Review: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

everfair

I can’t remember the last time I read a steampunk novel, but I always knew I would be reading Nisi Shawl’s Everfair as soon as it came out. A what-if take on the outcome of the colonization of Africa and the enslavement and brutalization enacted upon the people of the Congo, Everfair uses steampunk not as a shiny gloss, but as an integral mechanism powering her alternate history in which the existence of the Belgian Congo takes a markedly different turn for the better.

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Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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In some far future in what used to be the midwest of the United States, monsters walk the streets of V-City at night. If a human commits violence, a monster comes to life as a result of the crime. The Corsai are violent maulers, and the Malchai are emaciated vampires. The mysterious Sunnai, that most rare of monsters, eat souls. Not only are they the most destructive, no one knows what they look like, and that makes them the most dangerous monsters of all.

Kate Harker is a human who wants to be a monster. The daughter of the crime boss who rules half of V-City, she’s gotten herself kicked out of six boarding schools so she can return to be with her father. She’ll prove one way or another that she’s a Harker, her father’s daughter, and worthy of his time and attention.

August Flynn is a monster who wants to be human. He lives on the other half of V-City, the side where humans decided to fight the monsters rather than pay exorbitant fees for Callum Harker’s protection. August and his two siblings look human but are all Sunnai, and they live with the man who runs the task force dedicated to monster hunting and crime prevention. August is tired of being who he is and the things he’s capable of doing when he doesn’t eat for too long.

Kate and August are two sides of a coin, and they are both able to see the city for what it is, and each other as the people they truly are. As the power structure in V-City teeters and threatens to make collateral damage of Kate and August, the two of them are on the run for their lives to save the city, themselves, and each other.

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Review: Infomocracy by Malka Older

infomocracy

Do elections become more democratic when everyone has access to to the same infinite, universal information? Does ease of access to information and universal availability and ability to vote diminish voting disenfranchisement and lead to smarter, more thoughtful voting outcomes?

Maybe. Ideally. It’d be nice if that happened.

Malka Older’s cyberpunk election thriller Infomocracy posits a late twenty-first century future in which microdemocracy is the norm. Instead of traditional, old-fashioned nation-states, Earth (or rather its participating constituents, but that’s still most of Earth) is divided up into 100,000-people voting blocs called “centenals.” Rural areas may have only a couple of centenals spread out over hundreds of miles, while densely packed cities can have a couple hundred centenals within the space of several street blocks.

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Mini-Reviews: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin and Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

I have read too many books I have not written for reviews for yet, and I would like to be caught up, therefore I present you with some mini-reviews.

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin:

the-obelisk-gateThis is the book I would love to write a full-length review for if a) I had the time and b) this book wasn’t due back at the library the moment I am writing this post. N. K. Jemisin is a phenomenal, fantastic writer—it’s true what everyone is saying that these are the best books she’s written yet—and it’s all to do with how much fine-tuned control she has over the story and its many converging threads, as well as the words and tone she uses to tell it. 10-year-old Nassun’s chapters are pieces of painful beauty, the way they balance her childness, her trauma, her cynicism, her self-loathing, and her bottomless pit of yearning for the adults in her life to love, and to have loved her, the way she wants them to, the way they were supposed to.

… [Nassun] never knows anything of his ultimate fate other than that she has killed him, which makes her a monster.

“Perhaps,” [he] tells her as she sobs these words. He holds her in his lap again, stroking her thick curls. “But you are my monster.”

The Obelisk Gate is a comparatively slower, steadier book than The Fifth Season, which doesn’t mean it’s stagnant. More is uncovered about the nature of orogeny, the obelisks and Alabaster’s plan, and Essun is running on borrowed time to understand all of them before the current Season leads to starvation and the end of all humanity. To use a geology analogy, the story, and Essun and the comm of Castrima and Nassun, are all subjected to heat and pressure on all sides, and the rising tension threatens to explode and obliterate everything around them. Essun has already had her world destroyed far too many times already, and now she has a choice to make whether she’s going to do something to prevent her grudgingly adopted world from suffering the same fate as well.

“No vote,” you say… “Leave. Go join Rennanis if they’ll have you. But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any other part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people… This is a community. You will be unified. You will fight for each other. Or I will rusting kill every last one of you.

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal:
ghost-talkers This novel posits a World War I that contains the all-important Spirit Corps, a group of mediums who channel the ghosts of recently killed soldiers in order to obtain crucial information about the battlefield to aid the British war effort. American heiress Ginger Stuyvesant is one such medium. Like her fellow Spirit Corps members, she is beyond exhausted from channeling the influx of soldiers and handling their death experiences. When a ghost passes on information that suggests a German plot to neutralize the Spirit Corps, Ginger embarks on a dangerous mission that carries her to the front lines of battle and back to uncover both the plot and a murder.

Ghost Talkers is a breeze of a novel to read, which is an odd thing to say about a book set in World War I during the Battle of the Somme. Mary Robinette Kowal’s prose is smooth and light, and the scenes are written with levity, kindness, and warmth while retaining the horror and senseless destruction of war, and the particular form of disillusionment that characterized World War I. The characters are fun, and Kowal’s cast is composed of more than white, male soldiers, such as female nurses and hospitality women, Jamaican and Indian soldiers and aides in the war effort, and elderly and disabled soldiers and civilians.

Ginger herself was fine as a protagonist, but she never felt as having more than surface-level characterization, demonstrating generic strength, determination, and fire-branded-ness that didn’t actually tell me much about who she was, or what kind of person she was before the war. Additionally the plot involved some too-convenient twists near the end and unconvincing revelations (namely why the spy was a spy to begin with). Ultimately the historical fiction and supernatural elements of the book were far more successful than the actual story, which is a shame, because the world-building was so good.

Review: Rise by Mira Grant

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I have the world’s strangest relationship with the writing of Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire. I’ve read at least one book in every single series she’s published and had a “meh” response to all of them.

The exception is the Newsflesh trilogy, which I love with the force of a thousand suns. I’ve wanted to read all the short stories set in the Newsflesh universe for ages but haven’t been able to obtain many of them for several reasons. Having all of them here in one book is a joy—I was able to fully dive back into this universe and its characters that I love so much EVEN WHEN THEY DO THINGS THAT MAKE ME WANT TO BLOW THE UNIVERSE UP. (Hi, I have issues with the second half of Blackout. We don’t talk about that, save that it is 100 percent personal.)

Rise is the first book to collect all of Mira Grant’s previously published short fiction set in the Newsflesh universe—five novellas, one short story—as well as two brand-new pieces. And even with my baggage, reading Rise felt like coming home. A murderous home populated by zombies and mad scientists and even madder assassins and insane, scientifically-impossible bloggers and regular, everyday people pushed to their absolute limits on the brink of destruction—and all of them are what makes it home.

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Review: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

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What would you sacrifice for your art? How much would you give up to be the very best? How much does one’s identity as an artist comes from innate talent versus the act of creation? Can an artist create art separate from their past experiences? Can an artist ever surpass their past?

These are the questions Roses and Rot asks of its readers and that protagonist Imogen, her sister Marin, and their fellow artists ask of themselves.

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Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

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I feel like I’ve failed.

Every single review I’ve seen for this book, every article about it written by people whose tastes I share or opinions I trust have praised this book to the high heavens, some citing it as good as or even better than Ann Leckie’s debut Ancillary Justice. Sure, they all said the concepts could be fiendishly difficult and that this book definitely required work to read, but that the work would be rewarding and worth it.

I’ve read Ninefox Gambit. I liked the story and the ideas behind the world-building, I loved Cheris and Jedao, and I want to find out what happens next in the sequel.

I have no fucking clue how anything works or how plans got accomplished or foiled, and I’m frustrated and sorry to say this had a significant impact on my ability to love this book alongside everyone else.

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Review: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

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Central Station is unlike anything I can recall having read either recently or a while ago. Not a traditional novel, Central Station is a mosaic novel comprised of several older short stories previously published in different short fiction venues and two entirely new ones. Tying all these stories together is Central Station, a space station on the outskirts of Tel Aviv that has become a primary hub of space travel and an constantly oscillating area of cultural exchange. In this future, data is both the medium and the stuff of reality driving knowledge, understanding, and reality. Humans coexist (or not) with sentient machines, robots, cyborgs, data vampires, and Others, creatures made up of pure data itself.

Central Station features a cast of recurring characters such as Boris Chong, who’s just returned from Mars after several years away from Tel Aviv and is now picking up with his old flame Miriam while dealing with his elderly father, Vlad, who is trapped inside his own memory. Motl the robotnik, a metal machine with the brain of a formerly alive human man, and who was created to fight one of Israel’s long-ago wars and discarded when the technology became obsolete, is in love with Isabel, whose job it is to play a fully immersive MMO as the captain of a spaceship. Ibrahim is the rag-and-bone man, also known as the Lord of Discarded Things, who regularly provides the inhabitants of Central Station with ancient tech and treasures of times long ago. His son Ismail and Miriam’s son Kranki are two mysterious boys who may represent humanity’s next step in this digital age. These characters and many more drive this multifaceted novel of both a provincial land-bound community and a far-flung expansive world out amongst the stars.

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Review: Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

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Zephyr Mourning is a harpy bred-and-born, albeit not a very good one—her fighting and magic skills are deplorable, she freezes up in the middle of a fight. She was all prepared to live the rest of her life in the mortal realm amidst the humans rather than become a fully-fledged contract killer for the Greek gods, known here as the Exalted, the high Aetherials. And then someone was ordered to kill her beloved older sister. Upon finding her sister’s body, Zephyr killed him right back … except that person was a god, one of the low-ranked Aetherials. Now she’s been condemned to spend the rest of her days in Tartarus, forever known as Godslayer, with no hope of redemption. All that changes when two teenage boys—one of whom used to be her childhood friend—come looking for her. Zephyr has a role to play, one she never would have expected.

While Zephyr is incapable of manipulating the aether, the magic of light, she has long been able to channel erebos, the dark magic of the Underworld, but forbidden to do so. For centuries, shadow vaettir like her—the offspring or descendants of humans and gods who can channel erebos—have been quietly hunted to the point of extinction by the vaettir of the aether and the Aetherials.

Zephyr may be a lousy harpy, but, as it turns out, she is also the reincarnation of the Nyx, a powerful being capable of wielding erebos with greater ability than almost anyone and the prophesied champion of the shadow vaettir. But Zephyr’s positive she’ll fail at being the Nyx, just like she’s never been able to be a proper harpy. What will she do when her entire life has been defined by failing to be what people wanted her to be?

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Review: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Hegleson

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Two girls.

Two social media accounts.

One shared, passionate love of a Supernatural-esque TV show.

One happy, scary, confusing, confounding, life-changing relationship.

Gina/Finn is an epistolary novel in the vein of the AIM-based narratives of Lauren Myracle’s ttfn, ttyl, and l8r g8r, about the power of fandom and fandom-love a la Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Gena (_EvinIf) is an East Coast, college-bound fic writer. Finn (finnblueline) is a broke college grad who just moved out to the West Coast with her boyfriend and an on-off fan artist. The two of them run into each other online and bond over their shared love of the TV show Up Below and favorite character Jake and his FULL-OF-FEELINGS relationship with Tyler. What starts out as a friendship based in shared fandom love develops into a whirlwind, terrifying, and meaningful connection neither of them could ever could have predicted and gets put to the test by a life-changing tragedy.

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