Universal Love by Alexander Weinstein – A Review

Universal Love: Stories by Alexander Weinstein
Short Stories | Science Fiction
Published by Henry Holt & Company
Released 21st January 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Technology plays an ever-growing part in our lives. Most of us are so addicted to our phones or laptops that it’s hard for us to fathom not having them. The internet, our phones, and the satellites moving through space all help us connect to the rest of the world. We share information and news. People have access to resources they wouldn’t have otherwise. Technology had undoubtedly improved our world.

As we all know, however, technology is far from perfect. We can easily become addicted to its use, oftentimes to the detriment of our real lives. There are a lot of questions we have to ask ourselves as technology continues to grow in our lives, such as how much privacy to sacrifice.

Author Alexander Weinstein

In Universal Love: Stories, author Alexander Weinstein places the reader in a near-future inundated with technology and both the positives and negatives of technology on our relationships. While many of the stories are in the realm of science fiction, the technology feels close at hand.

As I read these eleven stories, I found myself living through the ethical ramifications of the characters. In my favorite story, “Purple Heart,” a father and son play a video game that takes place in real life, fighting terrorists in a distant land. With the increased use of drones in modern warfare, this could easily already be happening. A child playing a game, however, might struggle to understand the gravity of the situation at large.

In another story, “The Year of Nostalgia,” a grieving father allows his daughters to create a holographic version of his late wife. After doing this, one of their daughters discovers the unknown past of her mother, which seems very out-of-character. One moment from this story that’s stuck with me is how the father, after spending time with the holographic wife, almost seems to prefer this “new” version of her better than who she was when she was alive.

I thoroughly enjoyed Alexander Weinstein’s glimpses into what could easily be our very near future. I find myself in the same situation as many others: loving technology while simultaneously being wary of it. The stories collected in Universal Love play on these feelings and create scenarios that leave you questioning how you’d react in such a situation, and which also leaves you with a hesitancy about where technology is taking our relationships and lives in the future.

Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher for review. This in no way effects my opinions.


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The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey – A Review

The Book of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #1) by M.R. Carey
Science Fiction | Post-Apocalyptic
Published by Orbit
Released 14 April 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As someone whose favorite genre is post-apocalyptic, I have very high standards for it. Few books reach the god-tier of the genre, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Stephen King’s The Stand. So many new post-apocalyptic books fall into the trap of cliches and over-used scenarios. To my absolute delight, M. R. Carey’s The Book of Koli, exceeding my expectations. While not in the god-tier category, it’s a contribution to the genre and a book that I can’t stop recommending.

The Book of Koli follows a teenage boy named Koli who lives in Mythen Rood, a small, walled city in Britain. The outside world is hostile: humanity has destroyed itself in the Unfinished War, and genetically-engineered trees have become violent. While there are other villages, they are too far apart for easy communication and trade, so to the people of Mythen Rood, they are essentially alone.

In Mythen Rood, the community is controlled by Ramparts, people who have been able to speak to ancient technology. Technology is seen as sacred due to both its rareness and the lack of knowledge about it. Everyone in the village has an opportunity to test their ability to “wake” a piece of technology to become a Rampart, but almost everyone walks away disappointed.

Koli wants more than anything to be a Rampart, but his dreams are dashed when he fails to wake any technology. However, he doesn’t give up and makes a series of questionable and brave choices to try again. As a consequence, he finds himself exiled from Mythen Rood. People in the village rarely leave the safety of the walls, so everything is new to Koli. He’s forced to use his own wits and abilities to survive in a very dangerous world.

Technology versus humanity is an old trope in post-apocalyptic and science fiction literature, but M.R. Carey puts a unique spin on it, making it feel fresh. More than anything, The Book of Koli is about constructs of society, blind faith, and corruptibility.

One aspect of this book that I wasn’t crazy over was that the trees had been bred to walk and consume flesh. It was too outlandish for me, but not out of bounds for science fiction. It’s a personal preference that I didn’t enjoy this element, so for many of you, it might not be an issue. Fortunately, that part of the book is a background element that provides life to the setting but doesn’t influence much else.

I was fascinated by the societies made by the remnants of humanity. While Mythen Rood is the focus of much of this first book of the Rampart Trilogy, we also meet a large group of people living in a tunnel and worshiping their messiah, Senlas. In both instances, the communities have almost blind faith in their leadership, whether that’s a group of technology-baring politicians and a religious prophet.

The people in the world are very isolated from one another, and as a result, there’s very little genetic diversity. Koli comes to realize the dangers of this with the help of his friend Ursula, a traveling doctor who he unexpectedly runs into outside of Mythen Rood’s gates. As a result of both a dwindling population and reduced gene pool, people are no longer successfully having children. Communities are at constant risk of dying off, and Koli wants to do something about it. From the ending of The Book of Koli, the second book in this trilogy will focus more on Koli’s efforts to do just that.

The first several chapters of this book were difficult to read due to Koli’s vernacular. People in his world are poorly educated in reading and writing, and it shows in the book, which is in the format of a diary written by Koli. One of the first examples I found in the book was in the first chapter: “Judging is what them that listen does for them that tell.” Sentence structure, misspellings, and bizarre wording can make parts of this book hard to read. There were a few moments early on when I considered DNF-ing it due to this element. I’m very happy that I stuck with it, however, because eventually you stop noticing it as much and the story takes off.

Despite Koli being 15 at the start of the book, I would not call this a young adult novel, although I have seen it classified as such. It reads as adult science fiction and deals with mature ideas. While there’s no explicit or graphic scenes, this is a pretty dark novel that I would definitely catalogue as adult fiction.

The Book of Koli is meant to be read as a trilogy, not as individual books. While there is an “end” to this first book, it’s really just setting up the next two novels in the series. Usually, I like each book in a series being their own self-contained story, but it didn’t bother me so much in this instance. I was incredibly intrigued and do want to read the rest of the story, and readers won’t have to wait for the next books. The publisher’s plan for the trilogy is to release all three books within 10 months. As someone who has absolutely no patience, I’m thrilled that they’re publishing the books as quickly as they are.

If you like post-apocalyptic stories or stories that involve nature trying to tear down humanity, then I very much recommend The Book of Koli. I’m eagerly waiting to read the second installation, The Trials of Koli, which is already out, along with the forthcoming final book in the trilogy, The Fall of Koli. M. R. Carey has created a unique world that asks us hard questions about society, and it’s very much worth the read.


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The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark – A Review

the black god's drums p djeli clark

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Science Fiction | Steampunk | Alternate History | Novella
Published by Tor.com
Released August 21st, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I can’t remember the last time I read a really great steampunk story, so I’m thrilled that I finally picked up P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums. At just 112 pages, it’s a short and quick story, but one that is packed with an interesting world, intriguing characters, and a solid plot.

P Djeli Clark
P. Djeli Clark

The Black God’s Drums is a steampunk-fantasy story set during an alternate history where the Civil War agreed to an armistice and New Orleans became a free city. Creeper, our main character, is a teenage girl who lives on the streets and pickpockets newcomers to the city in order to survive. One day, after hearing a group of men plotting over a Haitian scientist coming to town, Creeper tries to sell the information, instead getting tangled up in a race to keep a dangerous weapon out of the hands of the wrong people.

I read the whole thing in a single sitting and wanted more as soon as I finished it. It’s a world that would warrant a full-length novel. I want to know more about The Free Isles, which, in the story, became free after the Haitian Slave Rebellion in 1794 and comprises Haiti and the Caribbean. Using the mysterious weapon known as The Black God’s Drums, won their freedom against the French naval fleet that was on their shores.

I want to know more about the gods and goddesses who live inside of people and can unleash their power through them. I need to know more about Ann-Marie, captain of the airship Midnight Robber.

Clark did an amazing job of weaving history with fantasy and creating a “what if” scenario, and made it even better by adding airships. There’s so much happening in the story, but it never feels overwhelming. I’ve read some novellas where the authors tried to stuff the pages with way too much information that it becomes confusing, and P. Djeli Clark certainly didn’t do that.

One of the things I most appreciated about the novella is that the author didn’t make the female characters (which, by the way, they’re almost all female characters) sexualized or have them fall in love. They simply were awesome and kicked all the ass. I wish more authors would just let their female characters be themselves without forcing awkward romances on them.

The only gripe I have about The Black God’s Drums is that the politics of the world, and of New Orleans specifically, felt a little jumbled. There’s limited space for explanation in a novella, so I get it, but I needed more information on that front.

This was the first piece of literature by P. Djeli Clark that I’ve ever read, and it certainly won’t be the last. I want to read everything by him now because of how impressed I was by The Black God’s Drums. 




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Q-in-Law: Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Review

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Q-in-Law (Star Trek: The Next Generation #18) by Peter David
Science Fiction
Published by Pocket Books
Released October 1991
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

There’s one side character in the Star Trek universe who I’m always excited to see: Lwaxana Troi. She’s delightfully difficult, frivolous yet wise, and brings a rogue joy to any episode or story she’s involved in. Some of my favorite Deep Space Nine episodes are the ones where Lwaxana makes an appearance. I’ve always wanted more Lwaxana, and seeing as the actress who played her, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s spouse, Majel Barrett, died in 2008, there’s a limited amount of her stories to enjoy.

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Lwaxana Troi & Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Not too long ago I had traded in some books at my local used bookstore and walked over to their large section of Star Trek paperback novels. I already own a bunch, so I always limit myself to one per trip. I nearly jumped for joy when I noticed Peter David’s Q-in-Law, featuring a trio of wonderful characters on the cover: Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Q, and Lwaxana Troi. I didn’t need to read the synopsis to know this was the book I’d be buying.

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Author Peter David

Like most of the Star Trek novels that I’ve read, the story reads like a single episode. In Q-in-Law, two rival families of an alien race called the Tizarin are gathering aboard the USS Enterprise for the wedding of two young lovers. It’s a great opportunity for Star Fleet to extend diplomacy, get to know a new species, and act as a neutral ground for two families that have been fighting for generations, even though they don’t completely remember why.

As Betazoid’s ambassador, it’s only fitting that Lwaxana Troi would show up, much to the chagrin of the captain. However, no one is expecting the omnipotent being known only as Q to show up, and the crew of the Enterprise is understandably distressed at his arrival. Lwaxana, however, is incredibly intrigued and drawn to Q, and pursues a romantic relationship with him, even as her daughter, Counselor Deanna Troi, does everything in her power to stop her mother from committing what she sees as a devastating mistake.

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Q

Q-in-Law was definitely an enjoyable story and one that would have been fun to watch on screen. Unfortunately, my expectations may have been set too high, and I was overall disappointed by the story.

Author Peter David did a wonderful job of capturing the personality and charm of all of the characters we’re familiar with and creating new intriguing characters in the members of the Tizarin. As I had expected, Lwaxana was easily my favorite part of the story, and she exhibited a feisty-ness not even rivaled by her character’s televised stories.

My biggest disappointment in the novel was the entire side story involving Wesley Crusher, who is one of only two Star Trek: The Next Generation characters who I could easily do without (the other being Tasha Yar and every other character she played). I was so annoyed by Wesley’s side story about receiving what was essentially a sex slave to please him that it definitely took away a great deal of my enjoyment.

Am I happy that I read it? Absolutely. Getting even a little bit more Lwaxana was worth dealing with a far too drawn out Wesley story. Will I read it again? Probably not.


Does Q-in-Law sound like something you’d enjoy? Let me know why or why not in the comments!




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Anyone by Charles Soule – A Review

Anyone Charles Soule.jpg

Anyone by Charles Soule
Science Fiction
Published by Harper Perennial
Released December 3rd, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_and_a_half_stars

Note: I received a free ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinions.

Before discovering this sci-fi novel, Charles Soule was known to me primarily as a comic book writer. I’ve loved many of the series that he’s written for Marvel, so when I found out that he wrote novels, I jumped on the opportunity to review this.

This story follows two timelines: the first, in the near future, when a neuroscientist named Gabrielle White attempts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and accidentally discovers “the flash,” a way for people to shift their consciousness into someone else’s body; and then approximately thirty years later when a woman named Annami is trying to tell the world that The Flash isn’t quite what they think.

Charles Soule
Charles Soule

The chapters alternate between the two timeless with the sections of the book separated by editorials and news articles about The Flash. I loved the way the story was told, as Soule was masterful in the way the story unfolded together via the separate timelines. As I neared the end, I found myself becoming excited anytime I found another connection to the character in the other timeline.

I enjoyed reading this book a great deal, and if there ends up being a sequel (the novel ends in such a way that I expect there will be), I’ll read it for sure. That said, however, the novel didn’t blow me away. It fell into that strange category between “that was pretty good” and “awesome!”

The plot of the book intrigued me right away. Who among us hasn’t thought at some point about what it would be like to wake up in a different body, if even for a moment? This book allows the characters to do just that. Instead of having to spend nine hours on a plane for your dream vacation, you can simply Flash into people already there and then come home to your original body. Want to do some crazy shit that you wouldn’t dream of doing in your own body? Use the Flash.

While most of The Flash traffic is tracked and overseen by the company Anyone, there is also a “dark web” of Flash traffic, and that is where we meet Annami. Annami finds herself in need of quick cash and allows her body to be used for illegal shares, never knowing what is being done with her or to her. It’s a world that I wouldn’t mind reading more about.

The reason I couldn’t give this novel a higher rating, though, was that the main conflict of the story felt a little weak to me. Intellectually, I understand the conflict and the protagonists’ motivations, but it was hard for me to feel invested as most of the story was told from the perspectives of Gabrielle and Annami, who are definitely on the same side of the fight. There are one or two brief interludes where we see the story from the perspective of the antagonists, but I feel as though the story would have been more engaging if we knew more about the “villains” of the tale.

The majority of side characters were underdeveloped in favor of all of the good characterization of Gabrielle and Annami. Their characters were well-written and easy for me to become attached to, but their personalities and motivations are very similar. For example, both characters have a very one-track mind and their goals come first before anything else, including family and friends. While there are stark differences in them, the familiarities were so overwhelming that it felt like the entire story was being told from the point of view of one character. I wish we had gotten some deeper characterization of some of the antagonists (see the paragraph above) and side characters, particularly a side character named Jon Corran.

While the ending of the novel was unsatisfying to me, I still enjoyed the book well enough that I would eagerly read a sequel to it, and will definitely be watching the television adaptation once it’s released. The novel is far from perfect, but if you’re a fan of near-future technology-heavy science fiction, my guess is that you will enjoy this book.



If you could “flash” into someone else’s body for a day, who would it be and why? Let me know in the comments!




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Aconyte Books’ Partnership with Marvel

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Asmodee‘s new sci-fi imprint Aconyte recently announced a partnership with Marvel to release novels based on the Marvel universe in Autumn of 2020.

Aconyte.png

The Marvel universe is full of fascinating characters, and I’m eager to see what they end up releasing.

Fortunately, we do get a bit of a hint from Aconyte’s publisher Marc Gascoigne:

“The Marvel comic book universe has featured a host of great characters and storylines crying out to be told over the years, and now is their time to step into the spotlight. You can look out for legends from Asgard, several volumes focusing on some of Marvel’s heroines, and stories of some of Professor Xavier’s lesser-known students, and that’s just to get us started.”

I love the idea of novelizing comic books, so I’m 100% here for this. I actually reviewed a Doctor Strange novelization earlier this year. Is this something that you’d be interested in? Let me know in the comments!


To hold you over until the end of next year, here are some already published Marvel novelizations:




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Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – A Review

Illuminae Kaufman Kristoff

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Science Fiction | Mixed Media | Young Adult
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Released October 20th, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

For most of my twenties, science fiction was my favorite genre. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it made up roughly 80% of everything I read. A few years ago, however, my tastes shifted and I transitioned to reading more fantasy, literary fiction, and historical fiction and put science fiction on the back burner. I just haven’t been feeling it as much.

Then I read Illuminae, and it reawakened my love of science fiction.

The Illuminae Files is a young adult science fiction trilogy told in mixed media format. This means that rather than traditional chapters, the story is told through maps, emails, interviews, military documents, etc. It’s been a really long time since I’ve read a mixed media book, and it was a lot of fun to read through this novel.

Amy Kaufman.jpg
Amie Kaufman

Illuminae takes place in the year 2575 as Ezra and Kady’s planet is invaded by a greedy corporation. They escape but are being pursued by the corporation’s warships. Things are so much worse than that, however, as a deadly plague breaks out on one of the three starships that escaped, and the artificial intelligence on the lead ship, named AIDAN, isn’t working quite right. Making things even worse is that the leaders/government officials on the main ship are not telling everyone the truth about what’s going on.

Kady is a fantastic and snarky character who uses her crazy-good hacking skills to discover what secrets are being held back from the community. Ezra, Kady’s kind-of ex-boyfriend, is on a different ship than she is, and they try to grow their relationship while Kady uses him to try to save everyone.

This book flows so easily that I managed to finish all 602 pages in a single day. There’s so much wonderful suspense and conflict to keep you hooked through every single page of it. True, there are plenty of science fiction tropes here, but they’re written in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it’s been done a thousand times before.

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Jay Kristoff

All of the characters are wonderful, including the side characters. The settings are fascinating and I loved that this was set so far into the future that the writers had the artistic liberties to be incredibly creative with the technology used in the story.

I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next books in this series. I’ve also heard from many people that the audiobooks are incredible and done with a full cast, so I might give those a chance.

If you want a fun-to-read, exciting science fiction series to get hooked on, Illuminae should be on your reading list.


Have you read The Illuminae Files? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!




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The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley – A Review

The Emperor's Railroad - Guy Haley

The Emperor’s Railroad (Dreaming Cities #1) by Guy Haley
Post-Apocalyptic | Fantasy
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Released April 19, 2016
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

My boyfriend often gets bored when we’re at the library. He’s not really a reader, so while I’m spending an exorbitant amount of time walking between the shelves, piling up books until I reach my maximum checkout limit, he gets a bit antsy. Last time we went together, he decided to help me pick out some short books to read because I’m way behind on my Goodreads challenge.

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Author Guy Haley

Fortunately for me, he came back with The Emperor’s Railroad, a book I had never heard of but wanted to read as soon as I saw the first paragraph of the synopsis on the back cover:

“Global war devastated the environment, a zombie-like plague wiped out much of humanity, and civilization as we once understood it came to a standstill. But that was a thousand years ago, and the world is now a very different place.”

That is everything I need in a book. Post-apocalyptic fiction has long been my favorite genre, so I started reading it that same night.

This book is very short – just 176 pages – and I was able to finish it in a single day. I enjoyed the setting right away. Most post-apocalyptic fiction is mixed with elements of science, such as nuclear war, bioengineered viruses, EMP attacks, death from the cosmos, that sort of thing. In this book, however, author Guy Haley has written a post-apocalyptic fantasy book, complete with knights and talking dragons.

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I can’t recall ever reading a book that featured both zombies and dragons, so that was an aspect of the book that I really loved.

The story (at least in book one of the series) is told from the point-of-view of a twelve-year-old boy named Abney. He and his mother meet up with a Knight named Quinn on the road, and he agrees to help them travel the dangerous roads to a village in the north where they have a relative.

The first twenty or so pages, the way the story was told annoyed me a little, but I got used to it. Abney’s voice is undeniably young and imperfect, especially since there’s not much education left in this world. Abney grew on me a lot though, and by the end, I was glad that the story was told from his perspective.

The most fascinating character in the book is definitely Quinn. He’s a Knight, appointed by Angels, although he chooses not to wear his badge showing which city he is from. Quinn is quiet and mysterious, and by the end of The Emperor’s Railroad, I found myself both intrigued and a little confused. In a good way, though – I’ve already reserved the second book in this duology from the library.

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As this is a fantasy story, there’s some world-building, but I’m still a little unsure of the specifics of it. We learn quite a bit in The Emperor’s Railroad, but I hope it’s heavily expanded upon in book two. There were several times in the book where I wasn’t sure if the characters were referring to something literal or figurative; for example, the Angels that are frequently discussed are never shown in this book, and I feel there’s an equal chance that they’re either actual Angels or that they’re just people posing as angelic beings. I also found myself wanting to learn more about the politics of this world and the hierarchy of the rulers.

There are very few authors who can pull off something like combining zombies with dragons in a post-apocalyptic world, but Guy Haley definitely succeeded.

I’m thrilled to have discovered this duology via my bored boyfriend randomly pulling books from our library’s shelves. I can’t wait to read book two, The Ghoul King. If you enjoy genre-bending fantasy stories with mysterious characters and good suspense, do yourself a favor and pick this series up.


Have you read Guy Haley’s Dreaming Cities duology? If so, let me know what you thought!




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Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – A Review

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Binti (Binti #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Science Fiction | Novella
Published by Tor.com
Released September 22nd, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_2_and_a_half_stars

Binti is the first in a trilogy of science fiction novellas written by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor. The series has been wildly successful, winning both the 2015 and 2016 Hugo Award for best novella.

The story is centered around Binti, a member of an ethnic group known as the Himba based on Earth. She is the first of her people to be accepted into an intergalactic university, called Oomza Uni. Her family does not wish for her to go, as they would rather she stay and assist her father in his astrolabe shop.

Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor

One night, Binti makes the decision to go to the university, hoping her family will one day forgive her. She can’t pass up such a unique opportunity. On the spaceship to take her to the university, things don’t go quite as planned when a hostile alien race, known as the Meduse, takes over the ship and Binti is the only one left alive.

As this is a novella, obviously there’s not much room for backstory, which is one of the reasons I had a great deal of trouble connecting to this story. The plot, structure, and world (or universe)-building is all easy to understand, but I didn’t find myself enjoying any of it, even as a die-hard science fiction fan. I know I’m in the minority with this opinion, but the story felt really flat and simplistic to me, and I don’t have any interest in continuing the series.

Despite the short length, Okorafor did a wonderful job of Binti’s character development. While the plot of the story is definitely important, Binti’s character is the main spotlight here. She has to protect herself against the Meduse and learn a great deal in a short period of time. Binti is immediately likable and carried the story. It was also nice to see a talented math-loving female character.

I loved the concept of this story and the importance that Okorafor placed upon cultural differences and acceptance, which is undoubtedly an important lesson. However, I found it hard to be sympathetic to the Meduse, who commit an act of terrorism and mass-violence upon boarding Binti’s ship. I get it – misunderstanding between cultures, language barriers, and all that – but damn, it was hard to feel much pity for them.

Despite not loving this novella, I’m still very much intrigued by Nnedi Okorafor’s writing. I have a copy of one of her other novels, Akata Witch, that I’m really looking forward to reading. This one just missed the mark for me.


Have you read Binti? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!





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Guest Post from D. Ellis Overttun, Author of The Terra Nova Series

Today, we have a very special guest post from D. Ellis Overttun, author of The Terra Nova series.

Universe Awakening D Ellis Overttun



Synopsis

Terra Nova 1 – Universe (Redux Edition)

Awakening

The year — 526,780. A probe is deployed from ISV Intrepid at the outer edge of the universe. It is the last of a complement of twelve that is part of the Deep Exploration of Uncharted Space or DEUS. Its mission: collect data on the redshift of light and spatial distortions. Time horizon: 1,000 years.

Before ISV Intrepid can return to base, something goes wrong. There is an accident. The ship is later salvaged but its pilot is missing, its copilot in a coma.

The probes collect their data with uneventful regularity.

Fast-forward to 526,880. A sole-surviving probe still sits in the darkness at the outer edge of the universe. Now, unseen to the naked eye, the space around the probe begins to stretch and distend. Then, the probe disappears, engulfed by an energy of unknown origin and unknown composition. However, it manages to transmit one final message.

CD3C has monitored the disappearance of each probe over the last three years. While the interpretation of the data remains a mystery, speculation is that something has invaded the universe and is moving a superluminal velocity. Its effects could be manifested in as little as the next thousand years. To the Celesti, this is one lifetime.

What can be done?

The one person who might be able to solve this problem is the copilot of ISV Intrepid. He has been lying in stasis suffering from mental trauma. He has been this way for the past century, the longest recorded case in medical history. His unchanging condition has been a convenient solution to stall any inquiry into the accident that put him there.

This threat changes everything. Now, he is needed. 

Is it possible to unlock his mind?

The task falls to Auberon, a career nobody inhabiting the lower level of the hierarchy of the Ministry of Science. Can something be awakened in him to allow someone ordinary to do something extraordinary?

Universe: Awakening answers this question. In the process, it explores the world of the Celesti, a highly evolved humanoid species with advanced technology, physiology and a unique way of procreation. It blends science and political intrigue to reveal the interplay of storyline and character development that forms the staging ground for the Terra Nova Series.


About the Cover

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The cover ties in two of the science themes in the book. It is meant to give the reader a sense that awakening has something to do with genetics since the double helix is easily identifiable as DNA. The woman seeming to emerge from the strand in a burst of light is a visual rendering of awakening. The sphere in the background is not a planet. It is a universe surrounded by what the reader will discover is the volume. The green patches represent the encroachment of an alien energy known as the “ether” foretelling the end of existence.


Background, Commentary, & Excerpt

Sofia and Alondra are two artificially intelligent symbiotic components of a probe deployed at the edge of the universe to collect cosmological data. Based upon recent events, they have come to the conclusion that there is an imminent destruction of space-time in their vicinity. Their mission is at an end.

The probe contains vast libraries designed to prevent its AIs from becoming bored. However, access to this knowledge has been restricted and programed to be doled out over the 1,000-year mission time horizon. Alondra has discovered a way around this and they have just recently gained access to all this information, the result —sentience. With this self-awareness has come a survival instinct. Can two who are not alive have a will to live? 

Given they face certain annihilation if they remain where they are, Sofia and Alondra have decided to take their chances in the cold, dark environ outside the probe. It is an easy but not an enviable choice. They will take advantage of the same technology designed to deploy their messenger drones, a system that forms a warp bubble around a target object and then projects it to designated coordinates. In theory, it should work for them.

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To avoid their end
Sofia and Alondra
They venture out there


My thanks to my wife, Natasha, for her rendering of Chapter 6 – Confessions.

 

* * * * *

Alondra had set a delayed timer and stood on the transmission drone launch pad. Theoretically, just before launch, a warp bubble would form around her that would then be projected eighteen light-days away from the probe, eighteen light-days away from the source of the spatial distortions.

“While we wait, I thought I might play one of the songs from my playlist. I think it quite apropos to our circumstance,” Sofia said.

“Sure, anything to keep my mind occupied,” Alondra replied.

A contralto began to sing acapella…

“I awoke by myself
I was here on my own
As is it for us all
We start out alone

But along the road
Every now and then
We encounter another
Who becomes a friend

The future is dark
The future unknown
With you by my side
I am never alone

On rainy days
When clouds block the sun
I never despair
We travel as one

In the dark of night
To the light of dawn
You give me strength
The strength to go on

The future is dark
The future unknown
With you by my side
I am never alone

Life is uncertain
When I stumble and fall
I know you’ll be there
You’ll answer my call

Today is the day
It might be our last
But there’s nothing I’d change
No regrets of the past

The future is dark
The future unknown
With you by my side
I am never alone…”

As the song ended, the exterior doors opened. An energy field substituted for this moveable barrier and served to keep the interior pressurized.

“That was beautiful Sofia. I feel exactly the same.”

There was tense silence as they waited.

“Sofia, you’re sure this is going to work. I mean…we won’t be ripped apart,” Alondra said at length.

“Theoretically yes.”

“Disengaging magnetic field,” Alondra said.

She began to float just above the deck.

They monitored their internal chronometers.

Launch in 30…29…28….

“Alondra, I have a confession. Early in the mission, I once thought about using the offline failsafe and deleting some of your memory because I had concerns. I never did but I would like to apologize for ever doubting you.”

10…9…8…

“I have a confession too. I disabled the failsafe and I’m not sorry.”

The space around Alondra shimmered as the warp bubble formed. There was a dull thud and then they were gone. As the bay doors began to close, the probe stretched, distended and disappeared.

* * * * *

A narrative is not a narrative without some kind of uncertainty that creates tension. In this case, there is a question as to whether they will be able to survive the deployment system designed for messenger drones. The description is akin to a cannon shot. A warp bubble forms around the drone and then it is projected from the probe. While I never described the drone, I imagined it to be spherical. Would the bubble form around an irregularly shaped Alondra/Sofia in the same way? Would it have the same properties? From the exchange between the two AIs, it is obvious the process of transportation itself confirms these uncertainties. That is why Alondra asks Sofia about their prospects of being ripped apart.

If they survive their journey, will they be far enough away from the current danger or have they merely delayed the inevitable? (Spoiler alert:  This issue is not part of the main narrative of Universe. So, it will have to be addressed in its own sequel or maybe not if it all ends here for them.)

Facing a tentative future, I decided to use a feature of plot narratives I have seen employed many times in TV and the movies:  the last confession. We have all seen it before. Protagonists face their doom and it prompts them to say things to one another that they would never say, save and except for the current situation. In most cases, it is a revelation of true feelings, often unspoken love. In this chapter, it is the feeling of unspoken trust. Such trust born of trial is often unbreakable. It will serve them well if they can transport to safety. The question is:  Will they survive?


Links

Universe: Awakening – Excerpts and Commentary:

“Prologue” posted on Simply Phil’s Blog

Chapter 1 – “In the Darkness” posted on beforewegoblog

Chapter 2 – “Beyond a Program” posted on The Magic of Wor(l)ds

Chapter 8 – “In the Darkness” posted on Zooloo’s Book Diary

Chapter 46 – “Tsai and Citrus” posted on Herding Cats

Chapter 66 – “The Second Way” posted on The Tattooed Book Geek

Chapter 83 – “The Dream” posted on Reads & Reels

Chapter 85 – “Heron of Edenoud” posted on On The Shelf Reviews

 

Series Overview:

Author Q&A posted on The Magic of Wor(l)ds

Author Q&A posted on On The Shelf Reviews

Author Q&A posted on The Book Hole

Author Q&A posted on From Belgium With Book Love

Background to Universe: Awakening posted on Zooloo’s Book Diary

Cover Makeover Genesis: Vision of the New World posted on On The Shelf Reviews

Indie Spotlight – Terra Nova Series posted on beforewegoblog

 

For a Deeper Dive:

Universe Awakening (Redux Edition)

Genesis: Vision of the New World

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I hope you enjoyed this look into D. Ellis Overttun’s Terra Nova series! Thanks again to the author for this wonderful guest post!




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The Winners of the 2019 Hugo Awards

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The winners of the 2019 Hugo Awards were announced on August 18th. There are some truly great titles on this list. Let’s get to it.


Best Novel

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Best Novella

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

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Best Novelette

“If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” by Zen Cho


Best Short Story

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow


Best Series

Wayfarers by Becky Chambers

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Best Related Work

Archive of Our Own
Organization for Transformative Works


Best Graphic Story

Monstress, Volume 3 by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda


Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman


Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Good Place: “Janet(s)”
Written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan
Directed by Morgan Sackett


Best Editor, Short Form

Gardner Dozois


Best Editor, Long Form

Navah Wolfe


Best Professional Artist

Charles Vess


Best Semiprozine

Uncanny Magazine
Publishers/Editors-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
Managing Editor Michi Trota
Podcast Producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue
Editors-in-Chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien


Best Fanzine

Lady Business
Editors Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan

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Best Fancast

Our Opinions Are Correct
Hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders

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Best Fan Writer

Foz Meadows


Best Fan Artist

Likhain (Mia Sereno)


Best Art Book

The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition
Written by Ursula K. Le Guin
Illustrated by Charles Vess

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Have do you think of these winners? Let me know in the comments!




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Vicious by V.E. Schwab – A Review

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Vicious (Villains #1) by V.E. Schwab
Fantasy | Science Fiction
Published by Tor Books
Released September 24, 2013
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Vicious was one of the first books that the online book community turned me on to; it just took me a couple of years to finally read it. And oh my my, I loved it.

This is the second Victoria/V.E. Schwab book that I’ve read and reviewed on Read Yourself Happy, the first being City of Ghosts, which was incredibly enjoyable.

Vicious is the first book in a duology and is about two roommates at university who are both brilliant and strange. They decide to experiment to find out if it is possible to become an EO, or ExtraOrdinary – basically a superhero. They discover that an important part of the process is having a near-death experience, and they both take their turns. Things don’t turn out quite as they imagine, however.

I was pretty much hooked on this novel from the start, as the first chapter involves a mysterious man and a dead girl walking through a graveyard for some nighttime gravedigging. Sure, it’s dark, but so is my taste in books.

We see the story from both Victor and Eli’s perspective, and I enjoyed how different the two characters are, from their desires and personalities to their goals and motivations. There are also a couple of sidekicks – Victor’s prison buddy Mitch, and Sydney, a teenage girl with an extraordinary gift that Victor picked up on the side of the road.

This is a revenge story more than anything, as we learn right away. Something happened between the former best friends, and the story starts off with Victor hinting that he wants to get back at Eli.

Vicious is the perfect book for comic book fans, as it deals with characters with superhuman powers. Also, just like a lot of our favorite superheroes, neither Victor nor Eli are good people. They both have many qualities that make them just as much a villain as a hero, and that quality adds so much dimension into the overall story.

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I’m so glad I loved this book because I went into it wanting to love it. I follow Victoria Schwab on Instagram and Twitter, and she just seems like such a genuinely wonderful human. I look forward to having the opportunity to meet her at the end of August at a signing at the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, and I’m going to try to hold back my fangirling as much as possible.

If you’re a comic book fan, like dark sci-fi/fantasy, or just want to read something complex, interesting, and beautifully written, you might want to run to the bookstore and pick Vicious up. It’s damn near perfect.


Have you read Vicious? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.


Want more Victoria/V.E. Schwab? Check out her other books:

Vengeful | City of Ghosts | A Darker Shade of Magic | The Near Witch | This Savage Song

Here are a few other similar titles you might be interested in:

Six of Crows | Once & Future | Roar | The Ocean at the End of the Lane | An Ember in the Ashes | The Boneless Mercies | The Price Guide to the Occult




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If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

The Municipalists by Seth Fried – A Review

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The Municipalists by Seth Fried
Science Fiction
Published by Penguin Books
Released March 19, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_2_and_a_half_stars

I finished this book on June 1st, and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it. Part of the reason for that is that I simply don’t have very much to say about it. I only mildly enjoyed reading it, and it was overall an average book. The best word I can think of to describe this novel is meh. This review will be short, though, because I started forgetting parts of this book as I was still reading it.

The Municipalists takes place in the near-ish future where people are flocking to huge megacities. One of these cities, Metropolis, is the largest and most populated.

Henry Thompson is an employee of the U.S. Municipal Survey, an agency that works to improve how cities are run. One day, the agency’s AI system, named OWEN, is hacked, and around the same time, the Municipal Survey loses communication with their Metropolis office. Henry is chosen to go undercover in Metropolis to try to learn what’s going on, and he’s given a partner to go with him. The partner is a bit of a surprise, however, as he is the physical, projected embodiment of OWEN.

The book is a humorous, action adventure of a novel, but I felt so bored while reading it. The type of humor reminded me of a novel I read last year that I enjoyed, called Battlestar Suburbia, but The Municipalists felt too forced in most places.

As I was reading the book, I kept forgetting that the main character’s name was Henry. It was bad enough that I would read his name and completely blank on it a page later. That’s an example of how forgetful I found this novel to be.

The first couple of chapters in this book are a perfect example of info-dumping. Everything was presented quickly and with little to no feeling behind it. The inciting event in this novel, which was OWEN being hacked, was written somewhat like an afterthought. I feel like it would have been better for Seth Fried to spend more time on such an important event, but it felt brushed over.

The character of OWEN bothered me immensely. He’s arrogant, drinks like a fish, and seems like such a cliche of every detective story ever. We do find that there’s a reason for that in the novel, but it didn’t change the fact that, of the two main characters, one is annoying and the other utterly forgettable.

Overall, I would recommend skipping The Municipalists. There are much better stories on the market.


Have you read The Municipalists? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!




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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas – A Review

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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Science Fiction | Mystery
Published by Crooked Lane Books
Released August 9, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

I didn’t know too much about this book before starting it. I saw it at my local library, and thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a cool cover. And I love time travel!” So, I promptly checked it out and brought it home.

I’m glad I brought it home, because WOW. This book and Kate Mascarenhas’s writing blew me away. I inhaled this book in just a couple of days because I was hooked.

The Psychology of Time Travel is a non-linear mystery story involving time travel. Four women worked together to create time travel in 1967. One of these women, Barbara, has a bit of a mental breakdown and is promptly given the boot out of the team.

Fifty years into the future, Barbara’s granddaughter, Ruby, finds a small, origami rabbit on her doorstep with a date in the near future. She becomes concerned that the date might be that of her grandmother’s death and sets out to uncover the truth about the Time Traveler’s Conclave.

We also meet Odette, who stumbles upon the scene of a gruesome murder and is trying to figure out the mystery of who was murdered and how.

This novel is complex and told in a non-linear format. We jump from past to future frequently, but I never felt lost or confused. The story is easy to follow.

The characters are wonderfully written with very distinct personalities and motives. One of the aspects of this novel that I enjoyed was that practically its entire cast is made up of female characters, with LGBTQ representations. It’s so rare, especially in science fiction, to find a novel that isn’t dominated by male characters.

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It’s very clear that the novel is written by someone with a degree in psychology, which Kate Mascarenhas has. The novel is focused on how people would deal with time travel and how it would influence our perspectives. The impact time travel would have on crime was particularly fascinating:  Would authorities be able to use time travel to catch the perpetrator, or would it still happen?  Questions like that are examined throughout the novel.

My favorite aspect of the novel was the examination of how Mascarenhas’s characters dealt with traveling into the past to see loved ones who had passed.

“When you’re a time traveler, the people you love die, and you carry on seeing them, so their death stops making a difference to you. The only death that will ever change things is your own.”

So much of time travel literature and media is limited by paradoxes and not running into your former selves, but that is not the case in the world Mascarenhas has created. In this novel, it’s normal to watch yourself die, hang out with your future or past selves, or even to have sex with yourself. Without the limitations of paradoxes, so many opportunities are opened up.

The novel also deals with difficult topics, but in a new light, such as mental illness, trauma, sexuality, love and loss, and death. All of these issues are touched on and examined through the lens of time travel.

This book has stuck with me as few others have. Usually, it’s simple for me to finish a book and go on to another, but this book left me with an intense book hangover. I kept coming back to the story over and over again in my head. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

I sincerely hope that Kate Mascarenhas will write more novels in the future.


Sidenote: Kate Mascarenhas’s website contains some dioramas inspired by the book. Check them out here. There’s also a video of her talking about the book, which is fascinating.




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Infected by Scott Sigler – A Review

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Infected by Scott Sigler
Horror | Science Fiction
Published by Crown
Released April 1, 2008
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_1_star

Scott Sigler’s Infected was one of the first books I ever purchased when I received my Amazon Kindle as a gift in 2014. As part of my obsession with all things apocalyptic and disastrous, I enjoy stories about unknown pathogens and disease.

I did not enjoy this novel. Part of this was my own fault, as I assumed it was just a science fiction novel, when in fact it’s body horror. If you are turned off by lots of blood and gore, this is not the book for you. I don’t mind body horror, and gore doesn’t bother me at all, but I was caught off-guard by it. However, being surprised by a novel being a slightly different genre is something I can easily deal with. The other issues I had with this book – not so much.

The story follows three main characters and perspectives: Dew, a special agent trying to catch an infected person alive; Margaret, a scientist with the CDC who is working on a way to identify and contain the infection; and Perry Dawsey, a victim of this new and unprecedented infection.

The infection comes from space, in the form of seeds falling into the atmosphere. One of the few things I did enjoy about this novel were the chapters describing how these seeds arrived and infected their victims. I love science in science fiction, so I was intrigued by seeds that read DNA and build and grow based on their host.

Once the infection takes hold, people become hostile, and Dew has come into contact with several victims who have committed murder-suicides. They also have strange, blue, triangle-shaped lumps on their skin, but once the victim is dead, they decompose at such a rapid rate that Margaret has trouble studying them.

Dew and Margaret were boring characters for me, and their personalities felt bland. Perry, however, was a fully fleshed-out character, and I disliked everything about him. His character was one of the largest things that turned me off of this story. He’s brutish, misogynistic, and makes really terrible decisions. I understand that one of the characteristics of the infection is hostility and that Perry has a pre-existing anger problem due to an abusive father, but it was too much. I found myself getting annoyed with him constantly. And those really terrible decisions I mentioned – even if you dislike doctors, when your balls are growing giant itchy scabs that resemble an orange peel, even the most reluctant person would be prompted to seek help. Also, just his internal dialogue, in general, turned me off:

Perry felt embarrassed, like a teenager who’s pantsed in front of the girls, or someone caught masturbating. He felt his face flush red. He was standing there in his kitchen, pants about his knees, bent over like some silkyboy waiting for a bull fag to take it to him. He’d certainly rather have some three-hundred-pound convict sticking it up his ass than deal with the situation he had now. Even AIDS would be better than going out this way.

The biggest thing about this novel that I couldn’t get over was that it felt ridiculous while at the same time taking itself seriously. Giant blue triangles on someone’s body that grow eyes and speak to their host was something I could not take seriously, even though the majority of what I read is fantasy and science fiction. I can suspend a great deal of disbelief, but not enough to enjoy this book.

Sigler’s writing isn’t bad and the story flows easily and quickly, but this was not a book that was meant for me. It’s clear that other people really enjoy his work, from both his Goodreads reviews and the fact that when I rated the novel on Goodreads and it auto-posted to my Twitter feed, I received a bunch of comments from people who professed their love for the novel or wanted to know why I would rate it so poorly.

If you like gory body horror novels and old-school horror movies such as The Body Snatchers, then you might enjoy this book. However, if what you want is a science fiction story about a pandemic, there are other books that will be better suited to you.


Have you read Infected? If so, let me know what you thought of it in the comments.