable, as the pace of the overall arc ramps up towards a conclusion in the next volume. Alita seems more vulnerable here and leans heavily on some of those around her, including her new Zalemite operator, Lou (who’s quite adorable, in a deeply nerdy way).

The storyline with the AR units feels like it just peters out, without really much resolution. There are supposed to be multiple AR units, but we only see two of them. If they are as powerful as is portrayed, they should have had a much bigger impact. Likewise, there’s no real explanation for the missing Figure, with just the occasional flashback to him.

Den, leader of the Barjack rebellion against Zalem, is an interesting character, and had the potential to be quite a complex, layered individual, but it doesn’t feel like that happened.

I’ll complete the series now, but I’m losing momentum.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632366016
Year of publication: 2018

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 4 stars

In the 22nd century, humans have cracked one of the big problems in spaceflight: how to keep humans alive outwith the safe, nurturing environment of Earth. Their answer: somaforming. Instead of changing the environment to suit the human, they change the human to suit the environment (on a limited scale at least; generally minor changes, where the recipient is still recognisable as human). Ariadne O’Neill and her three shipmates are members of a crew (Lawki 6) sent to the planets of a star, fourteen light years from Earth to investigate its planets in the name of exploration and the drive for human knowledge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I really enjoyed the simple steadfastness of our protagonist and her shipmates, their love for each other and the fact that Chambers avoids the obvious impulse to have conflict between the crewmates to drive the plot. She doesn’t do that, and I think the book is all the stronger for it.

I also love the science-driven nature of the plot. Lawki 6 is a pure science mission, privately funded without any desire to terraform or exploit what they find. They tread lightly, find joy in their discoveries, and weep when they accidentally kill some of the life they find. Chambers describes this with a light touch that nonetheless touched me to my core.

There’s a deep ambivalence around the ending which could be incredibly positive or very depressing, depending on what happens next. Chambers leaves this to our imaginations, and I choose to believe in the more positive choice. I choose to believe that Earth responds to the message that Ariadne sends and whichever direction they go, they will do so with joy in their heart and the blessing of their home.

PS: I googled ‘Lawki’, and it could be either a place in Poland, or an acronym for “Life As We Know It”, which seems more relevant.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473697188

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