Reviews: The Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan; Cibola Burn; Edgedancer; Sixth of the Dusk; The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone; The Churn; Altered America: Steampunk Stories; Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games; Nemesis Games; Legion

The Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about JapanThe Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan by Masumi Washington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another anthology. As usual, I’ve included my status updates with some spelling fixes. Overall it was a very uneven collection in terms of what I enjoyed. The stories all seemed to run hot or cold for me with nothing lukewarm.

Mono no Aware – a story about a generation ship, identity, and the world just before the end. I think I heard this on Clarkesworld Magazine’s podcast. It was still moving to read because I had forgotten the details.

The sound of breaking up – this story takes a sharp right angle. WOW. Where will it end up….great ending to that time travel story

Chitai… – I have no idea what that ending meant

The indiference engine – a haunting tale of NGOs doing what they think is best regardless of the info on the ground. The SF aspects really bring the message home

Sea of trees -a scary ghost story that takes place in a suicide forest in Japan

Endoastronomy – boy do I hate that story. I have no idea what the eff was going on and it didn’t even have an explanatory punchline.

In Plain Site – having tons of fun with this detective story – way more than the previous one. Didn’t like the ending, but leading up to it was fun

Golden Bread – A pilot accidentally crash-lands onto an asteroid. Interesting that the author has switched the cultures of the people involved in the story relative to how it is now. Finally, all the incongruity makes sense with the final reveal

One breath, one stroke – a lovely, whimsical tale of a house on the boundary between the human and non-human world. Great prose.

Whale Meat – it’s a touching story of an estranged father and daughter, but I’m not sure how it fits with the overall SF/fatasy theme of the book.

Mountain people, ocean people” – interesting twist to the story. Very ambiguous ending

Goddess of Mercy – this story seems horrifically more likely now than it did when written. the journalist had a strange was of speaking. But the story wound up pretty neat, even if it had the non-ending they many of the duties in this anthology do.

Autogenic Dreaming – a strange story that reminds me somewhat of that Jasper Fforde series. So it’s about Google under a different name. Still not sure I 100% understand what’s going on.

View all my reviews Cibola Burn (The Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this one more than the last one, but I think it’s simply because this one had POV characters that I liked more. It had a lot more Holden, who has actually learned a thing or two over the course of the last three books. It had Havelock who we hadn’t seen since Miller sent him off of Ceres before things went SNAFU there. And we had Elvi, who was a fun, nerdy character. And, while the plot of book 3 made a lot of sense – why wouldn’t Mao family members take revenge on Holden? In the real world, people who caused the financial crisis didn’t understand why people hated them. So why wouldn’t the Mao family see themselves as victims? – it just felt like maybe it should have been a novella because a lot of the climax for that book was stalled. This one had a much better flow with lots of peaks and valleys in the story. The heroes would succeed only to find another setback, ad nauseum, but realistically considering what they were doing – colonizing a new planet. I was also happy we advanced the alien storyline a bit more. I also thought a return to a sociopathic antagonist just seems to work so well against Holden.

But the capper – the thing that almost had me give this four stars (too bad there aren’t half-stars), was the epilogue. James S.A. Corey are very good about following the consequences – economic and political – of the events in their books. So the bookending of the book with Bobbie and having Christjen tell her just how screwed humanity has become was chilling. I’m antsy to get to the next book, but I’m taking a break to read some of the books that I’ve bought over the years via bundles and sales. Also, I’m already spending a lot to get caught up to Sanderson’s Cosmere, so I’m trying to spread out my book expenditures a bit.

View all my reviews Edgedancer (The Stormlight Archive, #2.5)Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throughout the course of the interludes in the main series, I’ve grown to really enjoy Lift. This whole novella reads like some crazy anime. Her interaction with Wyndle also reminds me of my favorite Cosmere pairing of Lightsong and Llarimar. There’s something about the long-suffering buddy that is just so much fun to read. Sanderson imbues his cities with rich cultures so it was fun to see this city, made up of open-air tunnels and people who love trading for information.

Worth reading? Well, in addition to Life or if (as one of my employees who’s reading the Cosmere says) you don’t like Lift, it does forward the stories of Nalan, Szeth, and Nightblade.

Also, this is why Lift is so much fun:
“… [Lift] summoned Wyndle in the shape of a large, shimmering, silvery fork. A Shardfork, if you would.”

View all my reviews Sixth of the DuskSixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll start by saying that I can’t decide if The Ones Above are people from Scadrial in Mistborn Era 4 (space-faring), people like Hoid (however they get around), or (view spoiler).

It’s interesting that I ended up reading this story and The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone at the same time. They both take place during the Victorian Era of exploration where people with technology exploit those without. While The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone is from the usual European perspective (although Ms Trafalger is a nice exception), this book is from the perspective of the less technological culture. Sixth (we learn part-way through the book the title is the name of the main character) is of that less technological culture. However, this is not a first contact story. The main conflict comes from the fact that his way of life is slowly becoming irrelevant as many in his Island chain adopt the new tech and culture. Indeed, contributing to the complexity is the fact that even Sixth has adopted some of the tech where it helps him do his job.

What elevates this story is Sanderson’s ability to create these complex narratives that transcend the usual tropes. Indeed there is a fractal story going on with The Ones Above and the planet that parallels the hegemonic culture and Sixth’s. That and the way that Sanderson thinks up super power for his characters and then finds ways for them to be limited and allow for tension to arise in the story. Let’s just say, there’s a reason for the horrific image that opens up this short story.

View all my reviews The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady BooneThe Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone by Geonn Cannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What if Indiana Jones was a woman? And British? And gay? Then you’d have Lady Boone. This book sets up an interesting world in the inter-war period (like Indie) although with more fantastical elements like the Uncharted series. I got this book on Story Bundle’s Historical Fantasy Bundle, so I had no idea what to expect. That said, I do enjoy the Victorian Era as a setting and Mr. Cannon creates some pretty compelling characters.

If I have to criticize the book, it’s that it seems like an intentional introduction to a series. It’s heavy on setup and character introductions, but the actual climax and resolution are somewhat disappointing for the setup involved. I have the second book in the series and I’m hoping that with all the setup out of the way, the next book has a more realized plot.

Also, before I get into the spoilers as I discuss what I enjoyed about the characters (saving the rating of this book), I’ll warn for the prudish and/or those considering whether the young ones should be allowed access to the book – there is a sex scene early in the book. It’s get explicit, naming body parts and all that. The rest of the book is actually almost strangely sexless considering that scene early on. Perhaps that’s the reason Lady Boone ends up with her period. Because I found myself wondering early on whether it was Chekov’s Menstruation. On the one hand, good for recognizing something half the population deals with for 1/4 of their life (give or take). On the other hand, 100% of the population pees and poops and we almost never hear of it in books unless it’s important to the plot – eg in Game of Thrones Arya has to pee in the woods while pretending to be a boy. Shoot, even in the last book currently published from A Song of Ice and Fire it’s very important that Dany is having her period for the first time since she was cursed during the ritual to keep Khal Drogo alive results in her abortion. But Lady Boone’s period never matters. Unless it’s meant to be a reason to refrain from future sex in the book? Dunno…

Anyway, spoiler-time! The characters I really enjoyed:
(view spoiler)

View all my reviews The Churn (The Expanse, #0.2)The Churn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don’t read this until after Cibola Burn or at least Abaddon’s Gate if you want the full effect.

Because this is a novella and because what makes it work is spoilery, almost this entire review will be a spoiler. But before I get to that part:

The Churn offers us a view of Earth on Basic. It is bleak. This was not really directly mentioned during Bobby’s time on Earth during Caliban’s WarCaliban’s War, but it was mentioned by James S.A. Corey during an interview they did for Imaginary Worlds in which they discussed the unrealistic post-scarcity economy of Star Trek. It takes place near me – I’m about 15 minutes out of Baltimore so it was neat to recognize some of the landmarks. It is also a mafia story. That’s one place where The Expanse excels and must be so much fun for James S.A. Corey to write. Each novel is a different genre, but in space and with more advanced tech.

Book 1: Crime Novel/Corporate Thriller
Book 2: Space War
Book 3: First Contact/Revenge Story
Book 4: Colonization

OK, Spoiler time!

(view spoiler)

View all my reviews Altered America: Steampunk StoriesAltered America: Steampunk Stories by Cat Rambo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A reminder that I use the Goodreads definitions of star values and, at the time of writing this, 3 stars is “liked it”.

While I can enjoy a smorgasbord approach to a short story collection, I really appreciate that nearly all the stories in this collection take place in a shared universe. I think Ms. Rambo is a very talented crafter of environments and she creates great premises for her stories. I also like that the stories in this collection explore some characters that are somewhat rare in SFF (although getting more exposure with every passing day) like non-whites, trans folks, and others on the LGBT spectrum. Also, I know steampunk in America is definitely a thing, but I’ve been exposed to so much more British and European steampunk so it was fun to see some American stories.

My only criticism is that many of the stories end somewhat abruptly as though Ms. Rambo suddenly realized she had a character or page limit. After a lot of great build-up, it can just feel like the climax comes and is gone a little too fast. I’d like to read one of her long-form books to see if she fares better there or is afflicted by the same ailment that plagued many of Neal Stephenson‘s early work.

As I do with anthologies, here’s a slightly edited version of my status updates:

“Clockwork Fairies” – While it’s period-accurate, it’s crazy that our main POV character (so far) is attracted to a tinkerer, but at the same time is scared of her holding sufragist and scientific thoughts! Also, bravo on Cat making the heroine mixed race. Ultimately, not just an introduction to Ms Rambo’s steampunk fairy world, but also a great look at gender and race in the Victorian era. It’s crazy how much autonomy single women gave up on marriage back then.

“Rare Pears and Greengages” – This one is much more fairy than Steampunk. I feel like, as usual, it’s assumed that everyone understands how faerie stuff works. Over the past couple years I’ve picked up enough to know it’s probably bad that people are eating fairy fruit and to understand about changelings. But I don’t get the tears thing. I feel like I’m missing so much in this. In the end it’s a story of mothers and how hard it can be to deal with tragedy when you’re a mother.

“Memphis BBQ” – This is a REALLY fun story to read; my favorite story so far. Great tone and the suitor is awesome instead of a jerk. Love to read more from this universe.

“Laurel Laurel where do you roam?” – a tale of a train trip with the background of how Lincoln won the Civil War with necromancers”

“Snakes on a Train” – Another Baltimore to Seattle train trip with a necromancer. This time bodyguards are a Jewish mind-reader and an automaton. I surprised by the ending. Good job, Rambo

“Doctor Rapacini’s Crow” – scary story about how the war injured are turned into cyborgs and sent back to war until their bodies or minds are too broken to go on. The trans reveal makes sense with the time period. One of my undergrad electives studied this phenomenon and it was actually quite common back before SSNs.

“Her Windowed Eyes, Her Windowed Heart” – back to Artemus the automaton and his partner, Elspeth the psychic. This time the story is from his point of view. Neat ending. I want a longform Pinkerton story.

“web of blood and iron” – very fun caper involving betting with vampires, but I’m not sure I enjoyed the ending

“Ticktock Girl” – a neat combo of steampunk and superhero genre during the suffragette era.”

“Seven Angels…Pin” – the best retelling of Sleeping Beauty I’ve ever read.”

View all my reviews Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video GamesDungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games by David L. Craddock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book as part of a Humble Bundle. I chose to listen to it because Dan (one of my younger brothers) had roped me into Rogue-likes via FTL and Spelunky! The book was a fun, quick read of the history of these games. Two things were fascinating to me about the events of the book. One is remembering how primitive early computers were and how long it took them to get anywhere close to modern. This, of course, led to creativity in how to create games when disk space, RAM, or processing power were extremely limited. What was more fascinating to me was to see that the legacy of Rogue, Rogue-likes, and Rogue-like-likes was not just in modern games like Vertical Drop Hero, Diablo, FTL, and Spelunky! Lots of these games are still actively developed! While my fondness for many of the modern Rogue-likes demonstrates that I’m not a slave to graphics or music, it was interesting to read that as late as 2012 there were people actively developing (and playing) the original games developed in the 70s and 80s – or at least the most recent releases of those old games.

View all my reviews Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in The Expanse that doesn’t end neatly. At the end, there’s still A LOT that’s unresolved. In some ways, this book is about the non-Holden Rocinante crew getting their own POV chapters. Along with that, we get a little more insight into their pasts and how they think. But, really, this book is about Naomi. She’s always been (to me) the most enigmatic member of the Rocinante and I feel as though the information we learn about her past goes a long way towards explaining a lot of that and some of her actions with and towards Jim Holden.

The book also left me divided in my opinions about it. On the one hand, this is the best suspenseful writing thus far for James S.A. Corey. Starting somewhere around 30 or 40ish percent I didn’t want to stop reading. Starting somewhere around 50% the book just kept spinning to an ever higher climax. And that was a lot of fun. But as the middle book of the series, Corey was done finally having the Roci’s missions tie up into a neat bow. This book felt more the way the second book in a trilogy often feels. The battle was concluded, but the war remains. (Both literally and figuratively)

As usual I appreciated Corey’s ability to deconstruct and reconstruct tropes. Naomi’s is a very well-worn trope about returning to something you thought you left behind forever. But Corey strikes a nice balance in which (view spoiler)

As intrigued as I am to continue and spoiled in that nearly the entire series is out and I don’t have to wait that much – I’m going to take a short break from the world of The Expanse to decompress.

View all my reviews Legion (Legion, #1)Legion by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was too short to talk about while avoiding spoilers. So consider yourself warned – and I’ve triggered Goodreads’ “Hide Entire review because of spoilers”.

This is the first non-Cosmere Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read and it’s interesting. He builds up an interesting character in Stephen Leeds – a character that seems to be insane. And yet, his different personalities each provide him with different skills. I’m not too familiar with Marvel’s Legion (Prof X’s son who shares a similar name and a somewhat similar set of powers), but it’s too bad it already has a show because this character (Leeds) seems like he would lend himself to a weekly crime procedural.

Like a traditional noir pulp story, the clues are all there, but the twist at the end – it’s the flash, not the camera – was still done well enough that while I didn’t predict it, it didn’t seem to come out of nowhere.

It’s interesting that Sanderson has set this character in a short story trilogy (how common is that idea?) and I’ll be curious to see what we learn about Legion and his powers as we go through the trilogy.

I’ve got the next one already and the last one comes out later this year. Not too much more to say here, but maybe as the trilogy progresses I’ll have more to say.

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Published by Eric Mesa

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