Review: One Day This Will All Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Review: One Day This Will All Be Yours by Adrian TchaikovskyOne Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction, time travel
Pages: 144
Published by Solaris on March 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The bold new work from award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky  - a smart, funny tale of time-travel and paradox
Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.
Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.
I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.
Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.

My Review:

The problem with wanting to change things is that, well, things change. The problem with time travel – or at least scientifically-based time travel – is that the things that change are fundamental to the reason you time travelled in the first place.

In other words, it makes a mess. And going back to fix the first mess makes an even bigger mess. And so on and so on, ad infinitum, until history and facts and even ordinary causality are totally FUBAR’d beyond all recognition or possibility of repair.

In a way, that’s the premise behind One Day This Will All Be Yours, that the war to end all wars was a time war, and that all of the combatants – along with the governments and organizations that sent them – lost complete track of what they were fighting for, who sent them, why they were sent, and even, to some extent, who they were, because all of those antecedents had been lost in the continued fracturing and refracturing of time.

The past can’t be changed. Well, it can, but the result is just an increasing level of chaos. Which leads our unnamed and unreliable narrator in the Last Lonely House at the End of Time to his resolve to make sure that no one can ever restart the endless cycling chaos of time travel by sitting in that house with all of the best stuff that he has taken from all the best of all the fractured eras, watching and waiting for any errant time travelers to land their time machines in his backyard.

So he can kill them and prevent the time and place that they came from from ever developing time travel. It’s a lonely job, but this veteran of the Causality War has decided that someone has to do it and that someone is him.

It’s all going just fine until a time machine slips through his net from the one time and place he never expected to receive time travelers, because he believed he’d guaranteed that it would never exist.

They’re from the future. His future. The future he’s sworn to prevent at all costs – although admittedly those costs are mostly to other times, places, and people.

The worst part of this invasion from the future is that his descendants are perky. And determined. Downright compelled to make sure that he creates the future that gives rise to their perky, perfect utopia.

This means war.

Escape Rating A-: The surprising thing about this book, considering that it’s the ultimate post-apocalypse story, is just how much fun it turns out to be. Because in the end, this is a buddy story. It’s an enemies-into-besties story where the protagonists are absolutely determined that it not become an enemies to lovers story.

Because neither of them like the rest of humanity nearly enough to want to make more of it. Especially because that other side wants them to do it – literally – just so damn badly.

So the fun in the story is in the time bonding, as these two misanthropes who are supposed to repopulate the world exercise their determination to just say no, all while having a fantastic time time-tripping through all the best eras that fractured history ever had to offer.

Time travel can be handled any number of ways in fiction, all of them equally valid because we just don’t know – although it’s a fair guess that if humanity ever manages to make it happen we’ll probably screw it up somehow. This story treats history as one big ball that is endlessly mutable – then sits back at the end of the time stream to observe just how badly it’s been mutated.

Another book that did something similar, with more romance and less snark, is last year’s This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I wasn’t as big a fan of Time War as most of my reading circle, however I thought One Day was a really fun read. Last year’s book was less straightforward and more lyrical, while this one tells a similar story with a lot of gallows humor and it just worked better for me.

Also this is a more straightforward story – in spite of the time travel. There’s that fixed point at the end of everything that the characters keep returning to that helps to anchor the story. Any time travel they do together or separately is treated as tourism. Time is so screwed up that while they don’t have to worry about whether or not they change anything, they also aren’t interested in changing anything in particular. If the butterfly flaps its wings differently in the wake of their passing, they’re not going to be affected by it in their little cul-de-sac at the end of time.

But as much fun as this was to read – after all it’s a story about two people at the end of the universe essentially pranking each other into eternity – after all the laughs it’s kind of sad at the end. Because even by not doing the thing – and each other – that they’ve both sworn not to do, the thing they were trying hardest to prevent has happened anyway.

There’s no way to stop it except by starting another one of the thing they vowed to prevent in the first place. Whatever began the original time war, theirs will be powered by, of all things, irony.

Review: The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu

Review: The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. LiuThe Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie M. Liu
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy, horror, short stories
Pages: 256
Published by Tachyon Publications on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestseller and Hugo, British Fantasy, Romantic Times, and Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel, Monstress, Marjorie Liu leads you deep into the heart of the tangled woods. In her long-awaited debut story collection, dark, lush, and spellbinding short fiction you will find unexpected detours, dangerous magic, and even more dangerous women.
“The Tangleroot Palace is charming and ruthless. Tales that feel new yet grounded in the infinitely ancient, a mythology for the coming age.”—Angela Slatter, author of The Bitterwood Bible
“Marjorie Liu is magic! Her writing is passionate, lyric, gritty, and riveting. She belongs high on everyone’s must-read list.”—Elizabeth Lowell, author of Only Mine
Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously-plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of traveling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.
Concluding with a gorgeous full-length novella, Marjorie Liu’s first short fiction collection is an unflinching sojourn into her thorny tales of love, revenge, and new beginnings.

My Review:

I picked this up not for her multiple award-winning Monstress, which I haven’t read yet, but for Dirk & Steele and Hunter’s Kiss, her marvelous urban fantasy/paranormal series that I read when they came out back in the late 2000s. I loved both of those series, but I’m kind of astonished that they came out way more than a decade ago.

But it has been a while, so I was happy to see this collection as a way of renewing my acquaintance with an author I very much loved. And I’m glad I did. There’s even a prequel for Dirk & Steele in this collection, at least if you squint a bit.

My favorite stories in this collection were The Briar and the Rose, Call Her Savage and the title story, The Tangleroot Palace.

The Briar and the Rose takes the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty, adds in a bit of magical possession and body-swapping, and wraps it in a bodyguard romance. Except that this takes place in a world of myth and legend, where an evil sorceress is maintaining her youth and beauty by possessing pretty young women and discarding their corpses. That sorceress is defeated by the love that develops between her female bodyguard and the true personality of the body being possessed in stolen moments when the sorceress sleeps. And it’s a powerful story about just how strong people can be when they have something, or someone to fight beside and to fight for.

Call Her Savage was fascinating because it hints at so much world and such a rich history that we don’t get to see in this story. There’s alternate history and revolution and wars and flawed heroines and politics and lost causes and fighting the long defeat. It reminds me a bit of Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune, but with an alternate 19th or 20th century instead of alternate early history. This is the one I wish there were more of. A lot more.

The Tangleroot Palace was lush and lovely and kind of perfect. On its surface its about a princess who runs away from home to find magic in order to save herself and hopefully save her kingdom from subservience to a brutal warlord. And underneath that it’s a romance about hiding behind masks to protect one’s true self, about the power of illusion and the power of agency. And of course nothing about the warlord or the kingdom or the subservience turns out to be quite what the princess was expecting. But the magic at the heart of the forest is all too real, even if, or especially because, it too is based on an illusion.

Of the rest of the collection, Sympathy for the Bones, Where the Heart Lives and The Last Dignity of Man were interesting and I’m glad I read them but they weren’t quite up there with my faves. After the Blood played with a supernatural/paranormal take on a post-apocalyptic story but didn’t give enough details to really hang together. Not that some characters weren’t hung or otherwise eliminated, but this one felt like it had been done before, and better, elsewhere.

Still and all, I’d have read this for those three favorite stories, and I’m glad I stuck around for the whole thing. It was just the right amount of lovely and romantic and creepy to while awhile a rainy evening with a cat on my lap.

Escape Rating A-: This is a strong collection, filled with stories that grip the heart, ramp up the adrenaline and occasionally wring the tear ducts. They’re not new stories, but they were all new to me, and I got completely wrapped up in every single one. They have the feel of feminist fairy tales, in that all but one of the stories are led by women, and are from mostly female perspectives. So these are heroine’s journeys – and occasionally villainess’ journeys, rather than told from the point of view that such stories are usually told.

Although the one story that is told from a male perspective, The Last Dignity of Man, while it was not among my favorites was one of the most purely lonely stories I have ever read. It was so sad and so heartbreaking and had so much possibility but the monsters, and there certainly were monsters, were more disgusting than scary, not that they weren’t scary too. Still, the idea of someone emulating a supervillain in the hopes that a superhero would arise to thwart them, just like in the comic books, was a great idea that I’d love to see explored more fully with less puking. Seriously.

The Tangleroot Palace reminded me just why I loved this author so much, and has made me resolve to get stuck into Monstress at the earliest opportunity!

Review: Into the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. Green

Review: Into the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. GreenInto the Thinnest of Air (Ishmael Jones, #5) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobok
Genres: horror, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #5
Pages: 167
Published by Severn House Publishers on March 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Dinner at an ancient Cornish inn leads to one baffling disappearance after another in the latest intriguing Ishmael Jones mystery.

"It's just a nice weekend, in a nice country inn. Nothing bad is going to happen ..."
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are attending the re-opening of Tyrone's Castle, an ancient Cornish inn originally built by smugglers. Over dinner that night, the guests entertain one another with ghost stories inspired by local legends and superstitions. But it would appear that the curse of Tyrone's Castle has struck for real when one of their number disappears into thin air. And then another . . .
Is the inn really subject to an ancient curse? Sceptical of ghost stories, Ishmael believes the key to the mystery lies in the present rather than the past. But with no bodies, no evidence and no clues to go on, how can he prove it?

My Review:

There’s a version of Murphy’s Law for adventurers and investigators, and after everything that’s happened to Penny Belcourt since she met Ishmael Jones in the first book in this series, The Dark Side of the Road, she should definitely know better than to invoke it.

(I’ve just realized that Penny is the “final girl” of that story. The concept behind The Final Girl Support Group seems to be a gift that just keeps on giving…)

As this adventure opens, Penny asks her investigative and romantic partner, alien-turned-mostly-human Ishmael Jones, to come with her to a celebratory dinner for some old friends of her late parents that she’s been invited to. In Cornwall. At the restoration of a haunted smuggler’s inn with a bloody history.

Because she wants to spend a quiet, vacation-type weekend with him, doing normal couple things and pretending to be a normal couple, instead of spending all of their weekends at creepy places cleaning up even creepier happenings for their secretive employers, the mysterious “Organization”.

The number of ways that Penny should have known better absolutely beggar the imagination. Penny and Ishmael may be romantically involved, but “normal” just isn’t in either of their wheelhouses.

That the place they are intending to visit has a long and bloody history of murder, smuggling, poisoning, crazy murderers doing what the “Voices” in their head tell them to do, mysterious disappearances and don’t forget the murders is pretty much a guarantee that something about this weekend is going to shift in shape from normal to pear.

And so it proves when the first member of the group disappears into thin air. But that’s only the beginning, as one-by-one every member of the uncomfortable and increasingly frightened party disappears from seemingly plain sight in places where there’s no possible exit – but only when the remaining potential victims are distracted or have their backs briefly turned.

Or when someone is in the loo, with the door, quite naturally, closed.

As the number of “guests” winds down, the speculation ratchets up. Some claim that it must be ghosts, or the spirit of a long-dead murderer still haunting the scene of his crimes. Ishmael is firmly convinced that whatever is happening, there’s a real, live, most likely human agency involved.

After all, a ghost wouldn’t need to get their victims alone in order to whisk them away. Only the living need to hide the evil that they do behind smoke and mirrors.

Unless, of course, they’ve all been played from the very beginning.

Escape Rating B+: Just as the guests disappear into the thinnest of air, that also seemed to be what the plot of this story was made out of. Not that it’s not a fun read, because it certainly was, but this isn’t a big story. Also not a terribly long one, so if you’re looking for just a bit of horror-barely-adjacent urban fantasy-type storytelling with oodles of snark, this entire series might be your jam.

It certainly is mine, especially when the mood for snarkasm strikes.

Part of what makes this particular story one of the “thinner” plots of the series – so far at least – is that all the participants were being extremely obvious that this reunion of old friends – with Penny invited in place of her late father – was absolutely boiling over with long-buried resentments. And that there was a not-very-well-hidden agenda involving Penny herself.

Ishmael’s presence as Penny’s plus-one was neither expected nor desired. The tensions among the group were so obvious and so high that when the disappearances began Ishmael should have been checking every circumstance out for himself. But he wasn’t, and that felt a bit out of character although it was necessary to make the whole thing work.

What was interesting was the ongoing discussion about the difference between “paranormal” and “supernatural”. The participants became increasingly credulous and superstitious as their numbers were reduced. Many of them wanted to believe in a supernatural explanation, because the presence of a ghost would have made them feel better. For slightly weird interpretations of the word – and feeling – better.

There was certainly plenty of bloody history to have created a ghost on the spot – if one believes that ghosts are real. Or if one simply subscribes to the belief that there are no atheists in a foxhole, and that some belief in something was better than nothing.

But Ishmael, who is not exactly human, doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He does, however, believe in the paranormal. In other words, he doesn’t believe in things that science will never be able to explain at all (supernatural) but does believe in things that science can’t explain yet (paranormal). After all, he is one. And he’s met plenty of others.

If you’ve read previous books in this series, it’s obvious from the beginning that the perpetrator is certainly corporeal and most likely human. The trick in this little puzzle is figuring out both who done it and why, and that’s just the kind of puzzle that Ishmael and Penny are best at.

Normal weekends doing normal couple things are totally outside their wheelhouse – but it’s still a lot of fun watching them try. But I expect to see them back to their usual in the next book in the series, Murder in the Dark, the next time I’m looking for a bit of snark served up with my paranormal problem solving!

Review: The Knight’s Tale by M.J. Trow

Review: The Knight’s Tale by M.J. TrowThe Knight's Tale (A Geoffrey Chaucer Mystery #1) by M.J. Trow
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Geoffrey Chaucer #1
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House on August 3, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Introducing 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer as a memorable new amateur sleuth in the first of an ingeniously-conceived medieval mystery series.

April, 1380. About to set off on his annual pilgrimage, Comptroller of the King’s Woollens and court poet Geoffrey Chaucer is forced to abandon his plans following an appeal for help from an old friend. The Duke of Clarence, Chaucer’s former guardian, has been found dead in his bed at his Suffolk castle, his bedroom door locked and bolted from the inside. The man who found him, Sir Richard Glanville, suspects foul play and has asked Chaucer to investigate.

On arrival at Clare Castle, Chaucer finds his childhood home rife with bitter rivalries, ill-advised love affairs and dangerous secrets. As he questions the castle’s inhabitants, it becomes clear that more than one member of the Duke’s household had reason to wish him ill. But who among them is a cold-hearted killer? It’s up to Chaucer, with his sharp wits and eye for detail, to root out the evil within.

My Review:

The Knight’s Tale is the first tale of Geoffrey’s Chaucer’s masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, so it’s fitting that in this historical mystery, Chaucer himself is dragged away from his annual pilgrimage to Canterbury – his inspiration for the Tales – in order to involve himself in a Knight’s Tale of his very own, the first in a projected series that features Chaucer as the amateur “detective” investigating a mysterious death that might be murder.

As the story opens, Chaucer, just hitting 40 and feeling it hit back in more ways than one, finds himself headed to Castle Clare, where he was fostered, instead of on his annual pilgrimage as he had planned. His mentor, rescuer and earliest benefactor, Lionel of Antwerp, the Duke of Clarence, has died under mysterious circumstances. Chaucer’s old friend Sir Richard Glanville has come to fetch Chaucer from London in the hopes that the man will either allay his suspicions of murder or put some meat on their bones.

There are plenty of reasons to suspect foul play, and the late Duke had made more than enough enemies for anyone to wonder if he was sent to his reward a bit earlier than heaven or hell intended. As the oldest surviving son of the late King Edward III, there are also possible political connections and motives in every direction.

But the man died alone, in bed, in a locked room on an upper floor of the castle. No one could have snuck either in or out and left the key on the inside of the lock. It’s a puzzle that Glanville hopes Chaucer can solve – as he has solved other puzzling conundrums before, whether or not murder was involved.

In a world where 21st century forensics – or even the late 19th century forensic science of Sherlock Holmes – will not be invented for centuries, it’s up to Chaucer to use his brains and his gifts for drawing people out and observing their behavior afterwards to figure out first, if there was a crime and second, if so, who committed it.

All while being distracted by his memories of the place he once called home and the love he left behind there.

Escape Rating A-: After yesterday’s book, I found myself searching for something with a straightforward plot. Not that there aren’t plenty of twists and turns and red herrings in mystery, but the genre has features that a reader can always depend on. There’s a body, a detective (however amateur), and a perpetrator with means and motive to uncover. Mystery is, after all, the romance of justice served.

This story also takes place in a period that I’ve always loved, the Plantagenet era in England, so it had the feel of the familiar. Something that still held true even though the author played seriously fast and loose with time and place. But even when I became aware of the historical inconsistencies (that Lionel of Clarence died in Italy in 1368 not England in 1380), is just the tip of that iceberg), the setting and the characters still felt more than correct enough for the whole thing to carry me along as much as I’d hoped it would.

At the same time, it also reminded me very much of two historical mystery series that are set in the same time period and that include Geoffrey Chaucer not as the protagonist but as a secondary character. The Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series (start with Veil of Lies) by Jeri Westerson and the Owen Archer series (start with The Apothecary Rose) by Candace Robb also touch on the politics and court intrigues of the Plantagenet kings and their far flung families, friends, retainers and enemies. Meaning that if you like one of the three series you’ll probably like the others.

Like the other two series I mentioned, this first book in the Geoffrey Chaucer series does an excellent job of putting the reader into the period while managing successfully not to put the reader off by making the historic characters into grand historical personages, even though they were.

Because that’s a view we have looking back. In their own time and place, they were just people, and the story does a great job of humanizing them and making them feel, well, real. It’s not just Chaucer’s brain that’s on display here, but also his nostalgia for his youth and his mourning for its loss, as well as his occasional vain attempts to be the young man he once was. He’s human and funny and sad and sarcastic and occasionally even snarktastic by turns. It makes him a fascinating amateur detective.

One I hope to see more of in future books in this series. After all, The Knight’s Tale was the first of Chaucer’s 24 published Canterbury Tales, so I have high hopes for 23 more books in this series!

Review: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

Review: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, fantasy, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 160
Published by Tordotcom on July 20, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Catherynne M. Valente, the bestselling and award-winning creator of Space Opera and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland returns with The Past is Red, the enchanting, dark, funny, angry story of a girl who made two terrible mistakes: she told the truth and she dared to love the world.The future is blue. Endless blue...except for a few small places that float across the hot, drowned world left behind by long-gone fossil fuel-guzzlers. One of those patches is a magical place called Garbagetown.
Tetley Abednego is the most beloved girl in Garbagetown, but she's the only one who knows it. She's the only one who knows a lot of things: that Garbagetown is the most wonderful place in the world, that it's full of hope, that you can love someone and 66% hate them all at the same time.
But Earth is a terrible mess, hope is a fragile thing, and a lot of people are very angry with her. Then Tetley discovers a new friend, a terrible secret, and more to her world than she ever expected.

My Review:

If you threw Remote Control, Station Eleven, Wall-E, and the latest report from Climate Central about how sea levels will rise by 2050 to put major coastal cities around the world underwater (that last bit is completely real) into a blender and spread the resulting gumbo on top of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also real) as fertilizer, you’d get the makings of a myth.

The Past is Red is one plausible result of that mélange, a story about humanity’s survival in a post-apocalyptic world that makes Noah’s flood seem both true and tame.

It’s also possible to see this as a story about, as the saying goes, Mother Nature getting to bat last, while as she swings for the underwater fences her bat comes around and whacks one person in the head, over and over again.

Our perspective on this completely FUBAR’d world is Tetley Abednego, possibly the only truly happy resident of Garbagetown. She loves Garbagetown and believes it’s the best place that ever was or ever will be, which is why she’s the person Ma Nature, along with all of Tetley’s Garbagetown neighbors, is constantly whacking in the head with that bat.

They’re all allowed. It’s the law. Because Tetley destroyed their dreams with a bomb, instead of letting them all destroy themselves in an energy wasting but fruitless quest for dry land that no longer exists – except in Garbagetown.

This is the story of how things got that way. And what happened after.

Escape Rating B: One the one hand, this is a very small book. On the other, it’s filled with some very big ideas. It’s easy to read it as a kind of fable, about a crazy future where all that’s left is garbage and people manage to not just survive but actually thrive anyway.

And it’s the story of one young woman who appreciates what she has and sees her world for the treasure that it is, no matter how much most people punish her for her perspective. Because Tetley doesn’t envy the Fuckwits who had too much of everything and literally drowned their world because of it.

By the way, those Fuckwits are unquestionably us. The problem for Tetley is that most people DO envy us and wish that they could BE us and feel like they were cheated because they are not us.

One way of looking at this story is the adaptation – which is fascinating. Because the residents of Garbagetown are both living on and living off all the stuff that we, right now, are throwing away as garbage. And they’re doing surprisingly well.

Although they’ve made Oscar the Grouch, living in a garbage can, into a patron saint if not an outright deity. Which makes complete sense and is kind of mind-blowing at the same time.

After finishing, The Past is Red is a much harder story to wrap one’s head around than one might think. It lingers. Because it says things about our culture of consumption, and it says things about privilege, and what it says sticks in the mind because they are wrapped in what feels like a myth.

And I’m forcibly reminded of something from Sherri S. Tepper’s Beauty, the idea that, because of the mess that human beings have made/are making of the climate, the environment and even the planet, that in the environmental sense, the 1960s were the planet’s “last good time”. It feels like Tetley and Garbagetown are the inheritors of not changing course when we had the chance.

(Although the 1960s were far from universally good, and exactly which decade was the last chance to change course is open to plenty of debate, the concept has stuck in my head for decades and feels truer in principle every damn year.)

This has ended up being a mixed feelings kind of book. The language this myth is told in is beautiful and evocative. The wordsmithing of every single sentence is just lovely. Tetley’s own story is touching and heartbreaking, a story of someone who has so much hope and sees things so clearly but so much the opposite to those around her, and is punished for it.

But the way the story is told is not linear. We see Tetley in her present, and then how she got that way, and then see her later in her life, and how she got there, with occasional daydreams of what should have been but wasn’t mixed in. It all added to the mythical feel of the story, but also made it lose a bit of clarity.

That this is actually two novellas, The Future is Blue and The Past is Red combined into a single volume adds a bit to that nonlinearity – which I didn’t know when I began. But you should so you don’t go hunting for The Future is Blue when you have it right here.

Because Tetley’s story, is definitely worth a read. As well as being just a bit of a mind game. Because it isn’t just the past that is red, in a head-spinning way, the future is, too.

Review: Questland by Carrie Vaughn

Review: Questland by Carrie VaughnQuestland by Carrie Vaughn
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, fantasy, science fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Mariner Books on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Questland is a thrill ride…Richly imagined, action-packed, maximum fun." —Charles Yu, New York Times bestselling author of Interior Chinatown
YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A MAZE FULL OF TWISTY PASSAGES...   Literature professor Dr. Addie Cox is living a happy, if sheltered, life in her ivory tower when Harris Lang, the famously eccentric billionaire tech genius, offers her an unusual job. He wants her to guide a mercenary strike team sent to infiltrate his island retreat off the northwest coast of the United States. Addie is puzzled by her role on the mission until she understands what Lang has built:  Insula Mirabilis, an isolated resort where tourists will one day pay big bucks for a convincing, high-tech-powered fantasy-world experience, complete with dragons, unicorns, and, yes, magic.   Unfortunately, one of the island's employees has gone rogue and activated an invisible force shield that has cut off all outside communication. A Coast Guard cutter attempting to pass through the shield has been destroyed. Suspicion rests on Dominic Brand, the project’s head designer— and Addie Cox's ex-boyfriend. Lang has tasked Addie and the mercenary team with taking back control of the island at any cost.   But Addie is wrestling demons of her own—and not the fantastical kind. Now, she must navigate the deadly traps of Insula Mirabilis as well as her own past trauma. And no d20, however lucky, can help Addie make this saving throw.
“Gamers rejoice! Carrie Vaughn has conjured up a fun and fast-paced story filled with elves, d20s, and Monty Python riffs.”—Monte Cook, ENnie Award-winning creator of the Numenera roleplaying game

My Review:

If you’re a fan in the real world, it’s possible (again) to go to Hobbiton and visit a bit of the Shire. All you have to do is go to New Zealand, where they’ve turned the movie sets from the Lord of the Rings into a tourist attraction.

You may be able to see the sights, but you can’t actually insert yourself into the story except in your own head. You can eat a meal but you can’t spend the night. The immersion can only go so far.

But if that description makes your head spin with possibilities, you’re not alone. And that’s what the original project to build Insula Mirabilis was all about. Creating a place where well-heeled travelers could spend days or weeks not just observing a fantasy world but actually living it.

Complete with mythical creatures – like unicorns and wargs – running around and occasionally even running from each other. And there would be magic – at least in the Arthur C. Clarke sense of “any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from.”

All in the service of allowing people to live out their dreams of living in a fantasy world. At least for a little while.

But the problem with fantasy worlds is the same problem that exists with the real world. Humans do have a way of messing up even the best things – perhaps especially the best things – in ways that their designers never expected.

Or did they?

A rich tech wizard has created Insula Mirabilis to provide as many dreamers and geeks and nerds and LARPers and members of SCA as possible a place to live their dreams by paying him big bucks for the privilege. But the real purpose is for his crack engineering teams to rise to greater and greater inventive heights, providing him with lots of patents and trademarks and even more ways to make even more money.

But it’s all gone wrong. Or at least it looks that way. The island has cut itself off from the rest of the world with some kind of forcefield. Nothing going out – not even telecommunication – and nothing and no one going in, something that the Coast Guard has discovered to their loss.

Harris Lang, that rich tech wizard, has put together a team to sneak into his island and get it back for him. The team consists of four mercenaries and one very much out of her depth literature professor.

But Addie Cox has all the tools they need to figure out what went wrong and why. She’s an expert on the original sources that form the backbone of epic fantasy. She’s an avid player of D&D and a member of SCA.

Addie’s geek credentials aren’t the only thing she has going for her – and they’re not the only thing that Harris Lang is counting on, either. Because he’s planned much better than that. Addie is his ace in the hole, because Lang is pretty certain that the engineer who has gone rogue on HIS island is Addie’s ex-boyfriend.

And that the man will be unable to resist trying to impress Addie in the hopes of getting her back.

Escape Rating A-: This story feels like it exists on two levels. On the surface, there’s, well, the surface. Which is an adventure tale about exploring the island resort in order to figure out what’s gone wrong.

And on the other level, the story is one gigantic in-joke. If you love epic fantasy and role-playing games and everything that goes along with them, you’ll get the joke and enjoy the story. If you don’t, I’m not sure whether the story is strong enough to carry the reader over. I can’t tell because this is a joke that I very definitely got, as epic fantasy has formed a pretty big share of my reading since I first picked up The Hobbit. When I was 8. In OMG 1965. That’s a long time in which to read a lot of fantasy.

Which means that I had a great time in Questland. But I felt like I got all the in-jokes, and understood all the references. And kept thinking up more as I went along.

This turned out to be a story where I kept discovering more and more books and movies that it reminded me of the longer I got into it. Like one or two on every page. A lot of people are going to say Ready Player One because they share that nostalgia factor, but that didn’t feel like the primary influence to me. For that to work, James Halliday would have to have been the founder of Innovative Online Industries. In other words, the inventing genius would also have to be kind of evil.

It’s a lot more like Westworld in that the resort, which is also the gamespace, is mostly a work of mechanical engineering rather than the genetic engineering of Jurassic Park. Although the two books that Questland made me think of way more than anything else are both rather obscure, Sherri Tepper’s first novel King’s Blood Four, where the game is the world is the game, and Jean Johnson’s The Tower, where the protagonists are playing a live action role-playing game as entertainment for others – with very high stakes.

Your reading mileage may definitely vary, and there are hints of plenty of other books, games and movies if you squint a bit.

But at the center of it all is Addie Cox. While the mercenary team that takes her to the island does all of the physical heavy lifting on the trip, Addie is the one carrying all of the emotional baggage. Not just because the rogue wizard at the heart of the maze is her ex, but because Addie is the survivor of a school shooting. (She’d fit right in with The Final Girl Support Group). Traveling with a bunch of mercenaries with guns is way outside what comfort zone Addie has left.

That the team makes it clear that they think she’s useless does not help any of her issues, because she agrees with that assessment. The way that she refers to her uselessness is one of many, many references to Dungeons and Dragons and lots of other geekery.

That the story is her journey, her putting all of her knowledge to use to not just figure out the puzzle but also suss out who the monster is at the heart of this maze helps Addie change her perception of herself from being an unskilled and useless “Bard” character to become someone skillful and important and necessary for the quest, no matter what part she seems to play.

So come to Questland for the nostalgic geekery, but stay and enjoy for the very human story.

Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine GuilloryWhile We Were Dating (The Wedding Date, #6) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Wedding Date #6
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on July 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two people realize that it's no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.
Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he's trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it's hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she's also down to earth and considerate, and he can't help flirting a little...
Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she's booked her next movie. However, she didn't expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?
But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they've barely shared with those closest to them.
When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna's life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?

My Review:

Once upon a time in 2018 there was a book titled The Wedding Date. I picked it up on a whim. Honestly. I was looking for something happy and I got an offer for an advanced copy at just the right time. That was one of the best whims I ever indulged in, because that book was just an awesomely lovely and damn near perfect romance.

Fast forward three occasionally rather strange years and that wedding date has turned into an entire series that wraps itself around the friends of that original couple, and their friends and family, and hopefully and so on, discovering their own HEAs.

Quite often through either a meet-terribly-cute or a fake date or fake romance or some combination of all of the above. And this entry in the series is no exception.

Junior Advertising Executive Ben Stephens meets Oscar-nominated actress Anna Gardiner in what could best be described as a meet-cute professional edition. He’s supposed to be part of the team – meaning sitting at the table to represent diversity without being permitted to say anything – for an extremely important presentation to a big tech firm that plans to advertise their new smartphone as a lifestyle accessory. She’s the “talent”, the actress who will star in the commercials. Her contract gives her veto power over the campaign that no one seriously expects her to exercise.

But all his bosses are stuck at the airport, so he and an even more junior assistant are supposed to make the presentation they honestly created, all by themselves, at least until their corporate bigwigs finally show up. Anna is both wowed and charmed by Ben, and pleased as punch to see him take that unexpected chance and shoot for the win.

That all of the companies that present after him pull the same stunt that his intended to pull, bringing along an employee of color to fake diversity without letting them actually do anything puts Ben and his company ahead of the pack – even if it happened by accident.

But Anna, who knows first hand what it’s like to be picked second or third for a part because the powers that be just can’t believe that a black actress will have the same universal appeal as a white one, also knows how things work. So she firmly puts her vetoing foot down and says that she’ll  do the commercials only with Ben’s company and only if Ben gets to be the lead on the project.

It’s a win-win-win from the very first day of production. But the sparks that Anna and Ben ignite behind the camera have the potential to cause them both no end of trouble – if they can’t resist indulging in them.

Both know that it’s bad policy to get involved with someone at work – or with someone they are working with – even on a temporary basis. Both have professional plans and goals that have the potential to be seriously derailed if they take their eyes off the prize they are seeking. Both of them have traumatic secrets in their pasts that they are afraid to share with anyone except their therapists. And they are both equally afraid of sharing that they even HAVE therapists because neither of them is in a position where they can appear weak. Ever.

When a family crisis pushes Anna into relying on Ben for a quick getaway and a long drive to reassure her that whatever put her beloved dad into the hospital this time isn’t serious, Ben and Anna let their walls come down much further than they ever intended.

And neither of them is able to put those walls back up. No matter how hard they try. Not even when Anna’s manager convinces her to pretend they’re faking it – to the point where they almost believe it themselves.

Escape Rating A-: My two absolute favorite books in this series are the first book, The Wedding Date, and the 4th book, Royal Holiday. But I’ve enjoyed every single book in the series because these are romcoms for readers who don’t necessarily love romcoms. The issues that arise between every couple in the series feel real, feel part and parcel of their personalities and their situation. There are no misunderstandammits here. What goes wrong is not something that could be resolved with a simple conversation because it goes much too deep for the solution to be nearly that easy.

Howsomever, unlike the first three books which take place almost simultaneously, the most recent books in the series stand very much alone. Not that there aren’t recurring characters – Ben’s brother was one of the members of The Wedding Party, after all. But it’s not necessary to know Theo from the earlier book to enjoy his cameo here. Especially the part where Ben and Theo are carrying a suitcase full of giggling actress.

As much as I enjoyed reading While We Were Dating – because I was really looking for a happy place and certainly found it here – it felt like I’d read bits of this story before – and relatively recently at that. I think if you put You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria, Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert and Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai into a plot blender the resulting story would have most of the elements of While We Were Dating.

Since I loved all three of those books, it’s not exactly a surprise that I’d enjoy something that blended the three of them. And if you liked any of those or any of the previous books in the Wedding Date series you’ll probably like the others too. Just in case you’re looking for something fun and happy to read like I was.

Back when I first read The Wedding Date I loved the hell out of it but never expected it to turn into a series. But every single follow-up to that first marvelous book has been a great big ball of fun, so I sincerely hope that there are more books on the horizon. For reasons that will be plenty clear if you read While We Were Dating, I would LOVE to see Anna’s manager get his romantic comeuppance. Even the Tin Man eventually got a heart..

Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady HendrixThe Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on July 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires.
In horror movies, the final girl is the one who's left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?
Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she's not alone. For more than a decade she's been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette's worst fears are realized--someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.
But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

My Review:

Whew! This was an extremely compelling, one-sitting kind of read. I’m not going to say I enjoyed it, because honestly, joy is an emotion that doesn’t get anywhere near this book. But I was certainly fascinated, to the point where I couldn’t stop until I got to the end.

And then I had to go to my happy place for a while to get over the whole experience.

This doesn’t exactly take place in the real world. But it’s close enough to make some really disturbing parallels. Because this is a story that begins with the premise that all of those teenage slasher movies are based on real people’s real stories which have been adapted and exploited for sensationalism and especially for cash..

Which means that the girl – and it’s usually a girl – who survives and kills the monster is a real person who has been violated first by the monster and second by the sexualization of violence against women and third by the system and fourth by all the sick fans and sicker media – is also a real person.

A young woman who has to live her life after all the horrible things that have happened to her with one hell of a case of PTSD. It’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you, and someone really is out to get all of these women – even before the members of their support group start getting killed, one after another, in VERY rapid succession.

One of those women, one of those survivors, is on the run, desperately trying to keep her shit together and searching for the person who really is out to get all of them. Each twist of the plot is like a turn of the screw for Lynnette Tarkington, as she escapes from custody, alienates all of her friends, and accuses one member of the support group after another as she works her way through her own psychoses along with a breadcrumb trail of clues that is designed to make her look even more crazy than she is. Right before the monster at the heart of this web finally ends her story.

Unless she ends theirs.

Escape Rating B+: I’m not a horror reader, so I wasn’t expecting to get as involved in this as I did. I also started it with more than a bit of an approach/avoidance conundrum, because not only am I not a horror reader, but I think I was the only person in my reading circle that did not absolutely adore the author’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires last year. I went into this one with concerns that the same issues that tripped me up in that book would appear again.

That certainly did not happen. This time, the point-of-view character, the not really a Final Girl Lynnette Tarkington really worked for me as a perspective. Her head may have been a really messed up place to be, but it was messed up in a way that felt consistent for her story and her experience. I felt for her even as I was grateful not to be her.

(She kind of reminded me of Linda Hamilton’s character at the beginning of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, all alone and prepping obsessively for a doomsday that she is certain is going to come to pass even if no one else is. And of course her fears are justified, just as Lynnette’s are.)

But the story here mixes its slasher sequel plot of the endless parade of descendants, copycats and slavish fans of the original monster returning to kill the one that got away, over and over again, with a commentary on the sexualization and fetishization of violence against women in a way that is not even subtext, but is actual text underpinning the story. (I certainly  saw it as text, but I’m sure people who want to ignore the entire sick, ugly business will either see it as subtle subtext or not see it at all.)

And that’s what disturbed me the most in reading this. While Lynnette comes off as a slightly crazed and increasingly desperate woman, she turns out to be the hero of this story – even though someone is trying to victimize her yet again. That’s what kept me reading through every twist and turn and walk through the valley of the shadow of nightmare. I wanted to see her not just survive, but win – and I was so afraid so often that she wouldn’t.

So I didn’t enjoy this at all, but I felt compelled to keep turning pages and finish. There was absolutely no way this had a happy ending, but I was hoping for catharsis. And I can say that the ending turned out to be relief, release and redemption all rolled into one slightly crazed ball.

I may not have exactly enjoyed this book, but my cats certainly did. I sat still for most of three hours, and they were all overjoyed that I was providing them a warm lap to nap in. I was just glad of their comfort.

Review: Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Review: Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose ClarkeShadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Pages: 304
Published by Pocket Books on July 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An original novel based on the acclaimed Star Trek TV series!
The USS Enterprise has been granted the simple but unavoidable honor of ferrying key guests to Betazed for a cultural ceremony. En route, sudden tragedy strikes a Federation science station on the isolated planet Kota, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard has no qualms sending William Riker, Data, and Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher to investigate. But what begins as routine assignments for the two parties soon descends into chaos: Picard, Worf, and Deanna Troi must grapple with a dangerous diplomatic crisis as historic artifacts are stolen in the middle of a high-profile ceremony…while nothing is as it seems on Kota. A mounting medical emergency coupled with the science station’s failing technology—and no hope of rescue—has Doctor Crusher racing against time to solve a disturbing mystery threatening the lives of all her colleagues….

My Review:

This caught my eye for a number of reasons. I was more than a bit surprised to see it pop up on Edelweiss, because the Star Trek media tie-in books in general don’t make many appearances on either Edelweiss or NetGalley. After all, the audience for them is built in, to the point where reviews probably don’t make much difference.

But it kept calling my name because it filled a bunch of niches in my reading brain. I was looking for something SFnal after the excellence of A Psalm for the Wild-Built and Project Hail Mary last week. I’m still in the mood for competence porn, and Trek fiction at its best has always scratched that particular itch. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, whether or not there’s a “bloody A, B, C or D” or even E in the name, have always been the best of the best.

This is a world I could sink into from the very first page. I’ve known this place and these people for a long, long time, after all. And the title was intriguing because there’s a long history of Trek borrowing from Shakespeare, going all the way back to the 9th episode of the 1st season of the Original Series, whose title, “Dagger of the Mind” comes straight out of Macbeth.

So the copy of The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works that Jean-Luc Picard keeps in his quarters, or the still ironic reference to not having “experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon” are far from the first times that the Bard has been referenced in Trek.

The 1960s assumption that if Shakespeare was still being performed and read 350 years after his death that he would still be considered a classic another 350 years in the future – when the Original Series was set – still seems like a good bet.

All of the above is a long way of saying that I got trapped into this story for the title, which is, as you might have already guessed or remembered, a quote from Shakespeare, specifically from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended…” I found myself wondering what the quote, or the context of the original play, might have to do with this particular story. So here we are. And that, I think, relates to another Shakespeare quote, this one from The Tempest.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

And doesn’t that require a bit more explanation?

Very much like one of the episodes of any and all of the Trek series, there’s an A plot and a B plot in Shadows Have Offended. Sometimes they did plot and subplot, but I’m not sure that either plot here is subordinate to the other.

The A plot follows Picard at a diplomatic function on Betazed. Picard may be an excellent diplomat, but the pomp and ceremony that is a huge part of the Betazed culture leaves him totally cold – although the Betazed Ambassador Lwaxana Troi does her best to warm him up by embarrassment as she’s been completely unsuccessful at every other method she’s tries – and she’s tried them ALL.

Lwaxana ropes Picard into participating in the ceremony, while she gets to watch her daughter, the Enterprise’ ship’s counselor Deanna Troi, while she attempts to figure out if Deanna and Worf are in a relationship or not.

But the ceremony goes haywire when the cultural artifacts that are scheduled to be displayed are stolen, leaving Picard on Betazed attempting to calm the agitated diplomatic horde while the Enterprise goes off to catch the rather surprising thief.

The B plot is where the title quote comes into play. On the way to Betazed, the Enterprise dropped Commander Riker, Doctor Crusher, Data and a couple of scientifically inclined junior officers on a planet that is being evaluated for a new colony. Glitches have arisen at the last stage of the evaluation so the scientists on station have requested more hands on their rather sandy deck to see if they can resolve the remaining issues and sign off on the colonization effort.

Picard’s part of the story feels lighthearted throughout. Not that the stolen cultural artifacts are not important, not that the diplomatic mission he’s been roped into isn’t necessary, but no one – except possibly the thief – is going to die on this unexpected mission. There will be a lot of hot tempers, there’s a lot of potential political fallout but the stakes always feel a bit small – at least relative to Riker and Crusher’s mission.

Because the colony that needs to be signed off on is for a large group of refugees whose planet has been wiped out. They have no home and need one rather desperately. But the glitches aren’t just minor glitches, and the more the newly expanded group looks into them, the more desperate things get.

Either the planet is trying to communicate with them, or the planet is trying to kill them. And it might succeed at the latter if someone doesn’t figure out the former before their shelter is destroyed, and their equipment, including the food replicators and communications, have ceased to function. There are no ships currently available to rescue them, so they are on their own with a dwindling supply of food and a group of people who keep passing out and screaming. Including the android Data.

It’s up to Crusher to figure out what is making both the people and the equipment “sick” before it makes them all dead. And that’s where the Shakespearean references become all too relevant.

Escape Rating B: It’s difficult to review this, not because I didn’t enjoy it but because I’m part of its built-in audience. It doesn’t reach beyond those of us who love Trek and want to dip back into it again. In that, it succeeds admirably as it feels like reading an episode. The entire thing painted itself in my brain without a single hitch. If that’s what you’re looking for, and I kind of was, it does its job very well. If you’re looking for more general SF, I highly recommend Project Hail Mary, which is sort of how I got here in the first place!

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 476
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission--and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn't know that. He can't even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he's been asleep for a very, very long time. And he's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that's been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it's up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian--while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

My Review:

Project Hail Mary is, quite possibly, the ultimate in competence porn stories. Or at least the best such book since The Martian, also, of course, by the same author.

I sense a theme here.

In order to enjoy Project Hail Mary, I think that the reader has to really like stories about people who are good at their jobs demonstrating exactly how good they are, which is the essence of competence porn. (If you prefer watching people flounder, fail and screw up, this is not your book.)

It also feels like it’s absolutely necessary for a reader to like science in order to really get suck in this story. I don’t think one has to be an expert – I’m certainly not and I loved the heck out of this – but the reader has to enjoy reading about science and engineering and discovery and believe that science is real and that it can provide real and verifiable solutions to real problems.

But expertise is not required because a lot of the story is about a scientist and an engineer teaching each other how their specialties work, and how both of their extremely different cultures work, so that they can work together on sciencing the shit out of the problem that is staring both of them in the face.

That teaching aspect – very much the way that Sophie’s World “taught” people about philosophy by telling stories about it – turned out to not just be a fascinating way of telling the story but also way more appropriate and resonant than I was expecting at the beginning.

This is a story with two beginnings. It begins with a man waking up from a coma, chased and coddled by giant robot arms, not knowing who he is or how he got to be in the fix he’s currently in.

And it begins several years in the past, when humanity learns that the sun, our sun, is cooling off, not just measurably but rapidly, and that we have a mere 30 years to fix the problem before Earth faces its “sixth extinction” and takes us with it.

As the two storylines catch up to each other, and the man waking up from the coma remembers how he got stuck with the job of fixing what’s wrong with the sun, leading him to waking up in a tiny spaceship cruising in the Tau Ceti system, along with two dead teammates and a ship full of scientific instruments, we get caught up and caught up in the past and the present of Dr. Ryland Grace, humanity’s last, best hope for survival.

Even if he won’t live to see it.

Escape Rating A+: I pulled this book out of the middle of the towering TBR pile because I’m in the middle of a replay of Mass Effect: Andromeda and was looking for something SFnal to read to go along with my playthrough.

And this book has been recommended to the skies (ha-ha) so it seemed like a good choice. I had no idea that the opening scenes of Project Hail Mary were going to bear such a strong resemblance to the opening scenes of the game, waking up from a coma and trying to figure out which end is up in a situation that has gone even more pear-shaped than it was when the protagonist went to sleep.

Ryland Grace is in a much bigger fix than Pathfinder Ryder and the Andromeda Initiative, but comparisons can definitely be drawn.

Howsomever, the stories that Project Hail Mary most resembles, beyond any obvious similarities to The Martian – which I’ve seen but not read and clearly need to read – are Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series (start with The Calculating Stars) and Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught, If Fortunate.

The Lady Astronaut series also features an Earth that is facing an extinction-level event and a desperate international effort to save the species before the planet kills us. (There’s also a surprising bit of a resemblance to some of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series in the way that the leader of Project Hail Mary cuts through bureaucratic red tape with a machete!) To Be Taught features a similar story about a tiny crew doing good science and facing seemingly impossible odds for a home that can never be theirs again, so poignantly similar to Ryland Grace’s situation.

But the surprising difference, and the absolute charm of Project Hail Mary is that Grace does not, after all, face his situation alone, even though he’s the only surviving human on his tiny ship. Twelve light-years from home, Ryland Grace finds a kindred spirit in the place he absolutely least expected, against all the odds.

The heart and soul of Project Hail Mary is not about the plucky human scientist saving the day. It’s about a human scientist and an Erid engineer, who can’t even breathe each other’s air, reaching out to each other using the only language they have in common, the language of science.  Because it’s going to take both of them and every ounce of ingenuity they both possess to save both of their worlds.

So this story that started out as a science and engineering story still turns out to be about the beauty of science – but at its heart it’s about finding friendship in the most unlikely place of all.

And that’s beautiful – right up to and including the ending which gave me the sniffles. It was just a bit bittersweet and so very, very right.