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.

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