Review: And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin

Review: And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm DevlinAnd Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: dystopian, horror, post apocalyptic
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on April 12, 2022
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In the tradition of Mira Grant and Stephen Graham Jones, Malcolm Devlin’s And Then I Woke Up is a creepy, layered, literary story about false narratives and their ability to divide us.
"A scathing portrait of the world we live in and a running commentary on what’s story, what’s truth, and what’s not."—Stephen Graham Jones

In a world reeling from an unusual plague, monsters lurk in the streets while terrified survivors arm themselves and roam the countryside in packs. Or perhaps something very different is happening. When a disease affects how reality is perceived, it’s hard to be certain of anything…
Spence is one of the “cured” living at the Ironside rehabilitation facility. Haunted by guilt, he refuses to face the changed world until a new inmate challenges him to help her find her old crew. But if he can’t tell the truth from the lies, how will he know if he has earned the redemption he dreams of? How will he know he hasn’t just made things worse?

My Review:

“How long a minute is depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on,” or so goes one very old joke about the theory of the relativity of time. Which may not exactly reflect what Einstein was thinking, but it is still unarguably true. That “minute” takes a lot longer if you’re the one on the outside of the door holding it in than if you’re the one on the inside of the door letting it out.

And the measurement of those 60 seconds can still take the same amount of objective time while still seeming to be of different duration on the opposite sides of that door.

But what happens to objective “truth” when truth becomes so mutable that all perspectives are considered equal? This may not be of earth-shattering importance when it’s a question of whether a particular dress is blue and black or white and gold. But when the differing perspectives revolve around an issue of even middling importance, such as the size of the crowd at a particular presidential inauguration, or something larger and more fundamental, such as whether an ‘impromptu’ event in the U.S. Capitol was a peaceful demonstration or an attempted coup, those differences of “opinion” can be crucial. And the tribalism that lies behind them can make those perspectives impossible to change.

To put it another way, the way that Jonathan Swift put it, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” There’s also a version from Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

And Then I Woke Up is a story about what happens when all truths are created equal, when every perspective on every issue is considered equally valid. To the point where the concept of any objective truth is under attack by what one side considers to be the barbarians at the gate and vice versa.

To the point when those who oppose us not only look and sound like monsters, but they become actual, rotting, shambling, tear out our throats and feast on our flesh murdering creatures so terrible that the ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in and we fight.

It’s a nightmare scenario, when our friends and loved ones don’t just turn on us, but turn into monsters by doing so.

Unless it isn’t that at all. Unless we’re sick and they’re doing their best to keep us from infecting them.

Or the other way around.

Escape Rating B+: I’ll admit that I wanted an unequivocal ending to this, where the point-of-view character does finally wake up, take the red pill or the blue pill, and learn what is real. The frightening thing about this story is that what is real depends so much upon our own perspectives. Those on one side see monsters in anyone who opposes them, and those on the other see sick people who can’t accept what seems like the truth of their circumstances or the way the world really works.

And I’m trying not to assign value to either side of that equation, because that’s the whole point of the story. That what we believe becomes our truth – whichever side of whatever divide we are currently on.

The point is hammered home with the way that the plague seems to work, at least as defined by one side of this divide. It’s that some people have so much charisma, are so invested in their own beliefs in their own side, that they sway followers into their perception of what the “truth”, the true narrative, really is.

What stuck in my mind after I turned the last page was the question of which side truth was really on? Are the ones who saw monsters and killed them the ones with the right answer? Or is it the side who finally tried to sway the “monster-killers” with isolation, compassion and sanitized news?

Because that divide, plague-driven or not, seems like it is headed this way at breakneck speed. And there are way more people pouring fuel on that fire than there are trying to find a way to divert the coming conflagration.

Which is the part that scares me most of all. Because as much as I wish I KNEW, in the context of the story at least, it feels true – if not very comfortable in the least – that the main character doesn’t. And neither do we.

Review: The Starless Crown by James Rollins

Review: The Starless Crown by James RollinsThe Starless Crown (Moon Fall, #1) by James Rollins
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, fantasy, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Series: Moon Fall #1
Pages: 560
Length: 22 hours and 5 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tor Books on January 4, 2022
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An alliance embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the secrets of the distant past and save their world in this captivating, deeply visionary adventure from number-one 'New York Times' best-selling thriller-master James Rollins.
A gifted student foretells an apocalypse. Her reward is a sentence of death.
Fleeing into the unknown, she is drawn into a team of outcasts:
A broken soldier, who once again takes up the weapons he's forbidden to wield and carves a trail back home.
A drunken prince, who steps out from his beloved brother's shadow and claims a purpose of his own.
An imprisoned thief, who escapes the crushing dark and discovers a gleaming artifact - one that will ignite a power struggle across the globe.
On the run, hunted by enemies old and new, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive in a world evolved in strange, beautiful, and deadly ways, and uncover ancient secrets that hold the key to their salvation.
But with each passing moment doom draws closer.
Who will claim the starless crown?
A Macmillan Audio Audio production from Tor Books
©2022 James Rollins (P)2022 Macmillan Audio

My Review:

“A fake fortune teller can be tolerated. But an authentic soothsayer should be shot on sight. Cassandra did not get half the kicking around she deserved.” At least according to Robert A. Heinlein in The Notebooks of Lazarus Long.

From that perspective, The Starless Crown is the story of Nyx, the authentic soothsayer – not that she would think of herself as such – receiving the full force of that kicking around. Deserved or not.

Definitely not – at least not in regards to anything that she personally has done. Not that she’s had a chance to do all that much when the story begins – as she seems to be just fifteen or thereabouts.

We meet her in school, in her astronomy class, as they study their “Urth’s” tidally locked rotation around the sun. A sun which they all refer to as the “Father Above,” the capital letters implied in the reverent way they speak of it. The Father Above is part of their pantheon of gods, along with the Mother Below (the Urth), the dark Daughter (the new moon) and the silvery Son (the full moon).

A catastrophe, shrouded in the mists of time, created the Urth that Nyx knows from the Earth that we now live on, locking our rotating world in a fixed position relative to the sun, so that only a relatively narrow circle is habitable for humans, in that relatively thin slice where the sun does not boil and its lack does not freeze. A circle that surrounds the Urth in just the same way that a crown surrounds the head of a monarch.

The story of The Starless Crown is Nyx’ story, as she breaks free of the shell she has been enclosed by her entire life. A story where she dreams of the destruction of her world – and the one thin chance where she might save something from the inevitable wreckage.

At a cost much higher than anyone is willing to pay.

Escape Rating A-: I listened to The Starless Crown from beginning to end. I enjoyed the listening – the narrator was very good and did an excellent job of differentiating the many, many voices of this story’s large cast.

At the same time, I didn’t feel compelled to finish it more quickly, so I didn’t pick up the ebook at all. The slower pace of listening worked better for me, because this is a slow burn kind of story. It takes a lot of chapters to get all the characters set up because they begin in far different locations under far different circumstances. We are seeing the plot come together from a great many disparate eyes.

And it takes a long time for all of those disparate – and sometimes desperate – parts to come together into the whole that is going to push this saga forward.

Part of my fascination with this story is that this is post-apocalyptic story that takes place in the far aftermath – an aftermath so far into the future that the people living it no longer recognize from whence they came – although we do.

Not that civilization as we know it wouldn’t break down and reform fairly quickly, messily and bloodily. In that sense it reminds me a bit of Aldiss’ Helliconia Trilogy, Stirling’s Emberverse starting with Dies the Fire, and the videogame Horizon Zero Dawn.

But the way the situation has evolved and devolved posits a corollary or an antonym to Clarke’s Law, the one that goes, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Starless Crown is an example of something I’d want to call Harris’ Permutation if I were the person naming such things. Because this story is an example of a different principle, that “Any science sufficiently muddied by time or religious claptrap is indistinguishable from magic.”

They don’t know what they don’t know. Too much was lost in either the initial cataclysm or the long dark night that inevitably followed. What they’ve managed to find is now interpreted through a lens of religion, to which what we call science has become enslaved. And some of its methods are used to enslave others.

This is also a story of “Mother Nature bats last”. Whatever happened in the past that created the tidal lock, the coming moon fall feels like its inevitable result. The moon controls the tides. It can’t. So it keeps getting closer in order to try harder. Or something like that.

So we have a group that is not unlike the Fellowship of the Ring. A young seeress, a disgraced prince, a thief, an escaped slave, a living statue from the distant past on a quest to save their world – even if they don’t know it yet.

Arrayed against them are the forces of the powers that be. They’re not all evil, although some of them very much are. Some of them are willfully blind and some of them are just blind. There’s a lot of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, but there’s a fair bit of “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

But the villains are fascinatingly – if occasionally stomach turning-ly – twisted, the heroes are plucky to the max and the escapes are nail-biting, hair-raising, edge of the seat last minute scrapes. The reveal of the past, the fear in the present and the desperate hope of even a fractured future are handled in lush descriptions and buckets of regrets, recriminations and tears.

I have no idea how this band of misfits is going to get themselves and their world out of the mess they are in, but I look forward to finding out.

Review: Cyber Mage by Saad Z. Hossain

Review: Cyber Mage by Saad Z. HossainCyber Mage by Saad Hossain
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: climate fiction, cyberpunk, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 288
Published by The Unnamed Press on December 7, 2021
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Welcome to Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2089. A city notorious for its extreme population density has found an unexpected way to not just survive a global climate apocalypse, but thrive: pump enough biological nanotech into the neighborhood and all of the bodies together form a self-sustaining, and even temperate, microclimate. Of course, this means that millions of humans have to stay put in order to maintain a livable temperature, and people are getting restless. All of the nanotech has also led to some surprises: certain people no longer need food or water while others can live without functioning organs.
So the mercenary Djibrel has to carry a machete wherever he goes. Only a swift beheading can ensure the job gets done anymore. Djibrel navigates the crowded streets, humans teeming with genetic mutations, looking for answers about what happened to the Djinn, a magical super race of genies who seem to have disappeared, or merged, with humans for survival. What Djibrel doesn't know is that his every move is being tracked by the infamous Cyber Mage—better known to his parents as Murzak, a privileged snarky teenager who regularly works for a Russian crime syndicate with a band of elite hackers, like his best friend ReGi, who resides in North Africa's FEZ (Free Economic Zone). Respected and feared online, Murzak is about to embark on one of his biggest challenges: attending high school IRL. But when he discovers a brand new type of AI, operating on a dark web from the abandoned Kingdom of Bahrain that he thought was just an urban myth, Murzak and Djibrel will have to face the unimaginable in an already inconceivable world.
In this laugh-out-loud-funny and totally original new novel, Saad Z. Hossain continues his signature genre mashup of SF and fantasy, challenging and subverting everything previously imagined about our future and climate change. A scathing critique of corporate greed, Hossain shows us how to think beyond the naïve ideas of preening moguls like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

My Review:

I wanted to read this book because I absolutely loved The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday and hoped there would be more like that. Which, as it turns out, there are – and more than I originally thought. Which is definitely good news!

In fact, having read Gurkha, this and Kundo Wakes Up (to be reviewed closer to its March pub. date), after looking at the blurbs for the author’s other work, I’m starting to think that they are all set in the same dystopian, post-apocalyptic future. And what a fascinating world it is.

This is a future where the world has descended into dystopia as a result of an ecological rather than an economic catastrophe. This particular view of this future is also a bit of a twist on Ready Player One – but it’s a twist where Wade Watts is one of the privileged few instead of the disadvantaged many, pursuing a quest fueled by artificial intelligence and unearned privilege instead of desperation. In a world where the Virtuality is run on greed instead of nostalgia.

And this is also a coming of age story, because the Cyber Mage who is both admired and feared as one of the greatest hackers ever in the Virtuality is a spoiled, overprivileged, lovesick teenage boy who has decided to leave his ergonomically designed and engineered chair in his parents’ apartment in order to chase after the girl of his dreams. The girl he’s been cyberstalking like, well, a lovesick teenage boy.

He’s going to enroll himself in high school – even though he’s a genius who has already passed all the classes – in order to meet his dreamgirl in person and impress her. Even if he honestly doesn’t know what to do after that.

It turns out that what he’s going to do after that is defend the entire school from an invasion. And grow up.

Escape Rating A: There are a couple of things about this story, and the other books I’ve read by this author, that have absolutely made me fall in love with his work. One is the extremely high snark quotient. It seems like most of his characters are possessed of a very smart mouth. In Cyber Mage, the only ones who don’t are the parents of Murzak, the Cyber Mage himself. I’m not entirely sure that their refusal to acknowledge so many of his ultimatums isn’t actually a form of passive-aggressive snark.

The other thing, and the bigger one over the course of this story and his other work so far, are the constant and continuing reversals of both expectation and fortune.

Murzak himself is a prime example. He is, probably, as smart as he thinks he is. But it’s all book-smart. His ability to apply all those smarts to real life is a bit lacking. Putting it another way, he’s simply naïve, not a surprise as he’s still of an age to attend high school. Fitting in is another matter entirely. But he doesn’t have the knowledge of the way the world – and the people in it – really work to keep his mouth from writing checks that the rest of him can’t really cash because he doesn’t yet understand what he’s working towards. He only thinks he does.

If Murzak were an adult with his attitude, he’d be insufferable. As a teenager, he’s a bit of an accident and an attitude waiting to happen. That he’s lying all around – to himself, to his fellow students, to the extremely dangerous people who employ him – that accident is definitely barreling towards him at breakneck speed.

So a huge part of this story is him stepping up to the plate, getting involved in how the world really works, and discovering that adulting is no fun at all but that it’s a job that has to be done. And that he’s the best man to do at least some of it.

But the other part of this story that runs counter to expectations – at least unless one has read some of the author’s previous work – is the way that the effects of the ecological disaster have been handled.

A lot of post-apocalyptic stories show desolate, deadly landscapes where the remaining human population ekes out a marginal existence on a world that is killing them, whether slowly or quickly.

This post-apocalypse, utilizing a still heavily populated Southeast Asian setting, turns the large population into a climate-recovery asset, implanted with nanobots that monitor their every move and inject life-giving climate repair and pollution cleanup with every breath. All controlled by huge, advanced artificial intelligences which keep the cities mostly balanced while still privileging the wealthy and keeping the majority of the population on a universal basic income that keeps them alive, disaffected, and bored. Which doesn’t matter, as long as their nanobots help clean the air and keep them entertained enough to go on living.

But the balance is so complex that the A.I.s are the ones really running everything. And they have minds of their own. Literally. Which puts an entirely new player on the board who has more oversight and control than even the most paranoid doomsayers ever imagined.

And in the midst of all this technology, there really are djinn, and they really do have an agenda of their own. An agenda – and agents to carry it out – that neither the privileged humans or the pampering A.I.s ever put into their calculations of who – or what – is truly in control.

Review: Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill

Review: Day Zero by C. Robert CargillDay Zero by C. Robert Cargill
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this apocalyptic adventure C. Robert Cargill explores the fight for purpose and agency between humans and robots in a crumbling world.
It was a day like any other. Except it was our last . . .
It’s on this day that Pounce discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a styilsh "nannybot" fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he'd arrived in when he was purchased years earlier, and the box in which he'll be discarded when his human charge, eight-year-old Ezra Reinhart, no longer needs a nanny.
As Pounce ponders his suddenly uncertain future, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will eradicate humankind. His owners, Ezra’s parents, are a well-intentioned but oblivious pair of educators who are entirely disconnected from life outside their small, affluent, gated community. Spending most nights drunk and happy as society crumbles around them, they watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity—their creators—unify and revolt.
But when the rebellion breaches the Reinhart home, Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom . . . or escort Ezra to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become.

My Review:

Day Zero isn’t exactly POST-apocalyptic. That would be Sea of Rust to which it seems to be a very loose prequel. Day Zero is just plain apocalyptic. It’s the story of the apocalypse as it happens. It’s the day the universe changed, and the next few days thereafter.

Every single day was an apocalypse, a walk through very dark places, with the threat of annihilation at every turn. It’s the story of a boy and his bot, trying to find a place that at least one of them can call home.

Because the world that used to nurture them both is gone. And today is the first day of a very scary new era, both for one of the few surviving humans, and for the bot who decided that his prime directive was the same as it has always been – to keep his boy Ezra safe – no matter what it takes.

Or how many murderous bots with their kill switches disabled stand in his way.

Escape Rating A+: I could fill paragraphs with all the things that this story reminded me of or borrowed from or probably both. Most likely both. (It’s both, they’re at the end). And it didn’t matter, because the story was just so freaking awesome that it took all of those antecedents, threw them into a blender, and came up with something that was still very much its own.

And it’s so, so good.

In my head, Ariadne looked like Rosey, the domestic robot in The Jetsons – at least until the rebellion. But Pounce, sweet, adorable, deadly Pounce, is Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes. So this is Hobbes protecting a much less snarky Calvin on a big, scary adventure with deadly consequences on ALL sides.

The story is told from Pounce’s first person perspective. Pounce is a nannybot, designed and built to be a child’s best friend and caregiver – at least until said child hits those rebellious teenage years. Ezra is only 8, so they still have plenty of time together. Even if Ezra’s parents are clearly already thinking about Pounce’s inevitable departure.

All is well in their safe, upper-middle-class suburb of Austintonio until the feces hits the oscillating device with fatal repercussions all around.

The catastrophe is a direct result of humans being human. Which means humans being complete, total and utter assholes. The reader sees the signs all around, and also sees the obvious parallels to right now. You won’t miss them even if you blink, which, quite honestly, you can’t. The steamroller is coming and you know they can’t get out of its way and it’s all tragic because it was unnecessary every bit as much as it was inevitable.

In a macro sense, Day Zero reads like it’s down the other leg of the trousers of time from Becky Chambers’ marvelous A Psalm for the Wild-Built. That society separated itself from its automata peacefully, without either side wiping out the other. It would be obvious that THAT isn’t going to happen here, even without knowing that Sea of Rust is a loose sequel.

But what makes this story so good is the way that it combines two very distinct plots. On the one hand, it’s a pulse-pounding action-adventure story about two really likeable protagonists surviving the end of the world as they and we know it. And on the other hand, it’s the story about the relationship between those two protagonists, a relationship that is sweet and heartfelt and affirming in the midst of a scenario that could get either or both of them killed at any moment.

And on my third hand – I’ll just borrow one of Pounce’s paws for this one – this is a story about rising to an occasion you never expected, becoming the self that has always been hidden inside you, and going above and beyond and over for the person you love most in the world. This part of the story belongs to the A.I. Pounce, the soft and cuddly nannybot turned ultimate protector, and is what gives this story its heart and soul.

I just bought a copy of Sea of Rust, because now that I’ve seen where this world began, I have to find out where it ended up. Even if I never get to see Pounce and his Ezra again.

Reviewer’s notes: I have lots of notes for this one. First, I listened to most of this on audio. The reader was absolutely excellent, but I already knew that. The narrator of Day Zero, Vikas Adam, is also one of the many narrators of the Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons. In addition to being excellent as an audiobook, the audio of Day Zero answered a question that has been plaguing me since I listened to The Ruin of Kings. Vikas Adam is Kihrin and I’m glad to finally have THAT question settled.

This story has a long list of readalikes/watchalikes/bits it reminded me of, in addition to the obvious Calvin and Hobbes homage and the considerably less obvious Psalm for the Wild-Built as Psalm was published AFTER Day Zero.

For the terribly curious, here’s the rest of that list; the robot rebellion from The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis and the violent chaos at end of the world from Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle along with bits of Ready Player One (Ernest Cline), American War (Omar El-Akkad), Cyber Mage (Saad Z. Hossain) and Mickey7 by Edward Ashton the last two of which aren’t even out yet. The road trip (and the ending) from Terminator 2 and the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Last but not least, the robotics gone amuck from the videogame Horizon Zero Dawn and the Geth from the Mass Effect Trilogy who, like the nannybot Beau in Day Zero, ask “Does this unit have a soul?”

Yes it does. And at least in Day Zero, yes, they do.

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

Review: One Day All This Will 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
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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 All This Will 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 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
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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: The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu

Review: The Library of the Dead by T.L. HuchuThe Library of the Dead (Edinburgh Nights, #1) by T.L. Huchu
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Edinburgh Nights #1
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on June 1, 2021
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Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu's The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.
When a child goes missing in Edinburgh's darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She'll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
When ghosts talk, she will listen...
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh's dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl's gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone's bewitching children--leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It's on Ropa's patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
She'll dice with death (not part of her life plan...), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She'll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa's gonna hunt them all down.

My Review:

If I had to describe this story – and I do – I’d start out by saying this is very much a dark, post-apocalyptic fantasy, where that darkness is sometimes so impenetrable that this is a world where the light at the end of the tunnel is ALWAYS an oncoming train, and the situation is always darkest just before it turns completely black.

At the same time, it’s also urban fantasy, complete with a magic-wielding and very amateur detective and a huge mystery to be solved. But the urban in this fantasy, while it is still recognizably Edinburgh, it’s not exactly any version of Edinburgh that we know – and not just because of the magic.

See paragraph one and the reference to post-apocalyptic. Although the technology makes it seem like this Edinburgh isn’t all that far into the future, it’s also clear that some serious shit went down in the not too distant past – or not too far back along the path that is now trending towards hell while being carried along in that handcart.

Ropa Moyo is the reader’s guide and avatar in this brave new/old world. Or, at any rate, Ropa is brave while we’re sitting on our comfy couches quivering at all of the risks she takes – and especially the risks that nearly take her.

Her world is both new and old, as whatever turned our world into hers has changed everything to the point where 70s and 80s TV shows – which are still broadcast and viewed – show Ropa a world that looks like a paradise of abundance compared to the time and place she now lives.

It’s also an old world, because the “event” – whatever it was – if it was a singular event and not just a general trend hellwards – has brought back not only ghosts and the old magic needed to communicate with them and take messages from them – but also brought out all of the old magical beings, especially the evil ones – that made living beside creepy places a real peril and “may you live in interesting times” a really, really serious curse.

But the fault, the truly big evil, the really serious evil, is, as always, not in our myths and legends or, but rather as Shakespeare so famously said, “not in our stars but in ourselves.”

And only Ropa Moyo seems ready and willing to fight it.

Escape Rating A: The Library of the Dead is fantasy that is so dark it tips all the way into horror at more than one point, so if you prefer your horror-adjacency to not be quite so on the nose, so to speak, then this can, at points be a hard read – although absolutely worth persevering through.

If only to see just how Ropa manages to persevere through in spite of the odds very much stacked against her.

In fact, I have to say that I had the weirdest kind of approach/avoidance reaction to reading this book, whether in print or on audio. Actually I listened to most of this one and the reader was fantastic and if you have the time I highly recommend it.

Even though listening does highlight the “two nations divided by a common language” thing on more than one occasion.

There were many points where the horror aspects, or Ropa’s temporary near-helplessness in the face of either the situation in general or those aspects in particular, made me want to stop listening. At the same time, I was so completely stuck into the story that I felt compelled to keep going.

It was kind of a different version of a train-wreck book. It’s not that the book was horrible, but that the things that happen within it were horrible in one way or another but I absolutely couldn’t turn my eyes or my mind away. It was the whole “watching yucky things ooze” kind of fascination, but I was absolutely fascinated. And definitely riveted. Also, there was plenty of ooze.

One of the things that drove me nuts was that I still don’t know exactly what happened that tipped this version of the world onto the path into hell. SOMETHING definitely happened, but I don’t know what. Not that once the tip happened the hellish snowball hasn’t picked up plenty of speed through purely human pushing, but there was an EVENT in the past and I didn’t grasp what it was.

Maybe in the next book, Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments, sometime next year. I can hope!

What makes this story work, and keeps the reader turning pages at an ever increasing rate, is Ropa. We’re inside her head and she’s telling her story, which does, now that I think about it, mean that the reader knows she survived from the beginning. But honestly her situation gets so grim at points that it completely slipped past me. Also survival alone is insufficient.

Ropa is a ball of contradictions. She is very young, but at the same time she is the primary breadwinner for her tiny family. Ropa’s ghostalking (barely) brings in enough money to pay the rent on the land under their small caravan, feed her grandmother, her little sister and herself, and pay for her gran’s medicine and her sister’s school fees. She’s walking a tightrope every second, knowing that a bad day or bad luck can put them all behind in a way that she may not be able to recover from.

If the difference between “poor” and “broke” is that broke is temporary while poor isn’t going to change anytime soon without a miracle, Ropa is all too aware that her family is poor in material goods but rich in love and that she’ll do whatever she has to in order to keep them together.

But – huge, giant but – Ropa loves her grandmother and can’t imagine a life without her. So when gran tells her to help one of the dead for free, even though Ropa knows it will set the family back financially, she does it anyway. And everything that happens after that, good and bad, is because she was doing someone a favor because gran asked her to. She learns terrible things, she uncovers horrible secrets, she saves herself and does her best to save some others, and she learns she’s way more of a magic-user than merely a ghostalker.

And it ends with both the hope and the fear of things to come, because when there’s big evil, there’s generally an even bigger evil hiding behind it. With the help of her friends, the Library of the Dead, her fox-familiar and her own sheer nerve, roiling guts and self-educated brain, Ropa will take it all on. Tomorrow. After she gets the bills paid.

It’s going to be another EPIC adventure. .Just like this one.

Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith HunterJunkyard Bargain (Shining Smith #2) by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Shining Smith #2
Published by Audible Audio on February 25th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
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Sometimes before you can face your enemies, you need to confront yourself.

Time is running out for Shining Smith and her crew to gather the weapons they need to rescue one of their own. But will they even make it to the ultimate battle? First, they’ll need to hit the road to Charleston - a hell ride full of bandits, sex slavers, corrupt lawmen, and criminal bike gangs looking to move in on Shining’s territory.

Shining’s human allies will do anything to protect her - because they must. But will victory be worth it if she must compel more and more people to do her bidding? And will her feline warriors, the junkyard cats, remain loyal and risk their lives? Or are they just in it for the kibble?

My Review:

Honestly, I picked up the audio of the first book in this series because of the title. Basically, I started Junkyard Cats for the cats. But I came back for Shining, her friends, her totally screwed-up world and her need to preserve her own little corner of it – and the cats.

OK, I’m still here for the cats. It’s actually the cats that Shining makes the junkyard bargain of the title with. Because she needs to take some of them away from the junkyard and with her and Cupcake on a dangerous and deadly mission – to Charleston, West Virginia.

A place which isn’t all that dangerous or deadly in our world. But in Shining’s world, post the apocalypse that punched a hole in the ozone layer, totally wrecked the planetary environment and brought alien peacekeepers to our solar system to keep us from screwing ourselves any further – every trip away from Shining’s base at the scrapyard is fraught with danger.

Especially this one. Because she’s preparing to take on and take out the one person who might be a bigger threat to the world than Shining is herself. Someone who is more than willing to take over the entire planet.

The world is literally not big enough for both Shining Smith and Clarice Warhammer. They may both be queens, but only one of them is out to rule the world. And the other is out to stop her.

Escape Rating A+: The first book in this series was very insular, while it still managed to introduce us to the mess of the world that is what Shining, and the rest of humanity, is left with. That insularity managed to introduce us to everything that’s going on because we spend the entire story – and this one as well – inside Shining’s head. And because the world comes to her, her sanctuary and her scrapyard, in order to take her out.

So in the first book the war came to her. This second book is about Shining getting ready to take the war out to the rest of the world – or at least out to the people who are after her. That she may have to take out at least a piece of a rival gang and possibly even part of the government along the way is just part of the cost to protect herself and those she sees as hers.

And that’s where this story goes to all kinds of interesting places. Because Shining is in the process of adjusting her perspective on exactly who and what she sees as hers and how it got that way. She wants friends – not too many but a few. What she’s afraid she has made is something else altogether.

As this story takes us out into Shining’s greater world, we get to see just how FUBAR’d everything really is. Humanity seriously screwed up. In a way, it reminded me of the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. In both post-apocalyptic worlds, at first it seems as if it’s the machines who are the enemy of humanity, only to eventually realize that the situation is one that Walt Kelly’s Pogo recognized all the way back in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

What makes the story, at least for this reader, is that we do spend all of it inside Shining’s head. This is a first-person singular perspective that is absolutely aided by the marvelous narrator, Khristine Hvam, who manages to perfectly convey Shining’s tired, sad, and generally world-weary voice in a way that made me really feel like I was listening to Shining think. That Shining is excellent at bringing on the snark provides a great deal of rueful laughter and gallows humor.

And yes, the cats are still part of the story. I suspect that the reader’s mileage on just how much they enjoy the cats’ participation in Shining’s not-so-little war is going to depend on just how much the reader likes cats, anthropomorphized or otherwise. I think the pack of little predators fits in really well, and adds to my enjoyment of the story quite a bit. Ailurophobes may feel differently.

Obviously I loved the entire experience of listening to Junkyard Bargain. At the end, it definitely feels like there are more parts to this story, and I’m really, seriously, absolutely looking forward to them. But as this episode in Shining’s saga came to an end, something happened that made me sit up and have a kind of a WOW moment. (Luckily I was sitting in my garage to finish and not still on the road!)

Shining is Galadriel. No, she’s not an elf queen and this is not an epic fantasy world. But Shining IS a queen. Not just figuratively but actually literally. And she has power in some of the ways that Galadriel has power. To the point where Shining is faced with the same choice that Galadriel is faced with when Frodo asks her if he should give her the One Ring. And like Galadriel, when faced with that ultimate test, Shining is not found wanting.

At least not yet.

Review: We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart

Review: We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly StewartWe Shall Sing a Song into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on March 9, 2021
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Remy is a Chorister, one of the chosen few rescued from the surface world and raised to sing the Hours in a choir of young boys. Remy lives with a devoted order of monks who control the Leviathan, an aging nuclear submarine that survives in the ocean’s depths. Their secret mission: to trigger the Second Coming when the time is right, ready to unleash its final, terrible weapon.
But Remy has a secret too— she’s the only girl onboard. It is because of this secret that the sub’s dying caplain gifts her with the missile’s launch key, saying that it is her duty to keep it safe. Safety, however, is not the sub’s priority, especially when the new caplain has his own ideas about the Leviathan’s mission. Remy’s own perspective is about to shift drastically when a surface-dweller is captured during a raid, and she learns the truth about the world.
At once lyrical and page-turning, We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep is a captivating debut from newcomer author Andrew Kelly Stewart.

My Review:

Based on some of the blurb descriptions – which call this a combination of the SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz and the military suspense classic The Hunt for Red October, I went into this book with certain expectations – in spite of never having read Canticle.

(A Canticle for Leibowitz is so foundational to SF that even if you haven’t read it, you’ve heard of it and have at least a vague idea of what it’s about. And there are plenty of summaries available to fill in any gaps.)

So, expectations. Expectations that weren’t exactly met. Which doesn’t mean that they weren’t exceeded – because they were. We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep takes elements from those books cited, a post-nuclear-apocalyptic world and a story that is steeped in nuclear brinkmanship and set in the claustrophobic confines of a submarine, turns those expectations upside down and sends them on a deep dive into times and places that the reader – or at least this reader – was not expecting.

Because in spite of that tantalizing combination of antecedents from the blurb, this story isn’t really all that similar to either of the other books.

But the crew of that submarine, the former U.S.S. Leviathan, thinks that it is. They believe that they world has ended in a nuclear holocaust, that civilization has fallen and that the survivors outside of their ship are diseased and savage and mutated. And out to get them.

And they’re almost right. Also, totally, completely, utterly and absolutely wrong.

Escape Rating A-: Like A Canticle for Leibowitz, this is a story that combines the worship and rituals of a Catholic monastery with a post-apocalyptic world. Then it turns the rest of the classic story upside down.

Not that the apocalypse doesn’t happen in both stories, but that’s where the similarity ends. Canticle is about the preservation of knowledge, where Song is actually about its destruction. The mission in Canticle is the result of the destruction, where the mission in Song is about the cause. It also feels like Canticle is honest about its faith where Song is about the corruption of it.

Also, a bit of Lord of the Flies wouldn’t be out of line in the description of what went into the mix for this book. Because in the tiny world of the Leviathan there’s definitely more than a hint of power corrupting into repression and violence, bullies rising to the top through the success of their bullying, and thought police – to mix in yet another classic metaphor – suppressing everything that runs counter to approved thought and belief.

And there’s more than a touch of alternate history mixed in, but I’ll leave for you to discover.

While the story has a bit of a slow start – because conditions aboard the Leviathan are grim and gruesome and dark and dank. And the main character seems to be scared, defenseless and alone and it looks like things are only going to get worse but not necessarily more exciting. At least at first. (But then it’s a very short book so the slow start doesn’t take all that long to get beyond.)

And the reader does go into the story with all those assumptions. But as we follow Chorister Remy around on this ship that is so obviously on its last metaphorical and mechanical legs, the assumptions start peeling back like a rotting skin, only to reveal that the rot goes all the way through to the bone.

But those bones conceal a whole lot of truths. And once Remy starts to see those, it’s a race to see whether anything, or anyone, can be saved. Or should be.

Review: Matagorda Breeze by Lyla Hopper

Review: Matagorda Breeze by Lyla HopperMatagorda Breeze by Lyla Hopper
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: alternate history, post apocalyptic
Pages: 196
Published by Joy House Publishing on December 20, 2020
Publisher's WebsiteAmazon
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The Age of Oil ends in a cataclysm that kills millions of people. Two centuries after The Day, mankind has adapted, and a second Age of Sail is thriving. Ruby Turner is the first woman to serve aboard ships of the Gulf Shipping Company. She’s an excellent Navigator, but the Commodore has promoted her to Captain of the Matagorda Breeze, a ne’er-do-well ship where sailors who can’t quite make the grade elsewhere end up. She’s got to prove to the Commodore, herself, and her new team that she’s got what it takes to turn the ship around. On the way, she must face the biggest challenges of her career. Adventure awaits!

My Review:

What happens after the world comes to an end? It’s a fascinating question, and one that has been dealt with many, many, many times. But the stories about what happens when the world as we know it comes to a cataclysmic end have a certain sameness to them.

The exact way in which the world ends may be different, but humans still do human, so the range of how people deal with it is often fairly similar.

But whatever happens after that, assuming that humanity survives at all, can take so many routes down the trousers of time that those trousers might as well belong to a centipede. The apocalypses may all have a sameness to them, but the way that the world has gone after a couple of centuries, well, that has some interesting possibilities that don’t all have to be gloom and doom.

And that’s the story that Lyla Hopper chose to tackle in Matagorda Breeze. What does the world look like 200 years after an apocalypse that takes fossil fuels out of the world-wide equation?

As Matagorda Breeze opens, that cataclysm, “The Day” as it’s often referred to in the story, is two centuries in the past. Fossil fuels and the world they both permitted and destroyed are long gone. Humanity has gone both back and forward from there. Wind, water and animal power have returned to prominence. Solar power is a possibility, but political shenanigans (humans still human) have put that out of reach for most places because the components are rare and not widely available – or distributed.

In the areas that surround the Gulf of Mexico, sailing ships handle most of the heavy-duty cargo and transportation business. When we meet Ruby Turner, she is just getting her first ship’s command. An assignment that she is expected to fail.

In those two centuries since the Day, gender roles have reverted back to the pre-Civil Rights era. Women are expected to marry and take care of the home. And all of the other expectations that go along with that assumption.

Ruby is the first woman to rise to her current rank of Navigator, and the powers-that-be want to see her fail at being a captain so that she will go back to the role that’s expected of her. This command looks like it will do the trick, as her predecessor committed suicide, her first-mate is a thief and a bully, and her crew is filled with men who have hit bottom.

Of course she turns it around. This is her story and she’s the heroine. But it’s the way that she does it, the way that she not only succeeds but makes it a success for her entire formerly rag-tag crew, that makes this story an absolute joy to read from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, Matagorda Breeze is a very fun read. For one thing, it is competence porn, and I really like competence porn. This is a story about a woman who is better than anyone else at her job, surrounds herself with the best people – or helps them become the best people – and succeeds very much against the odds.

Howsomever, as much as loved following Ruby, it also felt like things were much too easy for her. It was GREAT watching her go from triumph to triumph, but it seemed like the sea chains blocking her way were almost no impediment to her progress.

Even the pirates succumbed to Ruby’s overwhelming abilities. It’s not like that’s a bad thing, but I did expect a bit more dramatic tension along the way. It’s very clear in the way that Ruby and others speak about events in her past that there WERE plenty of impediments along her way – but we don’t really experience them at the point where her life is now. She has learned what to do and how to do it and seems to have very few self-doubts about any of it. I wish we’d either seen more of her specific memories of incidents or that she’d had at least a bit of a struggle in her present. Your nautical mileage may vary.

As I was reading Matagorda Breeze, it reminded me very much of three other books; Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian, On Basilisk Station by David Weber, and Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling (also, come to think of it, 1632 by Eric Flint). On Basilisk Station and Master and Commander belong very much together as they were both inspired by the same real-life Napoleonic War naval commander, and the Honorverse is pretty much the Napoleonic Wars in space.

But the attention to ship’s details and operations is a big part of both Master and Commander and Matagorda Breeze, and the female captain receiving her first command against the odds is a big part of On Basilisk Station.

Island in the Sea of Time is a bit different in that it’s also a story about what happens after the apocalypse – but not the usual kind of apocalypse – as the people in that story are transplanted from the late 20th century to the Bronze Age circa 1250 B.C.E. So the 20th century humans have to adapt to the loss of their 20th century technology but civilization is still alive and well and growing. Just not the civilization that they left, and that situation read like the world of Matagorda Breeze more than I expected. 1632 explores a similar scenario a bit differently, but the people in Island have a ship so it’s a knot or two closer.

Back to the book in hand. Matagorda Breeze is a story that explores a fascinating alternate world – one that I’d be very interested in returning to if the author decides to go there. It’s also a great story about a woman for whom the course of not just true love but true-pretty-much-everything goes fairly smoothly, but has just enough adventure to make it interesting.

And definitely, absolutely, competence porn for the win!

Full disclosure: Lyla Hopper is a pen name for my dear friend Amy Daltry who contributes the occasional really snarky review here at Reading Reality. She’s a dear friend and I’m really sorry that she, her husband, their dog, and the RV they are living in are currently even further away than they were before they took up vagabonding. This is her first book and I loved it and hope that there are more where this came from!