Posts Categorized: Review

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Publisher: Knopf - Pages: 352 - Buy: Book/eBook
Buy Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

We live in a world of fast-moving moral panics. A world where information moves literally at the speed of light, crossing oceans and wrapping the world in mere moments. Technology connects us all, but it is also a tool, willing or unwilling, that embeds in us a fear of the world we live in. Turmoil in a country thousands of miles away plasters our social networks, convincing us that our own corner of the world is meant for similar fates, though even ten years ago we would not have heard rumblings of the news for hours, fifty years ago it might have taken days, and before that weeks, years. Information and panic sweeps through us as quickly as keystrokes are entered into a social network.

What if an deadly illness moved that so fast? What if it was as bad as we all feared? What if it was worse?. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven ponders that question. An illness sweeps through a society wracked by their own fears and doubts. The world that awaits the few survivors, a world without advanced technology, societal borders, and laws, is recognized not for what it promises but for what was lost. “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth,” opines Dr. Eleven, a comic book character who dwells on the titular space station, early in novel. Regret lies heavy at the heart of Mandel’s post-apocalyptic tale. But, beside it — a beacon of hope — is nostalgia. Read More »

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Publisher: Angry Robot Books - Pages: 544 - Buy: Book/eBook
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On the surface, The Mirror Empire, the first volume in Hurley’s The World Breaker Saga, is an epic fantasy about two warring empires. Not a wholly original concept, but Hurley’s take on the familiar story is a relentless avalanche of a novel that crams so many original ideas — clever magic, the intertwining politics of the warring empires, cultures with non-binary genders — that the familiarity of the overall plot is a beacon for readers to orient themselves while navigating Hurley’s twisted imagination. Her willingness to overtly and wholly subvert conventional genre tropes, specifically the Hero’s Journey1, is a testament to both Hurley’s understanding of the genre and her willingness to tear the house down around her just so she can build it up again. The Mirror Empire works both as a traditional secondary world fantasy, and as a complete dissection of the genre — few authors have the chops to pull off such a bold narrative. Read More »

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Publisher: Orbit Books - Pages: 400 - Buy: Book/eBook
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie can dance.

When her debut novel, Ancillary Justice, released in 2014, nobody expected it to hit the science fiction community like a nuclear bomb. But it did. And Leckie was dancing the whole way through.

It was a firecracker of a novel — small and intense — but the unusual narrative structure and Leckie’s bold take on gender might have limited the audience to the most passionate and feminist-minded readers. Instead, the exact opposite happened: Ancillary Justice wasn’t a small snap, crackle, pop in a corner of fandom, it was a conflagration of love and adoration heard ’round the community.

Ancillary Justice won almost every major literary award for science fiction and fantasy in 2014, including the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel, and has sold over 30,000 copies to date, proving that not only is there a market for progressive, thoughtful space opera, there’s a thirst for it among readers. Ancillary Justice was a huge critical and commercial success, but with that success comes a lot of pressure for a sequel that lives up to its predecessor and satisfies its many fans. Writing under that sort of pressure can be the first stumbling point for many first time novelists, but Leckie never misses a beat. Read More »

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Publisher: Angry Robot Books - Pages: 544 - Buy: Book/eBook
Cover art for The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

In the world of Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, where magic users draw their power from one of three heavenly satellites, a dark star is rising, one whose ascendance heralds a time of cataclysmic change and war between realities. For Lilia, who crossed from one world to another in childhood, fleeing the wrath of an alternate, militaristic version of the peaceful Dhai culture she now inhabits, this means discovering her mother’s hidden legacy before it can destroy her. For Akhio, the younger brother and now unexpected heir of Dhai’s deceased leader, Oma’s rise brings politicking and treachery, both from Dhai’s traditional enemies and from within his own state. For Zezili, the half-blood daijian general of matriarchal Dorinah, charged by her alien empress with exterminating the nation’s daijian population, it means an uneasy alliance with women from another world; women whose plans are built on blood and genocide. For Rohinmey, a novice parajista who dreams of adventure, Oma brings the promise of escape – but at a more terrible cost than he could ever have imagined. And for Taigan, a genderfluid assassin and powerful omajista bound in service to the Patron of imperial Saiduan, it means watching cities burn as invading armies walk between worlds with the aim of destroying his. How many realities are there? Who can travel between them? And who will survive Oma’s rise?

The Mirror Empire hooked me in from the very first page.

The Mirror Empire, the first volume of the Worldbreaker Saga, is Hugo Award-winning writer Kameron Hurley’s fourth novel, and from the minute I first saw the blurb, I knew I had to read it. The entire concept – backstabbing politics, polyamorous pacifists, violent matriarchs, sentient plant-monsters, doors between worlds – is basically my personal catnip, and when you throw in my enjoyment of Hurley’s first novel, God’s War, my expectations at the outset were understandably high. Which is ordinarily a risk factor: the more I invest in a story beforehand, the more likely I am to wind up disappointed. But The Mirror Empire, with its sprawling, fascinating mix of original cultures, political wrangling – both within the narrative and as cultural commentary – and vivid, brilliant worldbuilding, hooked me in from the very first page. The only reason it took me so long to read, in fact, was a personal reticence to have the story end: I’ve been drawing it out over weeks and months, prolonging the inevitable.

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The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publisher: Tor.com - Pages: 31 - Buy: Book/eBook
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Editor’s Note: This review is spoiler-heavy. If this bothers you, please go read “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” on Tor.com, then return. Spoilers: it’s worth it.

Science fiction offers many things to readers. It allows them to be transported to another time, to wonder about the future, to see sights and visit worlds that are currently out of human reach. To writers, it provides a canvas that begs for speculation, to take issues that challenge us individually and as a society and examine them through a lens warped by time, imagination, and creative license.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, which recently won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, is, on the surface, a wonderful and charming tale of an alternate history where NASA reached Mars during the ’50s. Peel back the layers, however, and Kowal’s Martian colony is alive with questions of aging, loyalty and family. Though she never quite provides answers, Kowal challenges readers to contemplate these themes that run through all our lives. Read More »