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: 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: 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