A+ #BookReview: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles by Malka Older

A+ #BookReview: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles  by Malka OlderThe Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles (Mossa & Pleiti, #2) by Malka Ann Older
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: climate fiction, mystery, science fiction, science fiction mystery, space opera, steampunk
Series: Investigations of Mossa & Pleiti #2
Pages: 208
Published by Tordotcom on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Investigator Mossa and Scholar Pleiti reunite to solve a brand-new mystery in the follow-up to the fan-favorite cozy space opera detective mystery The Mimicking of Known Successes that Hugo Award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders called “an utter triumph.”
Mossa has returned to Valdegeld on a missing person’s case, for which she’ll once again need Pleiti’s insight.
Seventeen students and staff members have disappeared from Valdegeld University—yet no one has noticed. The answers to this case could be found in the outer reaches of the Jovian system—Mossa’s home—and the history of Jupiter’s original settlements. But Pleiti’s faith in her life’s work as scholar of the past has grown precarious, and this new case threatens to further destabilize her dreams for humanity’s future, as well as her own.

My Review:

Like the opening of the first book, The Mimicking of Known Successes, in this delightful steampunk-y, space opera-ish, not-exactly-dark academic mystery series, this second entry begins not with the discovery of a dead body as most mysteries do, but rather with the disappearance and presumed deaths of a whole bunch of bodies.

But presumption, like assumption, involves drawing conclusions that may or may not be born out by evidence. Evidence that the still mysterious Investigator Mossa is determined to collect. Possibly, she’s driven to go that extra bit as an excuse to visit with her now on-again lover Scholar Pleiti at the University at Valdegeld.

Entirely too many of those missing bodies are/were students at the University, and Mossa isn’t above using that connection as an excuse to visit Pleiti AND involve her in her work. Again. Just as she did in their first adventure.

A lot of people DO go missing on Giant – otherwise known as Jupiter. The architecture of the colony, which is made up by rings of platforms stationed around the gas giant, leaves a lot of room for both accidental and on-purpose plummets to death and destruction, whether self-induced or pushed. Searching for missing persons is consequently the raison d’être of the Investigators, of whom Mossa is a part.

But the number of missing has jumped to a degree that is statistically implausible, leading Mossa to an in-person search for those missing. Some of them will be found perfectly safe, because that happens all-too-frequently.

The question in Mossa’s inquisitive mind is whether those findings will bring the number down to something reasonable. She doesn’t believe so. And she’s right.

While Mossa is looking into missing bodies, Pleiti is dealing with a body that has been found. The mad scholar/scientist that Mossa and Pleiti pursued in that first book, the man who pointed out that all of the busy research of the university was merely the ‘mimicking of known successes’ and had little chance of ever coming to fruition, the once respected rector of the university who may have derailed the university’s entire reason for being for centuries, has been found. Or at least his corpse has been.

But the effects of that death, and the events that led up to it, still chase our intrepid investigators. And may have more to do with all those missing bodies than anyone imagined.

Escape Rating A+: There’s something supremely comforting about this series – and I’m oh-so-happy it IS a series because The Mimicking of Known Successes could easily have been a one-off.

I think it’s the combination of the outlandish and exotic with the comforting and familiar. At first it seems pretty far out there, literally as well as figuratively. Jupiter is far away and seemingly totally inhospitable. And it kind of is. But still, humanity has adapted – at least physically. We’ve made it work.

At the same time, the way it works is so very human. They are still close enough in both time and space, relatively speaking, to see their lost home as something they might return to while also romanticizing the past and the possible future.

And the university is so very much academe in a nutshell, to the point where both books’ titles absolutely ring with the sense of academic politics being so vicious because the stakes are so small, caught up so tightly in the petty grievances of scholars that are more invested in scoring off against each other and/or proving their superiority than they are about real problems and practical solutions.

Which comes right back around to the whole story of the first book AND the motivations that lead to all those missing persons that Mossa is hunting for in this second one. Hunting, in fact, all the way around the train tracks that ring the planet to a hidden platform as far away from the University as it can get – and back around again to the place where both stories began.

To the University, and ultimately to the Earth it claims it wants to return them to – even as it settles into its comforts and grievances in a way that makes the reader wonder if anyone really, truly does.

What carries the story along, what holds it up around those rings and over that gas giant, is the relationship between Mossa and Pleiti. They live in different worlds, and approach those worlds from opposing perspectives. Mossa, the Investigator, the ultimate pragmatist, always on the hunt for a new mystery, and Pleiti, the scholar and dreamer ensconced within the comforts and comfortable stability of the university. Their relationship didn’t work the first time, because they couldn’t meet in the middle and let each other in.

This time around they’re a bit older, sometimes sadder, occasionally wiser. Or at least wise enough to know that they are better together than they are apart, even if that togetherness has and even requires more space that one or the other might desire.

Watching them try, following them as they attempt to join two worlds and two perspectives that aren’t intended to meet in any middle, adds something very special to this delightfully charming science fiction mystery that will keep readers coming back for more.

Particularly this reader, left desperately hoping for a third book in the series.

#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

My Review:

Carter Cho recognizes that he’s in a time loop. He has four days to live, over and over and over and OVER again, with no way to stop it and no way out. All he can do is watch, wait and repeat. It’s boring, it’s disheartening, it’s downright depressing. Most of all it’s terribly, terribly lonely.

Until Carter decides to take one loop and do the opposite of everything he did the first and all the subsequent, mind-numbing, heart-breaking times he’s looped before. And in that opposition he manages to convince, coerce, drag another person into the loop with him.

Dr. Mariana Pineda and technician Carter Cho are opposites in every possible way, but all they have is each other. And a seemingly endless amount of time to figure out what keeps making the Hawke Accelerator accelerate itself into a catastrophic explosion, time after time after time – and resetting the world as everyone but the two of them knows it.

Neither of them has the training or the tools to diagnose what’s going wrong – but they are all they have. And that turns out to be more than enough. Just in the nick of, well, time.

Escape Rating B+: If the blurb or the description above are making you think of the movie Groundhog Day, you are not alone. Neither was it alone in my head as I was reading my way through the first part of the story – because time travel loops have been done before.

In other words, this loop has been looped before. As they do.

At one end of that time loop story perspective there’s Groundhog Day, which has kind of a sweet ending no matter how much of an asshole the protagonist (played by Bill Murray) is as the story begins. But Carter Cho is a really nice guy – if a bit of an underachiever according to his parents – so that resemblance isn’t 100%

The ending of A Quantum Love Story, or rather, all the endings of the world before the resets, have all of the explosive punch of the movie Edge of Tomorrow, although there’s no war in Quantum.

A Quantum Love Story felt more akin to the Stargate SG-1 episode “Window of Opportunity” as following the protagonists through the loops of that journey goes through many of the same stages that Carter and Mariana go through while following characters that one really does want to follow. Also there’s no real villain in “Window of Opportunity”, which is also true in Quantum. The story, the journey, the battle if you will, is to solve the mystery and break the cycle – not to break heads.

But the chasing down of just how many different time loop stories this one brought to mind kept me from being as invested in Carter and Mariana’s problem solving through their loops, although the emotional journey they took did hold my interest even as it briefly looked like it was heading for Flowers for Algernon territory which made for some tense moments for this reader. (Don’t worry too much, it doesn’t go there, but there were a few bits that just about gave me the weepies when it looked that way. Howsomever, the author has form for this, as that’s part of the direction that his lovely Light Years from Home went.)

The heart of the story, and it very much does have one, is in the relationship between Carter and Mariana, who begin as opposites in just about every sense of the word and bond through shared trauma. But what they discover through that sharing is that their version of opposites attract brings out the best in both of them, and that there are possibilities in life that neither of them ever imagined.

Including the possibility of a happy ever after with someone that they would otherwise never have had a chance to meet. A chance that will be whisked away if they ever manage to solve the problem and stop the resets.

The solution to both problems, to the endless resets of the time loop and to stopping those resets, turns out to be exactly the same thing. With one surprising and beautiful deus ex machina of an exception.

Ultimately, the repeating time loops with their repeating reminders of other time loop stories is both a bit of a bug AND a feature. After all this is a story about things repeating until they don’t, so it seems right that they kind of do. In the end I was charmed by the story and the characters as they worked through both repeating and not repeating time at the same time.

I’ll certainly be repeating my exploration of this author’s work and his signature combination of science fiction and relationship fiction with his next outing, hopefully this time next year. In the meantime, if you are intrigued by this review, check out the first chapter excerpt I posted last week. If you like SF with just a touch of romance and a heaping helping of relationship building and problem solving, you just might fall in love with A Quantum Love Story!

Spotlight + Excerpt: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

Spotlight + Excerpt: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

Welcome to the blog tour for A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen. This is another author who I discovered through participation in a blog tour, so I’m thrilled to be back again with another book and tour. I’ve already finished A Quantum Love Story and loved it, so look forward to that review late next week. But the book is coming out TOMORROW, so here’s an excerpt from the very first chapter to whet your reading appetite for the whole, quantum tangle of this story!

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

1
Carter Cho wasn’t really into science experiments.
Otherwise, he might have completed his degree in quantum mechanics. Cooking experiments, though? Totally different, because there was a real joy to that process. But setting a hypothesis, identifying controls, and looking for…stuff?
Seriously, that seemed like such a slog.
Except for this particular Thursday morning, on the corner of a crosswalk and standing across from the world’s biggest, most advanced particle accelerator, a science experiment felt necessary.
He didn’t really have a choice. It seemed to be the only way to possibly understand or even escape his very strange predicament.
Carter checked the time on his phone, waiting for it to tick specifically to twenty-three seconds past 8:22 a.m.
At that moment, the crosswalk light would switch, signaling for pedestrians to go.
Then everything would cascade, a waterfall of specific actions by the world around him:
The person on Carter’s right would step out first.
The person behind him would wait an extra four seconds, eyes stuck on his phone.
Annoyed, the woman next to that person would let out an exaggerated sigh, move around, then rush forward six steps into the street before catching her shoe.
Then she would stumble forward, her coffee spilling. The first time he went through this, he’d noticed the spill just in time to sidestep it before continuing on.
All of these actions sat line by line on the old-fashioned paper notebook in his hands, a checklist of what was to come with the precision delivered by his photographic memory.
Science experiments all led to a result. As for this, he wasn’t quite sure what the result, or even the purpose, might be. He already knew he was in a loop of some sort, something that started the instant he woke up on Monday mornings.
And it always ended up with the huge facility across the street exploding.
The Hawke Accelerator, both a modern marvel of technology circa 2094 and also some sort of weird top-secret project that no one really understood—now also the place that would simply go boom.
Carter should know. The first time he experienced this, he was in the accelerator chamber’s observation room, right in the heart of where the go boom happened at precisely 12:42 p.m. on Thursday. Which was today, again. Just a few hours from now.
He’d been through this six times before, each time expanding his acute understanding of the details surrounding him. Usually he wrote things down at the end of the day, a memory trick he’d
learned about himself very early on that helped cement the details into place, so even when he started the loop over without any scribbled notes to organize his thoughts, his photographic memory recalled it.
But this morning, he went in reverse, writing out the exact steps as they were meant to be.
And then he’d make sure it played out that way, bit by bit.
After that, he wasn’t sure. Carter thought of his parents, their usual voices chastising him for his lack of planning and forethought, how his teenage foray into coding and hacking was more about fun than applying himself, and now look at him, simply a technician running tests and tightening screws. Even now that he’d been through this loop several times, he hadn’t bothered to call them back from their birthday messages. Part of him used the excuse that he should stay as close to the original path as possible, but he knew better.
Even if this weird loop existence meant a complete lack of consequences, calling his parents was the last thing he wanted to do.
Carter checked his phone one more time, five seconds remaining until the crosswalk kicked off the sequence. He gripped the notebook, staring at the list of things to come.
A chime came from the crosswalk. And Carter began to move.
The person on the right moved.
The man behind Carter stayed.
An exasperated sigh came from behind him. Carter kept his eyes on his notebook, counting steps in his head. “Ack,” the woman said, right when Carter sidestepped. His focus moved down to the next item on the list, then the next, then the next, not once looking up. Instead, he executed through a combination of memory and instinct, sliding sideways when a cyclist rolled by on the sidewalk and slowing down just enough to follow in a group waiting at the front entrance of Hawke.
Someone coughed, marking a time to pause and wait thirteen seconds, enough time to review the next items on the notebook still in front of him:
Front desk hands out mobile device for the David AI digital assistant.
Security guard says something about visiting group from ReLive project.
Passing scientist asks what time Dr. Beckett’s flight gets in.

He moved through the security gate designated for employees, taking him past the lobby threshold and over to the main hallway that split in three directions. He stopped, leaned against the wall and waited for the final item to come to pass. Nothing special or unique, just the sound of heels walking in a hurried cadence from his right to his left. Carter checked the notebook, waiting for the visitor’s David AI to speak exactly what he wrote.
“Your next meeting starts in two minutes,” the AI said from the small mobile unit in his familiar London accent. “Oops! Looks like you might be late. Should I give the meeting notice of that?”
Carter mouthed the words as the visitor spoke, his voice fading down the hallway. “No, thanks. I’ll just hurry.”
David’s simulated voice could still be heard as Carter put the notebook down, holding it at his side while considering what just happened. He wasn’t particularly religious, though part of him wondered if he’d been condemned to some sort of purgatory. The predictability of it all, the strange exactness of everything he saw playing out as written on the notebook in his hands.
The first few times, he’d felt disbelief. Then curiosity. Then amusement.
This time, well, he guessed that was the purpose of this experiment: to figure out how he felt knowing he could predict every exact movement of every person he encountered.
Disbelief, curiosity, amusement, and now the whole thing was just unnerving.
Nothing out of turn. Nothing different. Nothing unexpected.
He blew out a sigh, hands pushing back his wavy black hair. Something tugged at him, a wish for things to be different. A person walking from his left instead of his right. Or the plant behind him coming to life and biting his arm. Or a piano dropping out of the sky and smashing his foot.
Anything at all to end this.
Ten minutes passed with Carter lost in his own thoughts, but that in itself turned out to be a change. Normally, he’d take a walk to clear his head, but the list’s finality wound up freezing him. All the previous loops, he’d tried to follow his original path as closely as possible, always ending back in the observation room where the accelerator started to deteriorate and a massive blast of energy struck him. Perhaps that was the only real difference, as he’d changed spots in those final moments to see exactly where the bolt landed on the floor, even using his photographic memory to draw a precise grid of the floor panels.
What he could do with that information, he wasn’t sure. But it had to mean something.
This time, though, a weight paused him, an all-encompassing blanket that left him pondering far longer than he’d ever done.
And then it hit him: he’d deviated farther from his path than before, and nothing bad had happened.
Heck, if he wanted something bad to happen simply so it could, maybe it’d be best if he pushed farther. Or even went in the complete other direction.
At this point, he’d normally turn right, check in with the technician’s desk, grab his cart of tools and begin going through his assignments for the day. But a sharp, almost foreign defiance grabbed him.
He would turn left. He would not check in with his supervisor. Instead he’d go…
Carter’s eyes scanned, looking for the most opposite thing he could possibly do.
Of course.
His steps echoed as he pressed ahead, a strange jubilance to his feet. He moved around people milling about or talking about actual work things, practically skipping with joy until he turned to the entrance of the Hawke cafeteria and straight to the bakery station and its waft of morning pastries.
Ten minutes passed with Carter lost in his own thoughts, but that in itself turned out to be a change. Normally, he’d take a walk to clear his head, but the list’s finality wound up freezing him. All the previous loops, he’d tried to follow his original path as closely as possible, always ending back in the observation room where the accelerator started to deteriorate and a massive blast of energy struck him. Perhaps that was the only real difference, as he’d changed spots in those final moments to see exactly where the bolt landed on the floor, even using his photographic memory to draw a precise grid of the floor panels.
What he could do with that information, he wasn’t sure. But it had to mean something.
This time, though, a weight paused him, an all-encompassing blanket that left him pondering far longer than he’d ever done.
And then it hit him: he’d deviated farther from his path than before, and nothing bad had happened.
Heck, if he wanted something bad to happen simply so it could, maybe it’d be best if he pushed farther. Or even went in the complete other direction.
At this point, he’d normally turn right, check in with the technician’s desk, grab his cart of tools and begin going through his assignments for the day. But a sharp, almost foreign defiance grabbed him.
He would turn left. He would not check in with his supervisor. Instead he’d go…
Carter’s eyes scanned, looking for the most opposite thing he could possibly do.
Of course.
His steps echoed as he pressed ahead, a strange jubilance to his feet. He moved around people
milling about or talking about actual work things, practically skipping with joy until he turned to the entrance of the Hawke cafeteria and straight to the bakery station and its waft of morning pastries.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s totally fine. I, uh,” he said. She bit down on her lip, brow scrunched, though eventually they locked gazes. “I should have watched where I was going.” He gestured at the growing coffee stain on his outfit.
“You sure?”
“Absolutely. It’s work clothes. It gets dirty. No big deal.”
The woman’s expression broke, relief lifting her cheeks into a toothy grin, one of those unexpected sights that made everything a little bit better. She looked back at the group, then the coffee cup in her hands. “Damn it, I spilled a bunch. Is there a place to get a refill?”
“You’re going to the main conference room?”
“Yeah. Spent all week there.”
All week. All the times Carter had been through the loop before, even seen the names of various guest groups on schedules, and yet they’d never crossed paths—not until he did the exact opposite of his routine.
Funny how that worked.
“We finally get to see the observation room, though. In a little bit.” She held up her coffee cup. “Just need a refill somewhere along the way.”
“Café is back there,” he said, thumb pointing behind him. “Way back there.”
“Ah,” she said with furrowed brow, a conflicted look that seemed about much more than a coffee refill. “Probably should meet with the team. Not enough time.”
Not enough time. The concept almost made Carter laugh. “Well,” he said, pulling out a bag, “a donut for making you late?”
She took the bag and peaked inside, cheeks rising with a sudden smile. “I don’t usually like donuts. But these glazed ones. Simple, you know?” She shuffled the bottom of the bag to nudge the donut out the opening. “Are you sure? I spilled coffee on you.”
“Yeah. I’m, uh,” he started, pausing as their gazes lingered. “My fault for running into you.”
The wrapper crinkled as she examined it up close before taking a small bite. “I should get back to my team. Maybe they’ll hand out free coffee by the time we get to the observation room. Thanks for this.”
Carter dipped his chin, a quick farewell as he considered the inevitability of the next few hours, a march toward a chaotic and violent reset. He matched her smile, though as she turned, he pondered saying something.
Normally, he wouldn’t. But with the world exploding soon? He went with the opposite of normal.
“My name’s Carter, by the way,” he said. “Carter, the guy who gives people donuts.”
Her gaze shifted, first looking at the floor, then up at the ceiling, even at the bag on her shoulder before finally locking eyes again. “Mariana,” she said, holding up the donut bag, “the woman always looking for coffee.” She bit down on her lip before glancing around. “I’m going to tell you something completely random.”
“Okay?” Carter said slowly. “About donuts?”
She laughed, an easy, bright laugh, though her eyes carried something far heavier. “No. The group I’m with. We’re touring the facility. But I’m quitting. They don’t know yet. Today’ll be my last day. Science is great until it’s not.” Her shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Probably because we’ll never see each other again.” She spun on her heel, an abrupt move followed by determined steps forward.
“Not unless you need another glazed donut.”
She turned, slowing as she walked away backward, this mystery scientist who spilled coffee on him and then caught his attention. Because the idea that someone didn’t like most donuts, well, that
was as opposite as anything he’d ever encountered in his life. “Maybe that,” she said with a small grin.
“I’ll remember your name in case we do,” he said. “Mariana.”
Her fingers fluttered in a quick wave, then she turned, and Carter leaned against the wall, ignoring the people who came and went.
Mariana. Maybe he should write that down, just in case she became important. He pulled the notebook out from under his arm, only to find the pages soaked with coffee.
A pen would rip through those pages. He’d have to trust his memory to recall her name, her voice, her face. On the off chance that they ever met again.
None of it mattered anyway, but as experiments went, this morning did at least prove helpful.
Now Carter knew that he could do anything, even the opposite of normal. And that might just lead to him escaping this thing. Or, at the very least, a lot more pastries.
Mariana disappeared into the sea of people, and as she did, her words echoed in his mind. First her group went to the conference room, then the observation room above the accelerator core. He knew that space well; after all, he’d been in that same room when everything began to explode and—
Wait.
That was it. A possible connection that he’d somehow missed before. He’d been there, of all places, summoned to check some of the power conduits lining the walls as the whole thing fell apart. Could that exact space be important?
Carter’s head tilted up. Maybe the observation room held the key to everything.
And if it did, what would happen if others were caught in it too?

Excerpted from A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen. Copyright © 2024 by Mike Chen. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About the Author:

Mike Chen is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Brotherhood, Here and Now and Then, Light Years from Home and other novels. He has covered geek culture for sites such as Nerdist, Tor.com and StarTrek.com, and in a different life, he’s covered the NHL. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter and many rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter.

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A- #BookReview: The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler

A- #BookReview: The Tusks of Extinction by Ray NaylerThe Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: climate fiction, science fiction
Pages: 192
Published by Tordotcom on January 16, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads


When you bring back a long-extinct species, there’s more to success than the DNA.

Moscow has resurrected the mammoth, but someone must teach them how to be mammoths, or they are doomed to die out, again.
The late Dr. Damira Khismatullina, the world’s foremost expert in elephant behavior, is called in to help. While she was murdered a year ago, her digitized consciousness is uploaded into the brain of a mammoth.
Can she help the magnificent creatures fend off poachers long enough for their species to take hold?
And will she ever discover the real reason they were brought back?
A tense eco-thriller from a new master of the genre.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

My Review:

When we first slip into Dr. Damira Khismatullina’s mind she is fighting the long defeat against ivory poachers along the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River in Kenya. She and her colleagues are losing the battle, and they know it. But they can’t stop fighting because they know that something precious will be lost if they can’t save the elephants.

She doesn’t know that she’s already lost; the battle, the war, and even her life, in a cause that is so very worthy against an implacable enemy that can’t be defeated but only delayed. Because her real enemy, the elephants’ true foe, isn’t poachers. It’s human greed. And that’s inexhaustible.

Dr. Damira may have lost her battle, but she’s not the only one fighting this war and conventional methods are not the only way to fight it. Because it’s not just about the elephants. It’s about the planet that made them.

Which is where Damira the mammoth comes into this story. Russian scientists have created a frigid version of Jurassic Park in the taiga, and have brought back not dinosaurs but mammoths in the hopes of pushing back climate change – at least a bit – by protecting and expanding the taiga and ultimately halting, or at least slowing, the melting of the permafrost.

But the newly resurrected mammoths are dying. They don’t know how to BE mammoths, and the captive elephants they were bred from didn’t even have the skills of how to be a wild elephant to teach them. But Dr. Damira Khismatullina did. Or does, as she was the last remaining expert on elephant behavior in the wild.

But she’s dead. The poachers killed her. And delivered her head back to the government to send the message that no one was permitted to even attempt to control the slaughter.

Compared to resurrecting an entire extinct species, implanting Dr. Khismatullina’s consciousness into a single member of that species was a piece of cake. So Damira the mammoth was reborn as the matriarch of the mammoth herd. She taught them to BE mammoths – or at least close enough for them to survive and even thrive in their new environment.

Just in time for the ivory hunters to find them. But Damira the mammoth matriarch has very different imperatives than Dr. Khismatullina the scientist did. And considerably more weapons at her disposal.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this one up because I utterly adored the author’s debut novel, The Mountain in the Sea. I mean I really, truly, seriously loved that book. To the point where I’ll be picking up everything he writes for years to come.

But that was so damn good that while I had hoped that The Tusks of Extinction would be good, I didn’t even expect that the lightning of that first book would fit into the novella-sized bottle of Tusks. Which it doesn’t – quite. Howsomever, that does not in any way mean that Tusks isn’t good, more that it has a VERY high bar to get over and not nearly as much space to run up to it.

The ecoterrorism that forms the background of The Tusks of Extinction is, unfortunately, very much like the mess the world has become in The Mountain in the Sea, something we can see all too clearly from here. Elephants NEED their tusks. Humans do not NEED ivory. They just want it because it’s rare and it’s difficult to obtain, and it’s precious because of those factors.

And humans are so very greedy, which explains the state of the world in a nutshell. (I digress, but only sorta/kinda. Dammit.)

So there’s a whole lot of sad hanging over this story, again, as there was in The Mountain in the Sea. But without that joy of discovery that carried Mountain, and without that surprising, albeit equivocal, sweetly bitter ending to a story that I expected to end in all bitter all the way down.

Also, as a science fiction reader, I wish that The Tusks of Extinction had a bit more time to explain how Russian science managed to reach BOTH the ability to resurrect an extinct species à la Jurassic Park AND the science needed to implant consciousness anywhere at all, let alone into another species, formerly extinct or otherwise. THAT story would be fascinating and we only get the barest hints of it here.

All of that being said, what makes this story work is the juxtaposition of the evolution of the new mammoths set against the total lack thereof of the humans that Damira left behind. Even though that evolution is likely to leave her fighting the long defeat yet again. At least this time around she has considerably better weaponry and is unlikely to live to see its ending.

Review: Like Thunder by Nnedi Okorafor

Review: Like Thunder by Nnedi OkoraforLike Thunder (The Desert Magician's Duology #2) by Nnedi Okorafor
Narrator: Délé Ogundiran
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: African Futurism, climate fiction, fantasy, science fiction
Series: Desert Magician's Duology #2
Pages: 336
Length: 10 hours and 23 minutes
Published by DAW, Tantor Audio on November 28, 2023
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This brand-new sequel to Nnedi Okorafor’s Shadow Speaker contains the powerful prose and compelling stories that have made Nnedi Okorafor a star of the literary science fiction and fantasy space and put her at the forefront of Africanfuturist fiction
Niger, West Africa, 2077
Welcome back. This second volume is a breathtaking story that sweeps across the sands of the Sahara, flies up to the peaks of the Aïr Mountains, cartwheels into a wild megacity—you get the idea.
I am the Desert Magician; I bring water where there is none.
This book begins with Dikéogu Obidimkpa slowly losing his mind. Yes, that boy who can bring rain just by thinking about it is having some…issues. Years ago, Dikéogu went on an epic journey to save Earth with the shadow speaker girl, Ejii Ubaid, who became his best friend. When it was all over, they went their separate ways, but now he’s learned their quest never really ended at all.
So Dikéogu, more powerful than ever, reunites with Ejii. He records this story as an audiofile, hoping it will help him keep his sanity or at least give him something to leave behind. Smart kid, but it won’t work—or will it?
I can tell you it won’t be like before. Our rainmaker and shadow speaker have changed. And after this, nothing will ever be the same again.
As they say, ‘ Onye amaro ebe nmili si bido mabaya ama ama onye nyelu ya akwa oji welu ficha aru .’
Or, ‘If you do not remember where the rain started to beat you, you will not remember who gave you the towel with which to dry your body.’

My Review:

Like Thunder is the second half of the Desert Magician’s Duology, and the follow-up to the utterly excellent Shadow Speaker. Like that first book, Like Thunder is a story within a story, as the whole duology is a tale of a possible future, and a lesson to be learned, told by the Desert Magician himself.

But it is not the Desert Magician’s story, no matter how much that being meddled with the characters and the events that they faced. Just as Shadow Speaker was the story of Eiji Ugabe, the titular shadow speaker herself, Like Thunder represents her best friend Dikéogu Obidimkpa’s side of the events that followed.

Shadow speaking is but one of the many transformations and strange, new powers brought into this world after the ‘peace bombs’ were dropped and the oncoming nuclear catastrophe was transformed into something survivable for the human population.

A survival that seems to be more contingent on the adaptability of not just the humans of Earth, but also the sentient populations of ALL the worlds that have become interconnected after Earth’s ‘Great Change’ caused a ‘Great Merge’ of several formerly separated worlds.

The story in Shadow Speaker very much represented Eiji’s perspective on the world, as Eiji’s first impulse is always to talk, and to listen. An impulse that combines her youthful belief that people CAN be better if given the opportunity, and is likely a result of her talent for speaking with not just the shadows of the dead, but directly into the minds of other people and animals.

Her talent is to see others’ points of view and to project her own. She’s young enough to believe that if there is understanding, there can be peace.

Like Thunder is not Eiji’s story, and it shouldn’t be. Instead, it’s a kind of mirror image. Just as Eiji’s talent leads her to foster peace and understanding, her friend Dikéogu’s talent is violent. Dikéogu is a stormbringer, someone who brings all of the violence of nature and all of the violence visited upon him in his scarred past to every encounter with his friends, with his enemies, and with his world.

And within himself.

The world through which we follow Dikéogu in this concluding volume of the Desert Magician’s Duology is the direct result of Eiji’s peacemaking in her book. Because, unfortunately for the world but fortunate for the reader enthralled with their story, Eiji didn’t really make peace because peace is not what most of the people present for the so-called ‘peace conference’ had any desire for whatsoever.

And have been maneuvering in the background to ensure that the only peace that results in the end is the peace of the grave. Someone is going to have to die. Too many people already have. It’s only a question of whether Dikéogu and Eiji’s feared and reviled powers will save the world – or end it.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I loved Shadow Speaker, I came into this second book with some doubts and quibbles – all of which were marvelously dashed to the ground at the very beginning of Dikéogu’s story.

Eiji and Dikéogu were both very young when their adventure began, but by the time they met they had both already seen enough hardship and disaster to fill a whole lifetime for someone else. But Eiji was just a touch older than Dikéogu, and the differences between her fourteen and his thirteen mattered a lot in terms of maturity.

In other words, Eiji was definitely on the cusp of adulthood in her book, making adult decisions with huge, literally world-shaking consequences, while Dikéogu frequently came off as a whiny little shit, an impression not helped AT ALL by the higher pitched voice used by the narrator for his character.

Dikéogu had PLENTY of reasons for his hatreds and his fears – but that doesn’t mean that they were much more enjoyable to listen to than they were to experience. Less traumatic, certainly, but awful in an entirely different way.

But Like Thunder takes place AFTER the events of Shadow Speaker. (This is also a hint that neither book stands on its own) Whiny thirteen becomes traumatized fifteen with more experience, a bit more closure for some of the worst parts, a bit more distance from terrible betrayals – and his voice drops. (This last bit, of course, doesn’t matter if you’re reading the text and hearing your own voice in your head, but matters a lot in audio.)

Dikéogu’s life experience, particularly after he was sold into slavery by his own uncle at the age of twelve, have taught him that the world is pain and strife and that he has to defend himself at all times and that people will believe ANYTHING if it allows them to stay comfortable and maintain their illusions and their prejudices.

He learned that last bit from his parents, Felecia and Chika Obidimkpa, the power couple of THE West African multimedia empire. They betrayed him into slavery, they betrayed him by pretending he was dead, they betray him every single time they broadcast a program filled with ridiculous nostalgia for a past that never was and disallows and disavows Dikéogu’s existence as a stormbringer, a ‘Changed One’ with powers granted by the ‘Great Change’ they hate so much.

It’s no surprise that his parents are in league with his enemies.

What is a surprise, especially to Dikéogu, is how much of his story, how much of his trauma and how many of his tragedies, are directly traceable to that first betrayal AND his inability to deal with its consequences to himself and the magic he carries.

So, very much on the one hand, Like Thunder is a save the world quest with a surprising twist at its end. A twist at least partly manufactured, and certainly cackled over, by the Desert Magician. And absolutely on the other hand, it’s a story about a young man learning to live with the person he has become – and very nearly failing the test. ALL the tests.

Whichever way you look at it, it is compelling and captivating from the first page – or from the opening words – until the very last line of the Desert Magician congratulating themself on a tale well told and a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful message delivered.

Review: Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard

Review: Seven of Infinities by Aliette de BodardSeven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction mystery
Series: Universe of Xuya
Pages: 176
Published by Subterranean Press on October 31, 2020
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Vân is a scholar from a poor background, eking out a living in the orbitals of the Scattered Pearls Belt as a tutor to a rich family, while hiding the illegal artificial mem-implant she manufactured as a student.
Sunless Woods is a mindship—and not just any mindship, but a notorious thief and a master of disguise. She’s come to the Belt to retire, but is drawn to Vân’s resolute integrity.
When a mysterious corpse is found in the quarters of Vân’s student, Vân and Sunless Woods find themselves following a trail of greed and murder that will lead them from teahouses and ascetic havens to the wreck of a mindship--and to the devastating secrets they’ve kept from each other.

My Review:

This entry in the Universe of Xuya begins as a murder and a whole bunch of mysteries – not all of which are wrapped around the murder. Although, more are than first appears – which is true for the whole marvelous thing. There’s way more under every single surface than the characters initially believe. Still, it all begins when Student Uyên admits a forceful woman into her rooms, goes to make tea because she’s been taught to be a good hostess, and returns to find that her unidentified guest is dead on the floor.

Uyên may be on the cusp of adulthood, but she definitely needs a MUCH adultier adult to help her figure out this mess, so she calls for her teacher, Vân. Who, fortunately for them both, is in the midst of a discussion with her friend and fellow scholar, the mindship Sunless Woods. And an extremely fortunate happenstance for Vân, Uyên, and very much to her own surprise, Sunless Woods.

Van has secrets she can’t afford to have revealed. Sunless Woods has grown tireder and more BORED than she imagined keeping her own. While Uyên is in danger of being caught in the midst of a militia investigation designed to provide a guilty party for trial whether or not the party is guilty or not. Which Uyên, at the very least, most definitely is not.

Not that THAT little fact has ever stopped such an interrogation. After all, under enough torture, even the innocent will,  sooner or later, confess to something, as Vân knows all too well.

Except that Vân really was guilty of the crime her best friends were executed for. It just wasn’t murder. And they weren’t innocent either. Then again, they also weren’t executed – at least not until the levers of justice finally ground one of them under and deposited the body in her student’s rooms.

Not that Vân knows that, yet. Not that much of what Vân thinks she knows is remotely still true. Not the identity of that first corpse, not the reason her former friends have come hunting, and not an inkling of the true nature of the prize that they seek.

All Vân is certain of is that she and her student are in deep, deep, trouble, so she reluctantly reaches out to her only real friend, the mind ship Sunless Woods. Only to discover that she had even less idea about the secrets that her friend was keeping than even the mind ship had fathomed about her own.

Escape Rating A-: I had heard of the author’s vast, sprawling Universe of Xuya and was always intrigued by its loosely connected galaxy of short stories and novellas, but didn’t get the round tuit to actually pick it up somewhere in its vastness until The Tea Master and the Detective was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula a few years ago and won the Nebula. That particular entry in the series was a great hook for this reader, as it is a science fiction mystery, a reimagining of Holmes and Watson as mind ships(!) and just a cracking good story all the way around.

So I kept my eye out for more entries in the series that were long enough to warrant separate publication, and therefore had a chance of eARCs. Which is rarer than one might think as most entries in this series are short stories that have been published in pretty much every SFF short fiction publication extant. They’ve not been collected, at least not yet, although I hope that happens.

Which led me, admittedly in a bit of a roundabout way, to Seven of Infinites, which I only remembered to unearth from the virtually towering TBR pile because the eARC of a new book in the Universe of Xuya popped up on NetGalley and I remembered I had this.

It turned out to be the right book at the right time, which is always lovely.

The Universe of Xuya, with its alternate Earth history deep in its background and its sentient population of both humans and mind ships – and possibly other species I haven’t’ met yet, puts together three things I wouldn’t have expected in the same ‘verse.

Which is a bit of a hint, because the leg of the trousers of time that produced the Universe of Xuya seems adjacent to Firefly’s deep background. It’s a history where the U.S. did not emerge as a world superpower and China has a much larger place on the pre-diaspora world’s stage.

As did Mexico, and that combination of cultural influences leads by a slightly more circuitous route to a culture that carries some resonances from Arkady Martine’s Teixcalaan in A Memory Called Empire, particular with its lyrical language and long story-filled names and titles and the way it centers and preserves its traditions over everyone else’s through implanted memories. .

But the central question of this universe as a whole is one that is asked often in SF, and is one of the central points of Ann Leckie’s short story Lake of Souls, coming in the collection of the same name next spring.

It’s the question of what, exactly, are ‘people’? Not what are humans, because that’s a relatively easy question – or at least it can be. But what makes a human – or a member of another species, even one from another planet or another origin story – people? Is it sentience? Is it sapience? Does it require physicality? Does it require that physicality in the same way that humans manifest it?

In the Universe of Xuya, mind ships are people. No more and no less, albeit more differently, than humans are. Society, built on big ships and small space stations out in the black of space, is made to contain both, together and separately.

At the heart of Seven of Infinities is a story about the privileges of power to perpetuate itself, the ties that bind teacher and student in true respect and scholarship, the importance of having old and dear friends who will be there for you when you need to bury a body – even if its your own – and the sure and certain knowledge that the heart wants what the heart wants, whether the heart is made of blood and tissue or wires and circuits.

I came for the mystery, stayed for the world and universe building, and fell surprisingly hard for the romance at its heart. I’ll be back the next time I’m looking for heartbreaking, lyrical, captivating SF. Or for Navigational Entanglements next year, whichever comes first.

Review: We Are the Crisis by Cadwell Turnbull

Review: We Are the Crisis by Cadwell TurnbullWe Are the Crisis (Convergence Saga #2) by Cadwell Turnbull
Narrator: Dion Graham
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, horror, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Convergence Saga #2
Pages: 338
Length: 9 hours and 7 minutes
Published by Blackstone Publishing on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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In We Are the Crisis—the second book in the Convergence Saga from award-winning author Cadwell Turnbull—humans and monsters come into conflict in a magical and dangerous world as civil rights collide with preternatural forces.
In this highly anticipated sequel, set a few years after No Gods, No Monsters, humanity continues to grapple with the revelation that supernatural beings exist. A werewolf pack investigates the strange disappearances of former members and ends up unraveling a greater conspiracy, while back on St. Thomas, a hurricane approaches and a political debate over monster’s rights ignites tensions in the local community.
Meanwhile, New Era—a pro-monster activist group—works to build a network between monsters and humans, but their mission is threatened by hate crimes perpetrated by a human-supremacist group known as the Black Hand. And beneath it all two ancient orders escalate their conflict, revealing dangerous secrets about the gods and the very origins of magic in the universe.
Told backward and forward in time as events escalate and unravel, We Are the Crisis is a brilliant contemporary fantasy that takes readers on an immersive and thrilling journey.

My Review:

This book is a monster. The kind with tentacles that slither into the sort of places where even fools’ hindbrains stop them from rushing in and angels rightfully fear to tread.

There are also monsters in this book, because that’s the premise behind the entire Convergence Saga, which began with No Gods, No Monsters. Which is both a play on the old anarchist slogan, “No Gods, No Masters.” as well as part and parcel of the whole mind screw of the series so far.

Because there are certainly people acting monstrously on both sides of the human/monster divide.

That divide was made apparent in that first book, as the ‘things that go bump in the night’ walked out of the shadows and confronted a line of cops who got scared and/or trigger happy and killed them all. Even though that particular set of monsters, werewolves one and all, did nothing overtly threatening. They merely threatened the human belief that garden-variety humans were at the top of the food chain.

Which they were suddenly and obviously not.

We Are the Crisis continues the exploration of a universe where at least some of the creatures who have always walked among us have come out of the monster closet and in a bid to live their lives openly among us. (Also, it is very much a continuation that expects the reader to have already been introduced to the multiple threads of this story in No Gods, No Monsters. In other words, start there, not here.)

Some humans are afraid, and some of those who are afraid are acting out of their fear in the most monstrous way possible. But isn’t that exactly what humans do?

But it’s not just about this world, and that’s where the story picks up its tentacles and shakes them at the reader along with shaking the reader’s view of what is going on and where it’s going on at and who is pulling the strings and the levers.

Because this is a story of the multiverse, one where the monsters are emerging on multiple worlds, generally with catastrophic results, at least for themselves. Those worlds are converging – and so are those catastrophic results.

And that crisis? It’s spreading, from one to another, like a multiverse-wide case of the plague. One that everyone is going to catch – unless someone, some monster, finds a better way. Even though they’ll more than likely die trying.

Escape Rating B+: The story so far, with the separation of its many and various threads and its detachment from its characters, reads like a kind of fever dream. Or at least it feels that way when read by its marvelous narrator Dion Graham.

I’ve listened to both books in the Convergence Saga, and Graham’s voice always hypnotizes me. He gives a terrific performance the perfectly matches the laid-back nature of the storytelling, ashe voices the character who stands outside the story and observes all the crises as they occur – and relates those crises and how they got there to us.

His narration carried me through points and places where even when it was clear what was happening in the moment the way it all fit together was totally obscured, which is exactly the way the story was being told – amidst not one but multiple fogs of a war yet to come.

(Full confession, I would cheerfully listen to Dion Graham read the most boring book in existence and I’d still be utterly enthralled. However, at least so far, the Convergence Saga has been anything BUT boring. Confusing at points, but never, EVER dull.)

Part of what makes this story so compelling is its blend of commentary about the real present with the historic paranormal with the outright fantastic. The treatment of the monsters and the meteoric rise of a well-funded organization to put them down has entirely too many parallels to both history and the present for that to be coincidental, and it makes the treatment of the so-called monsters just that much more chilling because it is just that much more real.

At the same time, there’s a dawning revelation that is easy to overlook – particularly in audio because the references to it flash by so quickly – that although the same kind of thing is happening to all these people – it’s not happening in the same universe. That the woman who met – and disliked – the real Aleister Crowley isn’t part of the same history as the woman who was mentored by a vampire which isn’t the same universe as the man who detaches from his world to view all the others.

So that crisis, which at first feels like it’s happening very fast and all over, diffuses across multiple worlds and then draws itself back in again. Just in time for what looks to be a resounding cataclysm that will hopefully be resolved in the third book in this projected trilogy.

Readers, including this one, will certainly be on tenterhooks waiting for that final book, because this story – and this crisis – is far from over.

Review: Chaos Terminal by Mur Lafferty

Review: Chaos Terminal by Mur LaffertyChaos Terminal (The Midsolar Murders, #2) by Mur Lafferty
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, science fiction mystery
Series: Midsolar Murders #2
Pages: 369
Published by Ace on November 7, 2023
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Mallory Viridian would rather not be an amateur detective, and fled to outer space to avoid it…but when one of the new human arrivals on a space shuttle is murdered, she’s back in the game.
Mallory Viridian would rather not be an amateur detective, thank you very much. But no matter what she does, people persist in dying around her—and only she seems to be able to solve the crime. After fleeing to an alien space station in hopes that the lack of humans would stop the murders, a serial killer had the nerve to follow her to Station Eternity. (Mallory deduced who the true culprit was that time, too.)
Now the law enforcement agent who hounded Mallory on Earth has come to Station Eternity, along with her teenage crush and his sister, Mallory’s best friend from high school. Mallory doesn’t believe in coincidences, and so she’s not at all surprised when someone in the latest shuttle from Earth is murdered. It’s the story of her life, after all.
Only this time she has more than a killer to deal with. Between her fugitive friends, a new threat arising from the Sundry hivemind, and the alarmingly peculiar behavior of the sentient space station they all call home, even Mallory’s deductive abilities are strained. If she can’t find out what’s going on (and fast), a disaster of intergalactic proportions may occur.…

My Review:

The title for this one works both ways. There’s plenty of chaos at this terminal, and much of it is terminal. But that’s not exactly a surprise with Mallory Viridian on the case. Even if part of the chaos at Station Eternity happens BECAUSE Mallory Viridian is on the case.

And entirely too much of the rest of it happens because not ALL of Mallory Viridian is on the case. To the point where Mallory isn’t even aware that there’s a case at all until someone literally drags her to the scene of the crime, and Mallory finally figures out that whatever has gone wrong on Station Eternity has gone wrong with her as well.

It’s not actually a surprise that something has gone wrong AROUND Mallory, or even that something has gone wrong WITH Mallory. Mallory is a chaos magnet of the first order, and both of those things are always happening whenever Mallory is around.

Because people always end up dead in Mallory’s vicinity. Not because she’s some kind of serial killer, but because the kind of chaos that Mallory attracts – and is then both blamed for and stuck with solving, not necessarily in that order – is the chaos that surrounds murder. She doesn’t perpetrate it, she doesn’t cause it, but wherever Mallory is, murder happens.

What Mallory is still adjusting to, and the reason that Mallory isn’t initially aware of the problems that the station is having, are directly related to Mallory’s discovery about herself and all those murders in the first book in the Midsolar Murders series, Station Eternity.

Mallory was bitten by a wasp as a child. But it wasn’t a wasp. Mallory was bitten by an advance scout for the Sundry, an alien insect species that either infiltrated Earth or arose there long before First Contact. The Sundry, as a hivemind and as a species, like gathering data and are attracted to chaos because there’s plenty of data to parse in chaotic conditions.

It’s unfortunate for Mallory that the scout that bit her was from a hivemind that was particularly attracted to the chaos around murder investigations, leading to pretty much everything that happens in Mallory’s life afterwards.

Leading Mallory to the isolation of Station Eternity – as a mere four humans aren’t enough to generate the coincidences that lead to Mallory’s brand of murder chaos.

There are, however, plenty of other species living and working aboard the station, including the chameleon-like Phantasmagore and the rocky Gneiss. And the Sundry, who in their love of chaos and data make a specialty of handling the semi-autonomous functions of spaceships and space stations.

But something is wrong with the Sundry aboard Station Eternity – and it’s wrong with Mallory as well. It’s so wrong that when a whole shipload of humans arrives on the Station, Mallory isn’t panicking about the near-certainty of murder in her vicinity. Not even as the coincidences start piling up. Suddenly there are entirely too many humans aboard Eternity, and too many of them know Mallory entirely too well.

It’s only when the bodies start dropping that Mallory finally figures out that the murders aren’t the only thing going wrong on the station, and that she’ll have to solve those murders without her murder-solving mojo – or get it back.

If she can.

Escape Rating B: One of the things that made the first book in this series, Station Eternity, so damn much fun was its relentless pace. From the moment we meet Mallory, the chaos starts swirling, Mallory starts panicking, and the whole thing is off to the races.

But when we get back to Mallory in Chaos Terminal, Mallory is not feeling herself. At all. She thinks it’s some kind of space flu. Whatever it is, she’s so far from firing on all thrusters she isn’t even aware that a huge chunk of what makes Mallory BE Mallory is totally offline.

The story isn’t told from Mallory’s first person perspective, but she is very much the reader’s perspective on events, which means that Mallory being in a complete fog for the first third of the book means that we are as well.

So it’s a third of the way into the story before Mallory’s fog lifts and the real action kicks into gear. At that point, it’s suddenly, thankfully and blissfully gangbusters, but it’s a LONG slog to get there and I very nearly didn’t.

The story, and the mystery, in Chaos Terminal is wrapped around cleaning up the many, many fascinating loose ends that were left laying on the deck of Eternity after the chaotic, nearly cataclysmic events of that first book – especially Mallory’s own, personal loose ends.

Which means that Chaos Terminal is probably not the best place to start the Midsolar Murders because a LOT of this story was set up in that first book. Howsomever, if you got caught up in Mallory’s bloody, madcap situation then, there’s a lot of fun in seeing most of those loose ends get tied up, quite possibly in a series of Gordian Knots, here in this second outing.

In spite of the science fictional setting – which is utterly fascinating – this SF mystery is pretty much character driven. Meaning that if you like Mallory as a character and enjoy her multi-species Scooby Gang, it will probably work for you. I did like Mallory a LOT in Station Eternity, so I came into Chaos Terminal expecting to love it as well. I think it works a bit less well than that first book because Mallory REALLY isn’t herself for that long beginning, and the less polished and/or less likable characters’ rough edges are very much on display while Mallory is getting her act together.

But I do like Mallory Viridian as a character, and as a human perspective on humanity’s first toehold in this near-future, post-First Contact, wider galactic universe. A universe that is not only not centered on humans, but doesn’t even seem to be centered on humanoids, making it every bit as fascinating a character as Mallory herself.

Which means that I absolutely will be back to see who, or what, ends up dead when Mallory’s next investigation/adventure/crisis appears!

Review: Stephen Leeds: Death and Faxes by Brandon Sanderson

Review: Stephen Leeds: Death and Faxes by Brandon SandersonStephen Leeds: Death and Faxes by Brandon Sanderson, Max Epstein, David Pace, Michael Harkins
Narrator: Oliver Wyman
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Legion #1.5
Length: 5 hours and 54 minutes
Published by Recorded Books on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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From #1 New York Times Bestselling, Hugo Award-winning author, Brandon Sanderson, and co-authors Max Epstein, David Pace, and Michael Harkins comes an audio-first techno-thriller addition to the universe of Stephen (Legion) Leeds.
Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are all quite mad.
A one-man team of experts, Stephen Leeds is a genius of unparalleled mental capabilities who can learn new skills or master entire scholarly disciplines in mere hours. However, these skills come at a price. Stephen must compartmentalize his brain, with each of his new skill sets being held by an “aspect”—a hallucination his mind creates with their own fully-developed personality, life, and limitations. Without these aspects, and the delicate construct of reality they provide for him, Stephen is unable to control his mind and engage with the real world.
So when an unprecedented Internal Revenue Service data breach stumps the FBI, Stephen is brought in to investigate. With the help of his aspects, he must uncover the connection between millions of stolen tax returns, a mysterious hacker named Enoch, a strange, cutting-edge technology that uses soundwaves to transfer data, and a nearly extinct Mesopotamian religion which once rivaled Christianity. What Leeds discovers along the way will reveal the devastating consequences of this new technology, test the limits of his aspects, and lead him face to face with a man hell-bent on vengeance, for which no cost is too high.
Stephen Leeds: Death and Faxes is a new entry in Brandon Sanderson’s Stephen Leeds saga and chronologically takes place between the novellas Legion and Legion: Lies of the Beholder.

My Review:

The case that finds Stephen Leeds in this audio-only entry in the Legion series is rather more mundane – and initially less personal – than the cases he solved in the three novellas that make up Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds; Legion, Skin Deep and Lies of the Beholder.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is left up to the reader – or in this case listener – to judge.

The title gives a hint, as it’s both a play on the saying about the inevitability of ‘death and taxes’ as well as a mystery that begins with a very high-tech application of a rather old technology. A massive data breach at an IRS datacenter has been perpetrated by using the still-functioning fax machines as both a backdoor into the once-believed secure system AND a method of transmitting sound waves that can either soothe or destroy.

Those sound waves certainly soothed the IRS staff into an entire afternoon of hazy dreaming that allowed the hack to take place while the entire staff was quite literally blissfully unaware – and unremembering.

That’s not the case when Stephen Leeds is finally called in. With the help of his ‘aspects’, his mental projections of the many facets of his strange genius, he was able to determine both when and how the hack took place.

Which is when the mysterious hacker struck directly at Stephen and his abilities for the first, but absolutely not the last, time, rendering his aspects comatose and taking Stephen himself nearly to the edge of collapse.

It’s only the beginning, because Stephen is determined to get to the bottom of this case, following a trail of victims around the country even as the structure of his increasingly fragile mental landscape falls into tatters.

While a seemingly omniscient enemy waits in the shadows of cyberspace, blocking Stephen’s every avenue to both resolution and escape.

Except one, hidden in the very place that the hacker has done his best to destroy. Inside Stephen Leeds’ own mind.

Escape Rating B-: I have mixed feelings about this one, and I’m not even sure if I can completely articulate why. But I’m certainly going to try.

I picked this up because I loved this series as it originally stood, which may be part of the problem. Initially, the Legion series was really a single story broken up into three parts that were published as separate novellas. It may not have been intended that way when the first book, Legion, was published 2012, but by the time the third book, Lies of the Beholder, came out in 2018 it seemed as if the trilogy told a complete story that came to a satisfying ending for the whole thing – even if, or especially because – it was a bit of a mind screw at the end.

So I wasn’t expecting to see Stephen Leeds again when I found this audio-only entry in the series. An entry that doesn’t occur AFTER Lies of the Beholder, but instead between the first book, Legion, and the second book, Skin Deep. So it took a bit of mental adjustment on my part to get back into the world of ten years ago and back into what was then still an incomplete story.

In other words, Stephen Leeds had himself and the aspects of his genius a bit better figured out by the end of the final book, so it was weird to see him back to a more uncertain state of himself. A combination of angst, uncertainty and even impostor syndrome that felt like it pervaded this book even more than in the stories published previously.

At the same time, it also seemed as if that very angst and uncertainty was an intent of the mysterious hacker, and it’s a part of Stephen’s perspective that didn’t get fully resolved at the end.

One of the things that struck me about Death and Faxes, and it’s the impression I’m left with now that I’ve finished, is that Stephen doesn’t feel quite like himself in this story – although his aspects are very well drawn. As this production was a cooperative effort rather than just a single writer, it may be that the characterization felt a bit off because this time around it ironically came from more than one mind – just as Stephen’s genius often appears to.

Also, Leeds just plain angsts a LOT in this story, even more than in the other parts of the series, and that angst dragged the resolution of the mystery out even more than the hacker’s admitted genius and manipulation did. This was a case where I would have gladly switched to text, just to get on with it, if there had been one, but there isn’t.

So, a whole lot of mixed feelings, leaving me with the conclusion that fans of the series, like me, will probably enjoy the trip down memory lane to visit Stephen and his aspects again. (However, the comment in the blurb about Stephen being perfectly sane but his hallucinations all being quite mad isn’t merely a bit off – it’s completely wrong. A fair number of his aspects are quirky and/or eccentric, but none of them are actually ‘mad’, and neither is Stephen Leeds. His coping mechanism is just eccentric and sometimes expensive, but works for him and does no harm to anyone else. There are worse ways to get by.)

If you’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the series, Death and Faxes is an interesting but not 100% successful addition to Leeds’ story. And if you’ve listened to any of the other books in the series, that this production is voiced by Oliver Wyman, the same actor who worked on the rest of the series, helps carry the listener along into accepting this later work as part of the whole.

But if the description of Stephen Leeds’ genius and methods of coping with it sound like fun but you’ve not met him before, it would be better to start your acquaintance with the first exploration of Stephen’s journey in Legion.

Review: Calamity by Constance Fay

Review: Calamity by Constance FayCalamity (Uncharted Hearts, #1) by Constance Fay
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Uncharted Hearts #1
Pages: 320
Published by Bramble Romance on November 14, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Bramble's inaugural debut is equal parts steamy interstellar romance and sci-fi adventure, perfect for fans of Firefly and Ilona Andrews.
She’s got a ramshackle spaceship, a misfit crew, and a big problem with its sexy newest member…
Temperance Reed, banished from the wealthy and dangerous Fifteen Families, just wants to keep her crew together after their feckless captain ran off with the intern. But she’s drowning in debt and revolutionary new engine technology is about to make her beloved ship obsolete.
Enter Arcadio Escajeda. Second child of the terrifying Escajeda Family, he’s the thorn in Temper’s side as they’re sent off on a scouting mission on the backwater desert planet of Herschel 2. They throw sparks every time they meet but Temper’s suspicions of his ulterior motives only serve to fuel the flames between them.
Despite volcanic eruptions, secret cultists, and deadly galactic fighters, the greatest threat on this mission may be to Temper’s heart.

My Review:

They had me at Firefly. Seriously. I’m still a sucker for another trip on anything like the Serenity, and Calamity, both the ship and the person she’s named for, certainly flies a very similar trajectory out in the black.

But Temperance Reed, infamous as just ‘Temper’ for damn good reasons, isn’t really all that much like Mal Reynolds. Mal seems to have started life close to the bottom in his ‘verse, while Temperance Reed, once upon a time, was at the top of hers.

However, being a soldier imploded his life, being the younger sister of an entitled asshole blew up hers, and they both end up in the same place, as captains of scrappy, ramshackle ships they can barely manage to keep flying, with misfit crews, taking jobs they know they shouldn’t take but can’t afford to turn down, making the best of the bad hand that life has dealt them.

Once upon a time, Temper Reed was the child of one of the ‘Ten’, one of the mega-rich, mega-corp, mercantile families that control their galaxy. But the problem with Temper wasn’t so much her temper as it was her older brother’s. He was the heir, she was the spare, but she was their parents’ favorite.

So once they were gone, his insecurities and megalomania combined to take her family’s development in a direction she knew her parents would never have condoned. Instead of continuing to create cutting-edge tech utilizing AI and language processing, her brother Frederick turned them into a ruthless slice and dice operation that just killed off competition – literally – and then swooped in to buy out the remainders.

They stopped creating. And Temper stopped believing, to the point where she rebelled and he officially disowned and banished her to the unregulated black. There’s more to that story, and it’s all awful. Awfully well told and revealed, but still awful.

Temper and her crew are on borrowed time, and the ship is in hock up to Temper’s eyebrows. So when one of the really big conglomerate families offers them a job with premium pay, Temper knows she has to take it, even though she also knows that they’re concealing a whole lot of the details about what’s really going on,  AND that she and her crew are expendable in the first place and they don’t plan to pay them even if they survive.

What she doesn’t expect is a corporate minder in the much too handsome and appealing person of one of the family’s younger sons, Arcadio Escajeda. She’s sure she can ignore her hormones in favor of the common sense that’s telling her that family scions in good standing absolutely do not take up with banished and reviled traitors to their own families.

While Temper may be swimming up the River DeNial, wherever that might be located in her ‘verse, it’s not Arcadio’s perfectly sculpted hotness that throws her good sense over its shoulder and takes it along for the ride – it’s his willingness to truly BE a part of her crew no matter how boring or dangerous the duty might be. Along with just how damn good he is at helping her save them all.

Temper, apparently, is a sucker for competence. While Arcadio turns out to be a sucker for Calamity.

Escape Rating A+: Damn this is fun. Or should I say shiny. Fun, absolutely, utterly fun. I had a terrific time reading this. It’s a wild thrill ride of a science fiction adventure with a (dare I say it?) core of molten lava in multiple senses of all those words.

But a big chunk of the reason I loved it was because of just how well it fits into the science fiction romance tradition – which has never gotten near as much love as it deserves. So I have hopes that Tor Books’ creation of the Bramble imprint, specifically for the purpose of publishing science fiction romance, will do a lot to turn that tide.

The thing about SFR as a genre is that it has to sit on the fence between SF and romance and not get too many splinters up its ass from either side – unless it turns out that the romantic partners are into that sort of thing. Which means that the worldbuilding and plotting has to tell a credible SF story while putting a romance with at least a HFN (that’s Happy For Now), at its heart.

It’s not that it hasn’t been done, because it most definitely has. While Firefly hinted at it – frequently and often – that wasn’t the heart of that story. And the blurb’s mention of Ilona Andrews isn’t quite right as most of her work has been urban fantasy. Compelling with wonderful storytelling and world creation, but not SFR except for her short but marvelous Kinsmen series.

Instead, the comparisons are to Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, Valerie Valdes’ more recent Chilling Effect series, K.B. Wagers’ Indranan War, and even going back to Nina Croft’s Dark Desires series and further back to Lois McMaster Bujold’s long-running Vorkosigan Saga.

I can’t leave that list without mentioning the marvelous – and marvelously prolific – Anna Hackett, who has created some truly terrific universes, terribly rapacious villains, and steam-up-the spaceship windows SFR series for anyone who loves a rollicking good SF adventure with a steamy heart. (If you like the sound of Calamity, or if you loved any of the above mentioned, check out Hackett’s Eon Warriors series and its sequels for some excellent SFR!)

Between its background of mercantile, family-run empires, unhinged heirs and abusive siblings, battered smugglers and their ships along with its story of a star-crossed romance with a change, Calamity is a worthwhile successor to any and all of the above. And if Tor Books’ creation of Bramble makes readers re-evaluate just how great a taste it can be to add a bit of romance to their SF, that’s all to the good.

Because Calamity manages to straddle that fence very, very well. The world is solidly built, the heroes are just the right level of ragtag, Temper is most definitely interestingly flawed but still striving, and the mission is exciting and FUBAR’d at the same time – just as it should be.

The romance between Temper and Arcadio has the deliciousness of being oh-so-right, oh-so-wrong and oh-so-big-a-mistake wrapped up in a dangerous package that hits all the right places, with all the intrusive wink-wink, nod-nod poking from the crew needed to make it both sweet and spectacle at the same time. While the save-the-mission-and-maybe-die-trying ending was just the kind of wild ride that SF readers love.

Which I most certainly did.

Calamity is both the author’s debut novel AND the book that marks the kickoff for Bramble, and it’s a grand book to carry both of those banners. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store for SFR lovers in the months to come. And Temper will be back next June in Fiasco, which, if Calamity is anything to go by, will probably be filled with oodles of fiascos for Temper and her crew while delivering another kickass science fiction adventure wrapped around a fantastic romance!