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Book Review: Wilders, by Brenda Cooper

19 May

Author Brenda Cooper describes herself as a futurist and as being passionate about the environment, and you’d better believe she’s dead serious about it. Which is to say that, unlike most of the books I’ve gotten to review for Skiffy and Fanty this month, Wilders is many things, but fun isn’t one of them. Like so much ecological science fiction (or ecopunk, if that’s a thing? I’m pretty sure it’s a thing), Wilders is written in deadly earnest. Look elsewhere for lighthearted escapism.

Refreshingly, though, unlike a lot of books I’ve stumbled across in this genre, Wilders manages not to get too preachy. Herein, Cooper works under the assumption that her readers are proficient singers in the choir, and proceeds to focus on telling us a story rather than trying to persuade us that wilderness matters, that the environment matters, that extinction hurts us, etc., etc. Continue reading

Book Review: Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

12 May

Stories dealing with those often-painful transitions of adolescence dominate mainstream young adult fiction. On the genre side of the fiction divide, post-apocalyptic settings contain characters constantly beset by external dangers, characters that simultaneously must struggle to adapt themselves to their civilization’s collapse. In both cases these tales combine peripheral threats with internal struggles, shaping varying degrees of character growth and/or plot development.

Thus, it’s fitting that S.C. Flynn combined aspects from both sides of young adult fiction’s spectrum in his debut novel Children of the Different. Though comprised of many familiar elements, the novel is aptly named. Flynn’s story feels fresh and intriguingly different. With inspirations from analytical philosophy and biological metamorphosis, Children of the Different explores the transformation of his young characters into adulthood within post-apocalyptic settings that merge science fiction and mythical fantasy. Continue reading

Book Review: Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley Beaulieu

10 May


Before she started her quest for vengeance against the Twelve Kings of Sharakhai, Ceda had a different encounter with the supernatural otherness that infuses the world of the Shattered Sands. Early in her career as a pit fighter, her exploits, and a chance encounter, brought her to the attention of Rümayesh. Rümayesh is an ehrekh, a creature of fire and chaos living in Sharakhai under the guise of humanity. Her interest and fascination with Ceda, however, as with all who attracted her attention, is a corrosive, sadistic and destructive one, as befits her nature. Ceda found herself having to protect much more than just herself in order to ward against the creature’s manipulations.

This is the story told in Of Sand and Malice Made, by Bradley Beaulieu. Continue reading

Book review: Firebrand, by A.J. Hartley

5 May

I hate, hate, hate coming into a series in the middle (which means no, I haven’t read the first novel in this series, Steeplejack, but I sure plan to soon!), but I have a good personal track record with author A.J. Hartley, so I knew that if anyone could write a good middle book that still stands on its own it would be he.

My assumption, in this case, proved absolutely correct, in case you’re wondering.

Firebrand is the second volume in Hartley’s steampunk-flavored, young adult series “Alternative Detective”, and takes place a few months after the events in the first novel, which took a young woman from “steeplejack” (a person who works up high on the roofs and sides of very tall buildings, mostly cleaning chimneys but also doing repairs and maintenance and other sundry jobs) to amateur detective, and landed her in the very informal employ of a member of her city-state’s Parliament. As this novel opens, Anglet Sutonga is now enjoying an unaccustomed level of financial security and autonomy, but her sense of duty and survival instincts don’t let her get too comfortable, so as the novel opens, she is chasing an infamous cat burglar over the rooftops of Bar-Selehm, which leads her into a whole new mystery of linked and nested conspiracies, exploitation, human trafficking, treason and, of course, murder. Continue reading

Book Review: All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

3 May


A SecUnit assigned to the exploratory group PreservationAux has a problem. Two in fact. As an android, it’s supposed to serve the small exploratory mission to which it has been assigned. The SecUnit’s entire function is to support the exploratory mission’s investigation of a local planetary environment that it has placed a bid on to look at. Androids like SecUnit are a safety precaution from the Company because, well, alien planets can be rather hostile. And of course, they are handy recording devices, too, for the Company that is. A mandatory helper and a spy for anyone looking to explore the wild frontier in space.

Given that planets are not monolithic single-biome worlds, having multiple teams from competing groups spread out across a newly found world is a pretty regular thing. Who knows what you will find over in the next valley, down the river a bit, from another team. One team can’t find everything on a planet.  So when a neighboring team to SecUnit’s goes dark, that’s a bad sign for its team, a major concern.  What disaster befell them? Environmental? Natural? Something else? Given the proximity, is it a threat to PreservationAux, and to SecUnit itself?

The other problem is a more personal one. The SecUnit has managed to hack its own governor module, make itself independent, autonomous and capable of disobeying orders. It’s not going to reveal this of course, for fear of termination and worse, but this SecUnit is new to the idea of being able to make decisions for itself. New to the concept of being able to do what it wants to do. New to trying to come to terms with its own identity.

Like for example, a designation for itself. A name. Inside, secretly, the self-hacked SecUnit calls itself … Murderbot. Continue reading

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