Review: Prosper’s Demon

Prosper's DemonTitle: Prosper’s Demon (2020)
Author: K.J. Parker
Pages: 112


The protagonist makes it very clear right off the bat – he’s unlikable…and that’s by design. Of course, his self-deprecation, supposed misdeeds, and biting wit make him lovable, nonetheless. This is a short and sharp story that turns in several unexpected directions. For instance, I was not expecting the casting of a giant bronze horse statue to become such a central plot point! Ultimately, I enjoyed this novella for its brevity and its distinct voice.

★★★¼  out of 5

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

Review: Exit Strategy

91LKqEEed7L.jpgTitle: Exit Strategy (2018)
Author: Martha Wells
Pages: 176
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #4 (Series Tracker)


This fourth and final novella is the least thrilling of the quartet, but it does a nice job bringing Murderbot’s character development and story arc to a close. It was satisfying to have the original survey team from the first novella back in the fold and it provided a nice full-circle element to the narrative. With a full length novel coming soon, I’m excited to see how Wells expands upon this world and its central, lovable, relatable, root-for-able protagonist, Murderbot.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Rogue Protocol

81AmZLF3RhLTitle: Rogue Protocol (2018)
Author: Martha Wells
Pages: 158
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #3 (Series Tracker)


Our third adventure with Murderbot takes a little while to get going, but the action/tension really ratchets up in the back half of the novella. Once again, Murderbot finds itself protecting a group of unwitting humans while also unmasking a deeper conspiracy in an unforgiving environment. This seems to be the magic formula for each of these stories, but it works quite well. Since Murderbot seems to make a clean break at the end of each book, we don’t get to revisit the great side characters we’ve met in previous books, but luckily that sounds like it will not be the case in the fourth and final novella.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Artificial Condition

Artificial-Conditions-Martha-Wells.jpgTitle: Artificial Condition (2018)
Author: 
Martha Wells
Pages: 
158
Series:
The Murderbot Diaries #2 (Series Tracker)


This second installment in the Murderbot Diaries series picks up right where All Systems Red leaves off. Murderbot has set out on its own as it searches for clues from its past and as it seeks to understand its own identity. It meets another rogue-ish “construct”, nicknamed ART, who is a real standout addition. Wells imbues these non-human characters with so much humanity that they’re incredibly engaging and fun to root for. This story was a worthy successor to the first novella, even if it didn’t feel as complete or fully fleshed out as that tale. On to #3!

★★★★ out of 5

Review: All Systems Red

All Systems RedTitle: All Systems Red (2017)
Author: 
Martha Wells
Pages: 
154
Series:
The Murderbot Diaries #1 (Series Tracker)


I had tried reading this novella when it came out a few years ago, but gave up after a few pages. Oddly, I was immediately hooked upon a second attempt. Murderbot, the blunt but endearing protagonist, is such an engaging storyteller and it narrates a very compelling mystery on an unfamiliar planet. And, in a rare feat for a novella, author Martha Wells world-builds, creates characters with depth, and tells a fully-fleshed out story in ~150 pages. I’m looking forward to further exploring Murderbot’s world and psyche in the subsequent novellas and the upcoming full-length novel coming later this year.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Thrawn: Treason

Thrawn - TreasonTitle: Thrawn: Treason (2019)
Author: Timothy Zahn
Pages: 335
Series: Thrawn #3, Star Wars Canon (Series Tracker)


Much like the previous Thrawn novel, this one never really hooked me in any meaningful way. The first book in the trilogy chronicled Thrawn’s rise up the ranks in the Empire and that narrative momentum was stalled in the second and third books. Though, I was happy to have Thrawn and Eli Vanto back together matching wits and seeing the Chiss Ascendency in action gives me hope for the prequel trilogy that is coming in 2020. Either way, I’m glad to have read this series, even if I was let down by the final two books. Thrawn is a great character and I’d be interested in seeing more of him, either in Star Wars Rebels or in Zahn’s non-canonical Star Wars books.

★★¾ out of 5

Review: Dead Astronauts

dead-astronauts_cover.jpgTitle: Dead Astronauts (2019)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 323
Series: Borne #2


I will spare everyone an attempted plot summary as Dead Astronauts cannot be tidily synopsized. Just know that it features a messianic blue fox, a giant immortal fish, and human-ish characters seeking to end the reign of an evil organization across multiple dimensions…I think.

I had been frustrated by Borne’s lack of penetrability, so I recalibrated my expectations before reading this one. That was the right move. This book is trippy, oftentimes incoherent, but all sorts of enthralling. There is an apt quote in the earlygoing which references “things that could pull a mind apart if examined up close.” That was a good encapsulation of this book for me – you’ll lose your mind if you get bogged down trying to parse every tiny detail. Let the words and passages wash over you. The writing itself is quite mesmerizing with VanderMeer spinning some real poetry on each page.

Dead Astronauts is certainly not for everyone, and I don’t even think it’s for me, but I did like it? Maybe? Perhaps it’s just fun to see what oddities VanderMeer can think up and bring to life. Not to mention, this may be the best book cover I’ve laid eyes on. I wasn’t sure that I was going to read this, but the dust jacket really sold me.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: Thrawn: Alliances

Thrawn - AlliancesTitle: Thrawn: Alliances (2018)
Author: Timothy Zahn
Pages: 473
Series: Thrawn #2, Star Wars Canon (Series Tracker)


This was a big step down from the first book in the series. Although it was fun to see Thrawn and Darth Vader team up, their story arc was less than riveting. For me, knowing the fates of established characters (Vader, not Thrawn) drains the story of any real stakes. Similarly, the Thrawn/Anakin/Padme story that parallels the present day narrative did not land for me and I felt myself rushing through it just so I could get back to Thrawn/Vader, which I also quickly lost interest in. So then I was rushing through both timelines just so I could finish the book and move on to the sequel, which has better reviews and features the welcome return of Eli Vanto, who I sorely missed here.

★★½ out of 5

Review: The Strange Bird

The Strange Bird.jpgTitle: The Strange Bird (2017)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 109
Series: Borne #1.5 (Series Tracker)


I had a difficult time connecting with Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novella set in the same world. The Strange Bird herself is an odd amalgamation – part bird, part human, part machine, part other. She’s sentient and self-aware, but ultimately disoriented. Her understanding of the world is fragmented, much like the composition of her body. 

The way VanderMeer describes bird flight in the story is evocative and beautiful. His love and appreciation for birds and their characteristics is obvious (check out his Twitter feed for further confirmation).

Overall, The Strange Bird is a moving and haunting story that reignited my interest in this world in anticipation of Borne‘s pseudo-sequel, Dead Astronauts, next on my to-read list.

★★★★½ out of 5