The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller, published 20 April 2023.
There is a terrible pandemic. It might be the zombie apocalypse. Neffy has volunteered to take part in a drug trial to find a vaccine against this weird form of dropsy. Told from her perspective the story follows the first days in the trial’s weird hospital ward, interspersed with letters to “H” that include a lot of octopus factoids. Soon the drug trial starts.
What follows is more 28 Days Later than I Am Legend, plus Lord of the Flies/Big Brother style group dynamics.
There is also a weird, and totally unexplained and absolutely unnecessary, memory device that Neffy uses to relive her memories; why, Claire Fuller, why? Flashbacks or drug (trial) related dreams weren’t an option?
The story ends much later than it made sense to me. This ending was probably supposed to be the optimistic outlook of the rather pessimistic novel, but it felt off to me.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Death I Gave Him (published 12 September 2023) is a Sci-Fi thriller that leans towards the hard side of Sci-Fi. The prosaic, matter-of-fact style of writing, using chat excerpts, transcripts and third person POV narration, poignantly conveys the story’s topics of depression, fear of death and guilt.
The main romantic relationship is between a man and a genderless AI. This offers an interesting new view on how human-AI romance might work; yet, anyone who expects “a gay Shakespeare retelling” might be disappointed.
I enjoyed reading this novel. The mixed-media format helped me get through some of the slightly denser chapters. It’s definitely a book I’ll recommend to other readers.
The Archive Undying by Emma Mieko Candon, published 27 June 2023, the first book in The Downworld Sequence.
I find this book exceptionally hard to review. I wanted to like it, but I might not have grasped its points and my review might be just as confusing as the book I read.
I like it when an author drops me in at the deep end, as frustrating as that may be, and I learn to navigate within the world that the author has built (like Harrow the Ninth – I was about to give up when the penny dropped). Unfortunately, I couldn’t really make heads nor tails of the world Candon built here. What’s more, the further I dove into the story, the less clear it all became. I wish Candon had invented new words for the unique elements of her world-building, this way she might have had to explain what she is actually talking about; by using ‘regular’ English words like the “Harbor” my mind somehow refused to give the concept of the story’s maybe-villain any other connotation than a place where ships can dock.
Then there is the shift in POVs, which would have been fine had it been indicated in any way. But since neither narrator had a distinct voice I felt even more confused than Sunai, the often confused MC of the story. I had to go back and re-read passages several times just because I had mixed up the narrator of a passage.
The writing was, at times very descriptive, but really good. And I liked the characters and the close relationship that Sunai is developing. Which is what kept me going to the end, because all’s well that ends well. Alas, the ending did not clear up my confusion.
A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers, published 03 March 2020.
I thought this book was about a diverse Found Family crew of space cops cruising the solar system, chasing smugglers, getting into scrapes and working as a team to solve a crime against humanity. That would have been “My Jam”.
It’s the year 2435. After being on the brink of extinction, humankind has managed to conquer the solar system. There’s space travel through wormholes and a serum that expands the human lifespan. Without this serum space exploration would not have been possible, nor the re-population of Earth. What was that extinction event that was prevented?
The patent to the serum is held by a corporation. In order to be eligible for the serum, you have to either work for the corporation or enter the military services for 40 years. Indentured servitude?
Earth, by the way, has one governmental body and seems to have reached world peace. Why is there a need for military services? There is the Navy, which is highly skilled in combat but does space exploration. Then there is the NEOG, Near Earth Orbital Guard. Another group of highly trained people who are the space coast guard, rescuing stranded ships, apprehending smugglers (I nearly wrote pirates, but alas no space pirates). No idea what the Army and the Air Force do in 2435, maybe that’s part of the other two books. Also, I do understand that there is a need for the NEOG, but why are there military services if there is world peace/solar system peace/humankind peace and no aliens that might attack?
To show off the military’s prowess at war there are Boarding Games where the NEOG and the Navy send teams that fight against each other in different single combat and team combat disciplines. It’s televised all over the solar system and the event of the year. Panem et circes – just without the panem – the gladiator teams of the future. It’s interesting, but we never get to see why the individual protagonists want to win. We never find out why it is so important for the team to win. What motivates them, other than boasting rights until the next games?
All the training for the games and the actual games take up so many pages in the book that the real plot seems like the commercial break between the rather lacklustre fight scenes. The much more interesting plot line is that smugglers are bringing knock-off serum into the system. Knock-off lifespan enhancing serum that might actually drastically shorten the lifespan of its users.
I am sure lots of people will like this book/trilogy. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, but I also noted that this book is flawed. It praises combat and the military services (in a world with universal peace), it has a strange religious sub-plot, and I am not at all comfortable with the corporation’s way of dealing out the serum. All in all it was more “Not My Jam” and I am not going to continue reading the series.
System Collapse by Martha Wells, expected publication 14 November 2023.
The seventh book in the Murderbot Diaries. This is a spoiler free review.
Murderbot doesn’t like planets. It especially doesn’t like planets when some of its squishy humans are on a planet. Especially especially when there’s an alien contagion infecting people and bots. And, especially especially especially because of [redacted] Murderbot is not 100% itself, but it has to protect it’s squishy humans and the local colonists. And Barish-Estranza just sent in an armed shuttle.
Sigh! All Murderbot wants to do is watch media with ART.
For the First Time, Again by Sylvain Neuvel, published 18 April 2023.
Short, because spoiler free, review about the conclusion to the Take Them to the Stars trilogy.
The 102nd Kibsu, Aster, has to continue what her foremothers started. The orphaned teenager is being chased by the US military and Alien Trackers. The only guidance she has is an old diary. With help from a very unexpected corner, she tries her best to continue her legacy.
In between Aster’s story there are short chapters going back to the beginning of the Kibsu, to the first of the one hundred and how it all started.
It’s a fast-paced book about destiny and fulfilling one’s purpose in life, full of pop-culture references of the 1990s and early 2000s. I enjoyed this as much as the other books in the series and Neuvel’s Themis Files trilogy.
The Quantum Curators and the Fabergé Egg by Eva St. John, published 24 May 2020.
A group of time travellers steals famous (about to be destroyed) artefacts before they are lost to their fate. This group of time travellers is from a different Earth than the one we inhabit. An Earth where the Great Library of Alexandria did not burn down, it’s still humankind’s largest depository of knowledge. That’s why their curators have to ‘step through’ to our Earth to get the otherwise destroyed items before they are lost.
Well, I wonder where I have heard elements of that story before? Off the top of my head I noticed parallels to the Invisible Library series, the Great Library series, and the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series. I might have missed a few others.
The band of curators was diverse, maybe more diverse than the groups in the aforementioned series, but all in all the characters were flat. The dual POV jumps from first person narrator to third person narrator and in some cases the some of the secondary characters seem to hijack the POV for a view paragraphs without any prior warning.
This (free with Audible subscription) audiobook was a hot mess for me and I didn’t stick it out to the end.
Voices of the Dead by Ambrose Parry, expected publication 15 June 2023.
Set in 1853, two years after the events of the last book, the fourth book in the Raven, Fisher and Simpson historical (medical) detectives series is centred on mesmerism and the power of mediums.
Body parts have been found around the city and the culprit is soon identified, but the case doesn’t seem to be as straightforward as it seems. Raven helps McLevy with the investigation. Sarah, obviously, helps Raven with the investigation, while trying to learn more about mesmerism. Furthermore, there is a medium that disturbs the routine at Queen Street during a séance that was supposed to clarify that mediums are a fraud. Raven seems at odds with all of it: the things the medium revealed at the séance, Sarah’s interest in mesmerism, the dapper gentleman who’s interested in Sarah, the new head surgeon at Surgeon’s Hall, his wife and his toddler son,…
I had some trouble getting into the story. I felt like I had missed some information at the end of book 3 of the series. So I went back and skim-read book 3 to be up to date, and suddenly the beginning of Voices of the Dead made sense to me. I had indeed forgotten some important details.
Once I got stuck in the book, though, it was hard to put down. Not because I wanted to know whether they would catch the murderer in the end and, more importantly, who the murderer had been – as with most mystery/detective novels, I had an idea how it all tied together before I got to the halfway point – my main interest was the main characters and how their lives and relationships would enfold.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (2021) & Miss Percy’s Travel Guide to Welsh Moors and Feral Dragons (2022) by Quenby Olson.
Mildred Percy, spinster, inherits a trunk from an uncle. The inheritance and arrival of the trunk soon turns Miss Percy’s rather dull life into an exciting story as it turns out one of the items in the trunk is a dragon egg that soon hatches. Miss Percy is about to have an adventure that ladies of her age are not supposed to have.
After an attempt at abduction, Miss Percy comes to the conclusion that the dragon named “Fitz” needs to be brought to a certain area in Wales to make sure no fortune hunters of any kind try catching him a second time. Together with the local vicar and the vicar’s housekeeper, an old map of her uncle’s and Fitz tucked into a basket, Miss Percy sets off to the unknown land of Wales. A country and journey full of dangers.
The stories are of found family, middle-aged main characters, kindness, adventure and teamwork. The writing is easy to follow, if a bit verbose at times, fast-paced and with the right amount of humour to keep you entertained until the last page.
3.5/5 Harpy Eagles for each book
The Good, the Bad and the History by Jodi Taylor, expected publication 22 June 2023.
For those of you who read this blog regularly, you'll remember that I fell in love with The Chronicles of St Mary's series during the pandemic. I have, since then, re-read the series several times and was in the middle of my "great TCoSM re-read" when Headline Publishing granted my wish and I got a NetGalley eARC of the 14th novel in the series. Naturally, I left book 8, And the Rest is History, unfinished and read the ARC first.
The Good, the Bad and the History is a different St Mary's novel, because, apart from the jumps depicted on the cover (a trip to yet another library on fire and Swan Court), most of the story happens in the future - you know, the desk job Max took up in book 13. Max has to go back to the future 'to close the circle'. Which, incidentally, is also what this novel does with the whole series, there are little remarks about previous jumps/stories here and there, and quotes from previous books, former members of St Mary's being mentioned, etc. Overall, I had the feeling this was to be the last St Mary's story ever. And then there were three seemingly small words right before the Acknowledgements that made me sigh in relief.
Now I can't wait for the signed paperback to arrive so I can re-read the story again while listening to the audiobook.
(For those dying to know: Yes, I finished the "great TCoSM re-read" and, of course, that included re-reading The Good, the Bad and the History.)
5/5 Harpy Eagles
This Time by Joan Szechtman, published 2009.
A Time Travel story about the English king Richard III being snatched from Bosworth Field seconds before his death and being transported to the future.
Sooner than one would think possible for a man having been raised in the rather strict 15th century, Richard acclimatises to the peculiarities of the 21st century. Bathroom facilities don’t faze him; neither does modern clothing or food. He gets the hang of how TV remote controls work as well as mobile phones. He, the king of England, doesn’t even mind being addressed like a commoner, with a nickname even. And although he is still pining after his beloved wife Anne, he soon falls into bed with the one female researcher who greeted him upon his arrival; before you ask, yes, he can wield a condom like he used to wield his sword. I gave up at the point where the previously escaped Richard, who disguised himself as a kitchen help in a restaurant, is about to be recaptured.
The story could have been a good one. The idea is great. Yet, the characters are all one dimensional and Richard takes to the 21st century too easily.
People have told me to read this book with words like:
it won the Hugo and the Nebula awards
it’s Time-Travel into the 14th century
you are a history nerd and love Sci-Fi/Time-Travel stories
I must say there is one thing Connie Willis got right, during an epidemic that’s fortunately being quarantined early on, there is a shortage of toilet paper and we are reminded of it at least once every chapter. Having lived through the great toilet paper crisis of 2020, I can say this was the most accurate prediction about the future the book had to offer.
For a book written in the late 1980s and first published in 1992 it lacks in extrapolation of existing technology and culture. It basically goes one step forwards and two steps back. Oxford, Great Britain, in 2055 is as backwards as the 1960s. The height of modern technology, ignoring the time travel device that is never really explained, are video telephone landlines which cannot take a message. My cultural highlight of 2055, a university student kisses a girl in the hallway and that leads to uproar about his amoral behaviour. Oy vey!
Okay, Willis might not have nailed the future, but surely the past she must have? Nope! The fourteenth century is dirty, everyone stinks, walks around in rags and it’s actually a wonder how humankind survived after all. Kivrin, the MC, is equipped with the latest information about the fourteenth century; you know, the century of the witch burnings (17th century onwards), the century where basically everyone is a cut-throat or a rapist, where people are exactly as filthy as cliché wants us to believe. Furthermore, her brain-enhancer-translator doesn’t work properly. She cannot understand Middle-English although she has spent three years learning the language. She understands Latin, though. And I’m still wondering why Kivrin had to learn German for this trip. It can’t have been 14th century German, otherwise the little genius and her translator might have worked out what the people are talking about.
Long story short – I’m no Connie Willis:
Past timeline: Kivrin is stranded in 1348 instead of 1320, where she was supposed to land. She falls ill with the plague. The dirty, smelly people, who aren’t all cut-throats even if they are dirty and smelly and scarred and in ragged clothing, help her. She’s bedridden for a long time, but needs to get to “the drop”, the site where she landed and will be picked up again.
Future timeline: It’s Christmas time. People have left the university in droves to spend the holidays with their families. The only available time travel technician in all of Oxford comes down with a virus infection shortly after Kivrin was sent into the past. That’s the catalyst for the lockdown of the city. The techie dangles important information before the senior staff, but falls into unconsciousness every time he might be able to help out with his information.
I see what Willis wanted to do with the book. There was supposed to be a certain allegory between both timelines. There was supposed to be some comic relief. But what I will remember: Not all people in the 14th century were cut-throats, especially the children were adorable. Toilet paper is going to be scarce during a lockdown.
Ava and Jules work minimum wage jobs at a Swedish big-box store. No, not that one, another one. The one with wormholes opening inside their showrooms; where Ava and Jules have to use a device called FINNA to find a customer who has been sucked into the multiverse through that wormhole. They are definitely not paid enough to risk their lives in alternate universes, but the customer is king; and your boss is your overlord.
Fun novella about what might happen if a wormhole opened in an IKEA that is definitely not an IKEA.