BooksOfTheMoon

Noumenon Infinity

By Marina J. Lostetter

Rating: 4 stars

This follow up to Noumenon follows two different plot streams: on the one hand, it follows the fortunes of convoy seven (Noumenon) back to the Web and onwards after its completion; and on the other, it follows the smallest of the convoys, convoy twelve, which was never even supposed to leave the solar system, but a malfunctioning SD drive in an experiment sends it far from home.

This book covers a lot of ideas, and a lot of time. From multiple alien megastructures to a new religion amongst the convey seven crew. Even with a generous page count of over 500 pages, there’s a lot to pack in, with our time being split between the two conveys. The time jumps when we’re following Noumenon also become huge, although we don’t see the major sociological disruptions that we saw in the first book. The changes here are more driven by outside events.

In the first book, I wasn’t convinced by the treatment of genetics as being the overriding factor in personality. This book doesn’t really change that, but doesn’t lean into much either (other than through the new religion, but that’s religion so it gets a free pass in not needing to make sense).

The chapters following convoy twelve occur on a much shorter timespan (months and years, rather than centuries) and start off with an intriguing mystery surrounding Dr Vahni Kapoor, who has a bad habit of disappearing and reappearing sometime later, always near a sundial that contains her AI assistant C.

There are a lot of mysteries that surround both convoys and eventually draw them together, in unexpected ways. One thing that I found disappointing was the lack of resolution on the alien megastructures that both seven and twelve encounter. There’s a throwaway comment/explanation towards the end of the book, but it doesn’t feel appropriate for Big Dumb Objects as impressive as these.

The old-fashioned SF “sensawunda” is here in spades. If you’ve been wanting very large scale space opera, covering huge swathes of time, including Dyson spheres, clones, mysterious missing aliens, mysterious present aliens and more, this is your series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008223403

Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch, #3)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

Picking up pretty much directly from where Ancilliary Sword left off, the conclusion to Breq’s trilogy again changes the direction of the series a bit, with things that have been rumbling a little in the background coming more to the fore. Breq is now publicly known as the last remaining piece of Justice of Toren and she must move quickly to protect Athoek system from the inevitable attack by Anaander Mianaai.

There’s a lot to love in this book and I pretty much want to just pick up the first book again and read the whole trilogy in one go, although I think I’m going to resist doing that until I make more of a dent in my to-read pile.

I think this book brings Breq’s involvement in the wider story of the Radch to an end. There’s lots more that she could do, of course, but I suspect that she’ll be quite tied up in the aftermath of what happened in Atheok, and its fallout, to take any further part in wider events. And I can’t imagine that there won’t be further events. The story of the Radch and its ruler at war with herself is rich pickings for further storytelling and I look forward to reading it.

As for this one, it was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Not just Breq, but those around her got decent character development and all got a chance to do something cool.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502427
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2015

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

Breq is the last body remaining to an AI that used to be Justice of Toren, a starship with hundreds of ‘ancillary’ human bodies. All that was destroyed and Breq vowed to kill Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, but has instead found herself made a Fleet Captain, put in command of the Mercy of Kalr and sent to secure a star system as part of an outbreak of civil war.

I loved this book as much as, or possibly more than, its predecessor, Ancillary Justice. That was, in essence, a fairly straightforward military space opera/revenge story. This book keeps the military flavour, but adds deeper political overtones, as Breq has to navigate local system politics, use but not abuse her new power and try and keep an eye on the greater civil war breaking out in the Empire.

One thing that I loved about this book was the fact that the heroine is working for the Emperor. It’s clear that, like all empires, really terrible things have been done in forging it (not least the creation of ancillaries themselves) and Breq is seriously questioning it (something that she couldn’t do as Justice of Toren) and growing as a person at the same time.

The supporting cast are mostly in shadow here. Seivarden returns from the previous book, but spends most of it on the Mercy of Kalr, away from the action. In her place is Lieutenant Tisarwat, a young officer foist upon Breq before the start of her mission.

The convention of being gender-blind continues here, with all characters referred to as ‘she’. I like this because it forces you to confront your own prejudices; for example, in my head the magistrate and tea grower (both positions of power) were male. No reason for this, but they were, before I realised what I was doing. But the gender politics are very much in the background. This is a solid space opera, with a lot of depth to it, and I really look forward to the next (final?) book in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502410
Publisher: Orbit UK (Little, Brown Book Group)

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

The soldier who goes by the name of Breq is in the final stages of plotting revenge when she comes across Seivarden Vendaai, lying naked and dying in the snow. Why she stops to help him is something even she doesn’t know, but he becomes entangled in her own life and the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.

I really rather loved this book. Breq is something more and something less than human. Her body was once human, but killed and reanimated. Her intelligence is artificial, being the last remaining component of the starship Justice of Toren, trying to make sense of and work with a single body rather than the resources of thousands of its ‘ancillaries’.

Although Breq (or Justice of Toren) is very much the hero of the piece, the book never shies away from the fact that it was a military ship involved in the invasion and subjugation of many civilisations and planets. It’s done terrible things in its time, but in some ways this is a redemption story as well, with Breq trying, in her own way, to make up for her own past actions.

Breq is also a fascinating protagonist. Being part of an AI with multiple bodies, we get a first person narrative, but from multiple points of view, which gives us both the intimacy of a first person narrator, but also the traditional omniscient narrative, as Justice of Toren is seeing all these things at the same time.

At first in the book, I felt a bit thrown off-balance and it took a while to work out why. It was because all the characters that Breq met seemed to be female. It took a while for this to sink in. If they had been male I wouldn’t have even noticed. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing – it makes me aware that despite my best efforts, I still have in-built preconceptions, and helps me to try and break through them. In fact, in the story, it’s more interesting than that. The language that Breq thinks in doesn’t make distinction between genders, and the pronoun that she uses is ‘she’ for everyone (and finds it difficult to tell the difference between genders, as the outward signs vary so much between cultures).

Come to think of it, I have no idea if Breq is male or female. She’s referred to as ‘she’ by other characters, but I, think, always in the Radch language, so it’s entirely possible that she’s actually male.

The world-building in the story is really good as well. The civilisation of the Radch, to which JoT belongs, has been expanding for a millennium and eventually met its match with an alien species, and is forced to sue for peace. The Lord of the Radch has, like the ancillaries, thousands of bodies, spread through many star systems, so can always be personally present as the ultimate form of law and justice, meaning that the ‘centre of power’ is always fairly near by, rather than being some distant Rome, and that mind across multiple bodies is played in interesting ways.

So an awful lot in there to think about and digest, but also a really fun space opera with a twist. One of the reasons that I read this book when I did is that it was published in 2013 and I get to nominate and vote in the 2014 Hugo awards. From all I heard, this might be a contender for nomination. From my point of view, it most definitely is.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502403
Publisher: Orbit UK (Little, Brown Book Group)
Year of publication: 2013

Noumenon

By Marina J. Lostetter

Rating: 4 stars

A macguffin is discovered in space at just the right time: the world is increasingly united and peaceful. So with resources to spare, a convoy of nine ships, collectively known as Noumenon, is launched to investigate. Even with FTL, this mission will take several generations to complete, so the crew is carefully chosen and then cloned for the duration of the mission to preserve skills and abilities over the duration.

I really enjoyed this story. We start on Earth, after the discovery of the macguffin (a weird star) and the planning phase of the mission. From then on, we revisit the convoy at various points in its history, as the the society changes in ways both envisioned by its designers and ways that weren’t. Throughout, the Inter Convoy Computer (ICC) watches over the crew, and several of the segments in the book are from ICC’s point of view.

One thing that I think the book never fully addressed was the idea that we are defined by our genes. This is patently untrue: two identical twins can have very different personalities. The idea that a clone of a person will have their aptitudes and skills, even with education and training being bent in a specific direction, seems dodgy to me. And then we get to a point where several gene lines are discontinued entirely, because one of the clones of the line has done something that the convoy society disapproves of (whether that’s mental health issues or attempted mutiny). This seems an odd decision given that there’s a closed gene pool to start with, with specifically defined roles, and, as I say, an individual is more than their genes. I do wish the book had addressed this more.

But that’s one issue in an otherwise excellent book that spans many human lifespans but still spends enough time at each stop to make us care about each individual, as well as the society of the convoy as a whole.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008223397
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Year of publication: 2017

Double Contact (Sector General, #12)

By James White

Rating: 4 stars

Without necessarily meaning to be, this is the last Sector General novel. White was ill when he was writing it, and its publication ended up being posthumous. This novel sees Senior Physician Prilicla and the crew of the Rhabwar answering multiple distress calls from the same location and finding a botched first contact operation. Prilicla and his comrades have to not just save their patients, but undo the damage that’s been done.

Like the rest of the series, this is a peaceful, one might say pacifist, space opera (although there is a “misunderstanding” that leads to a siege at one point). White was passionate about non-violence and uses his characters to repeatedly make the point that peaceful contact and co-operation is best for everyone. There’s a wonderful quote towards the end of the book:

“War, he thought sadly as he looked down at the terrified casualty, was composed mostly of hatred and heroism, both of them misplaced.”

There’s a nod back to Star Surgeon as Prilicla deliberately puts hostile patients in the same ward as other patients to show that they mean them no harm, and the constant correction of the “Etlan war” to the “Etlan police action” amused me.

And Prilicla finally gets promoted to Diagnostician! As the last act of the last book in the series, it feels really fitting. And the last sentence in the book hammers home White’s philosophy one more time: “One does not give orders to a Sector General Diagnostician.” – spoken by a senior marshal of the Monitor Corps, again making the point that the military (sorry, police) is subservient to the healers.

Sector General itself, alas, only gets a cameo at the start of the book. Goodbye you “shining beacon in space”, you’ve been an inspiration to us all.

Book details

ISBN: 9780812568608
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
Year of publication: 1999

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

The Truth of Valour (Confederation, #5)

By Tanya Huff

Rating: 4 stars

Former Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has now left the Marine Corp and is making a life in civvie street with her partner, Craig Ryder. Although the war with the Others Primacy is more or less over, space is still a dangerous place, as she discovers as their ship is attacked and Craig is taken by pirates, and she is left for dead. Unfortunately, the pirates made a big mistake in not making sure of it, as Torin gathers together some of her former colleagues and goes after them.

I think this is the first book not to be told exclusively from the point of view of either Torin or Craig, as we get into the head of Mackenzie Cho, the pirate captain who took Craig. And that’s not a pleasant place to be. Interestingly, Cho’s deep sense of entitlement and anger at supposed denial of his rights are reminiscent of the kind of man who frequents the worst areas of 4chan and the ‘manosphere’, coupled with ruthlessness and cruelty that make him an incredibly unpleasant person, and you look forward to him getting his due at Torin’s hands.

Torin is outwith her comfort zone here, with no chain of command, and without the resources of the Marine Corp at her back, and we see the strain that this puts on her, and her colleagues see it as well. Perhaps not burdened with a direct involvement and also still delegating to her, they see the situation more clearly than she does at times. No longer soldiers, but not fitting into a civilian life, they jump at the chance to be doing something as a unit again.

The ending is somewhat intriguing, as the Confederation acknowledges that their current structures aren’t suitable for post-war civilisation and Torin is asked to pull together such a fast-response team. That leads into a new trilogy which I look forward to investigating in due course (and I’m sure those plastic aliens will be back as well…).

Book details

ISBN: 9781781169742
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2010

Valour’s Trial (Confederation #4)

By Tanya Huff

Rating: 4 stars

Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr is involved in a major battle and is thought killed in action. However, unknown to everyone, she ends up in a prisoner-of-war camp. Which is interesting, since, as far as everyone knows, the enemy don’t take prisoners. First she has to sort out problems in what is nominally her own side before she can pull a team together and get on with the serious business of escaping. What she finds may change the course of the war.

This is a fun, fast-paced novel that doesn’t let go once it’s started. As usual, there’s a mostly new set of faces around as Torin is dropped into a new situation without (most of) her crew but a few familiar faces are present. And the old spot-the-ones-about-to-die game is present and correct (although I guessed completely wrongly).

I’ve come to like Torin an awful lot over the course of these books, even if I haven’t fallen quite so far into her cult of personality as Darlys. She very obviously cares about the people under her care and does her damnedest to get them out alive, even in circumstances well beyond her control.

I’m looking forward to reading the last in the series now.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781169728
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2008

Drive: Act Two (Drive, #2)

By Dave Kellett

Rating: 4 stars

Act 2 of the Drive webcomic picks up where Act 1 left off: the crew of the Machito has rescued the gentle (but Vinn-ified) Nosh and have taken him to the headquarters of the dreaded Jinwiwei, the Empire’s secret police, in the hopes that they can cure him. What follows is a breakneck adventure, with the crew of the Machito continuing their mission to try and find Skitter’s people, as the Vinn march on, invading both the human empire and the Continuum of Makers with whom the humans are at war.

We get to meet new alien races and find out more about exiled Maker called Ahmis, whose crashed ship helped Conrado Cruz build his own FTL drive. Of the alien races, the Sill are possibly my favourite, a species who had conquered half the galaxy, before finding something between religious fervour and a psychic drug that was so good that they stopped conquering, and reproducing and, well much of anything, really.

I’m very much enjoying the story here, but am looking forward to the end, so that I can go back and read the whole thing in one go to keep the whole story in my head at once (this is a problem with long-running serial stories that are drip-fed, one page at at time, Girl Genius being the worst offender, given how long it’s been running for).

Book details

ISBN: 9780984419081
Publisher: Small Fish Studios, Inc

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