Review: Tales from the Loop

Tales from the LoopTitle: Tales from the Loop (2020; first published 2014)
Author: Simon Stålenhag
Pages: 128


This book showcases some truly spectacular science fiction artwork from Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag. The undeniably cool retrofuturistic aesthetic is juxtaposed against the seemingly mundane goings on of small town life in 1980s Sweden. The accompanying text is sometimes just window dressing to fill in the backstory behind the images, which stand on their own just fine.

If this sounds intriguing, I’d also highly recommend the Amazon show of the same name, which is loosely based on this source material. Each episode tells a self-contained story about a rural Ohio town and how The Loop that runs beneath it all fuels technological marvels that coexist amongst the townsfolk.

Review: Shorefall

shorefall-2Title: Shorefall (2020)
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 496
Series: The Founders Trilogy #2 (Series Tracker)


Foundryside, the first book in this trilogy, was really well-balanced. It told an engaging story, was populated with unique characters, and took place in a vibrant setting. While I’m still taken with this world and the city of Tevanne, most of what I enjoyed about the first book was left behind.

I had been intrigued (and somewhat confused) by scriving, the reality-altering magic system introduced in Foundryside. Because of its complexity, each act of scriving requires considerable explanation and exposition. Shorefall doubles down on scriving and this magic is so integral to the plot that if you’re not on board with it you’ll be left searching for other things to enjoy.

Unfortunately, the characters seem stagnant and there’s no room for them to breathe amongst the massive set pieces and high stakes of the story. In many ways, this felt like a trilogy capping novel instead of a middle book, so it’s unclear how the momentum will carry over for another book and I’m unsure if I’ll be along for the ride.

★★¾ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Network Effect

Network EffectTitle: Network Effect (2020)
Author: Martha Wells
Pages: 350
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #5 (Series Tracker)


In its first full-length novel adventure, Murderbot is thrust right back into the fire on a rescue mission that immediately goes awry. Expanding from the usual novella length of previous installments, this was a bit all over the place for me and I can’t say that it benefits from the extra room. The story is similar to previous, tighter Murderbot tales, but the proceedings get so bogged down by technical mumbo jumbo that I had a difficult time following the action. 

Murderbot is at its best when the characters and their complicated relationships are at the forefront. In that respect, I really enjoyed the return of my favorite character, ART, Murderbot’s snarky sparring partner from a previous novella. This relationship, coupled with Murderbot’s dealings with some new (but familiar) allies makes for a compelling new wrinkle. Qualms aside, I’ll happily join up on Murderbot’s next mission, setting sail next year with a new novella.

★★★ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Come the Revolution

CometheRevTitle: Come the Revolution (2020)
Author: Ian Tregillis
Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Mar/Apr 2020
Series: The Alchemy Wars #0 (Series Tracker)


I picked up this issue of F&SF specifically for Come The Revolution, a prequel novella to The Alchemy Wars, a brilliant alternate history series that was the perfect combination of concept and execution.

It was great to be back in this imaginative alt-history world and I really enjoyed seeing the backstory and humble beginnings of the mad Queen Mab, who eventually goes on to lead a robot “Clakker” army seeking vengeance on humanity. This story moves with alacrity and Tregillis is once again in fine form as he’s crafted an excellent primer for newcomers to the series or those thinking of embarking on a reread.

 

Review: Greenwood

GreenwoodTitle: Greenwood (2020)
Author: Michael Christie
Pages: 528


Stretching from the near future to the distant past…and then back again, Greenwood tells a beautiful multi-generational story of love, loss, and the meaning of family in all shapes and forms. 

Add this title to the growing trend of excellent books about trees that have sprouted up in recent years. Author Michael Christie shines a light on humanity’s relationship with trees through the eyes of each main character. Some fight for the preservation and protection of trees at all costs, some craft beautiful art from their component parts, and some heavily exploit them in the name of capitalism. Ultimately, Greenwood speculates a future “Great Withering” of Earth’s trees as rapid climate changes leave our towering friends vulnerable and dying.
Greenwood Ring Structure
Christie cleverly uses the cross-section of a tree trunk to organize the nested storytelling structure. Each subsequent section feels tangentially related to the section before it, but as the connections between events and characters become more clear, the full picture emerges, especially in the back half of the book, where we revisit each era once again. I slowly worked my way through this novel and found myself fully immersed in each individual character and story. Christie’s prose is beautifully composed and his descriptions of nature are stunning. I’d recommend this to any lover of nature or fan of epic family sagas.

★★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea

HouseintheCeruleanSeaTitle: The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020)
Author: T.J. Klune
Pages: 393


This was a very satisfying read and it served as a balm in troubled times for me. Linus, a mild mannered case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth is given a classified assignment to investigate an orphanage on a remote island where six seemingly dangerous children reside along with their mysterious caretaker. Shenanigans ensue…

It was not hard to predict how the story would play out and the moral is not subtle, but the book is filled with so much heart that none of that matters. I was just happy to be along for the ride. 

TJ Klune has written something truly wonderful here – a positively delightful book that warms the heart and soul. Each page brims with life and joy and it gives me hope for a better world. I’m not sure what else you can ask for from a book.

★★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: Riot Baby

riot-baby-final-coverTitle: Riot Baby (2020)
Author: Tochi Onyebuchi
Pages: 176


This novella is visceral, staggering, and powerful. We follow Ella and Kev, siblings with extraordinary gifts, who are wearied by structural racism and the damage that this inflicts upon their family. 

Onyebuchi’s storytelling is really immersive and makes us feel the righteous anger and pain of each societal injustice as Ella and Kev are pushed beyond their breaking points. In the same way that Ella uses her godlike gift to pop in and out of space and time, the narrative jumps around and we’re shown windows into pivotal moments in the lives of our protagonists. And while the story presents an ever-worsening dystopian future, Onyebuchi leaves us with a glimmer of hope for a better future to come. Although tough to read at times, I found Riot Baby to be a satisfying read that packs quite a bit of fire into its limited page count.

★★★½ out of 5

 

Review: The Vanished Birds

Vanished BirdsTitle: The Vanished Birds (2020)
Author: Simon Jimenez
Pages: 390


This is an exceptional debut novel. Simon Jimenez is clearly a skilled storyteller and is an exciting new voice in science fiction. His prose is beautiful and in The Vanished Birds he seamlessly weaves multiple threads into a tightly-plotted tour de force.

The pace is slow, but measured, as each character is given ample time to establish themselves. As we bounce from vignette to vignette and from character to character the plot is always moving forward as the overarching story comes into focus. When the dust settles we’re left with a profound and deeply human story told on an epic scale across millennia. I loved it.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Bonds of Brass

Bonds of BrassTitle: Bonds of Brass (April 7, 2020)
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Pages: 304
Series: The Bloodright Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)


This was a fun ride. I’m sometimes overwhelmed by sprawling space operas, so this interplanetary story with a small but mighty cast of characters was a welcome relief.  I drew several parallels to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series (apart from RR’s expansive cast) – propulsive pacing, an absorbing narrative, and a charming underdog looking to topple his subjugators. Ettian’s personal journey and evolution of loyalty is quite compelling. Author Emily Skrutskie unspools his story slowly and pulls on his allegiances from several different directions.

The tone of Skrutskie’s prose is casual yet sharp, which is always a nice combination and makes for a pleasant reading experience. I tend to gloss over extended space battle scenes, but her descriptions of space flight and aerial dogfights are vivid and engrossing.

Despite a lull in pacing and some rushed story beats in the back half of the novel, I enjoyed this to the end. I’ll be interested to see how the future books play out, especially with what unfolded in the final few pages.

★★★★ out of 5

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.