Mass, or Wherein I Wax Rhapsodic about a Heavy Film

I went to see the film Mass yesterday. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. 

I cheerfully admit that I initially wanted to see it just because Jason Isaacs is in it. I’d watch literally anything he’s in. I was excited to get to see this because it was a Sundance Film Festival movie and who actually sees those? But it got a limited distribution in select cinemas (and hopefully will eventually be available to buy). I got a ticket as soon as it was released in the one cinema that was showing it in AZ.

You guys. This movie made me cry. In public. It’s possible there was snot involved and an audible sob or two. These things are not done in my family. Don’t make a spectacle. But I kind of did. If anyone can watch this without being moved to tears, they’re a heartless monster and I feel genuine pity for them.

The premise of the film is that, six years earlier, there was a mass shooting at a school. Two couples whose children died that day met to talk. One couple’s son was the first victim found by the police. The other couple’s son was the shooter. The entire film took place in a single room that had been set up in a church specifically for the couples to meet.

The performances that followed from all four actors were nothing short of astonishing. 

Jay and Gail (played by Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, respectively) lost their son when he was killed by the son of Linda and Richard (played by Ann Dowd and Reed Birney, respectively). I hope I never, ever have first hand knowledge of this, but Jason and Martha nailed the portrayal of grieving and furious parents. They had a whole backstory that Jay had become an activist for gun reform, which totally makes sense. But prior to meeting with Linda and Richard, they had agreed not to bring any of his activism up, not to be political, and not to interrogate Linda and Richard. At one point, Gail shot Jay what can only be called A Look that screamed “stop talking, Jay!” and he instantly shut up. At other times, one or the other would give a different Look, or lay a hand on the other’s arm, or shift in their chair, and it communicated exactly what was needed at that moment. It was as though the actors actually were a couple and had a long history behind them and could exchange a world of words with a glance. It felt voyeuristic, like we were sneaking peeks at a therapy session. It was something terribly intimate and painful and improper to witness, and yet that was the whole point.

I really loved the way Jason and Martha showed the rage, indignation, and helpless despair and grief their characters must have dealt with. The body language was complex and nuanced. Every little flinch, crossing of arms, side glance meant something and added to the overall story. I thought Martha especially did a phenomenal job here. Initially Gail was stiff, as though coming close to Linda and Richard or making a gesture of civility was physically painful. She hesitated and didn’t seem to want to move within a certain distance of them as though proximity to them was unbearable, but just as clearly drew some strength from Jay’s nearness. 

I should note here, perhaps, that when it comes to movies, I tend to be a fairly shallow viewer. I can analyse the shit out of any book you put in front of me, but I have never done so with movies. I just want to be entertained in some way without too much thought. It is a testament to how good these actors are that I even noticed their body language. 

Speaking of body language. I fully expected to empathize with Gail and Jay. But I was in no way prepared to sympathize with the shooter’s parents! I think the assumption is usually that the parents are always to blame and they don’t deserve sympathy; after all, they raised a monster that slaughtered his classmates. They must be just as fucked up, or totally lacking in human decency, or have something wrong with them to have spawned a school shooter. We always need someone to blame. But both of them, especially Linda, exuded a deep sense of shame and guilt regarding their son’s actions, as well as defensiveness when they felt they needed to explain their or their son’s actions. It was clear that, despite everything he did, they loved their son and missed him, and also that they felt guilty for acknowledging that love in front of parents whose child their son murdered. They were a pretty normal couple raising their kids in a normal way. They made mistakes like we all do, only theirs ended up costing a bunch of kids their lives when they failed to see how badly their kid needed help. They weren’t abusive, they weren’t absent, they weren’t whores or mob bosses or anything. They were regular people who had a horrible son and they missed some things and a tragedy happened. Ann and Reed both portrayed their characters with sensitivity and depth that made them human and believable, despite their son. I didn’t expect to feel bad for them but I did, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

I also really liked that the film wasn’t political. It so easily could have been. I think it just heightened the commentary underlying the story – that we are a profoundly sick society and there is no one simple way to go about healing us. The apolitical nature will hopefully get other people to watch who may otherwise have been turned off by the topic. This is a good thing because I think everyone should see this film and see real ways in which gun violence affects people without having an agenda shoved down their throats. 

The only thing I didn’t like was that a couple times the scene shifted to an empty field with barbed wire and a red ribbon caught on it. I could go on for days about the symbolism inherent in that if I had to. But really all it did was break up a couple exceptionally emotional scenes and drew me out of the film rather abruptly. I think that was a bad idea on the director’s part and leaving the weird symbolic woo stuff out would have better allowed the audience to remain in that moment with Jay and Gail, Linda and Richard. They cannot escape their emotions; the audience shouldn’t get to, either. We should go on this small part of the journey with them.

There is so much more I could say about this movie. I know I’ll see something new every time I watch it, assuming that I’ll be able to buy it eventually. I truly believe this is a film that everyone should see, in particular every single elected official. 

But my ultimate conclusion is this: 

If all four of these actors don’t get Academy Awards for their truly gut wrenching, evocative, and superlative acting, then the Academy has utterly failed and is deeply, irretrievably fucked. These amazing humans turned out absolutely stunning, career-highlight performances and they deserve every accolade they can get. 

Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Website | Twitter )

Genre: fantasy

Setting: someplace very like Russia

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 466 pp

Published by: Del Rey (2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Miryem’s father and grandfather are moneylenders. Her grandfather is good at it; her father, not so much. Tired of living in poverty and seeing her parents be taken advantage of, Miryem takes it upon herself to begin collecting the debts her father is owed. She is so good at it that the people of her town grumble that she can change silver into gold. This, unfortunately, draws the attention of the Staryk king, a being from a snowy alternate world where gold is precious. He takes Miryem and commands that she change all his silver into gold.

Irina is the daughter of a duke, not beautiful and viewed only as a pawn by her father. Through a set of jewelry with magical properties, Irina becomes beautiful to all who see her, except to the tsar, a young man she’s known since childhood and who is cruel. Naturally, her father contrives to marry her to the tsar.

Wanda is a peasant in Miryem’s town. When her father is unable to pay his debt, Miryem allows Wanda to come work for her family to help repay it. Over the course of the months, Wanda and her brothers become family to Miryem. Their love and aid help Miryem and Irina to rid their land of a horrible demon that is hell-bent on feeding on Irina – unless she can bring him a snow king.

I loved this book. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading it, but I’m glad I did at last. I liked Novik’s earlier novel, Uprooted, well enough, though I remember not being thrilled with the verbal and mental abuse the dragon put the protagonist through. This book didn’t have that. What it does have are three very strong young women who are each, in their own ways, selfless and put the needs of their loved ones, whoever they may be, before themselves. Naturally, I like books that show women banding together for a common goal. Sometimes, it goes overboard and shows them being selfless to the point of overwriting their own needs or personalities, but that didn’t happen in this novel. I think it showed a good and necessary balance between helping others and helping oneself. 

The plot with the tsar and how he got his demon was a great twist. I didn’t see that coming and it added a lot of dimension to his character. He wasn’t just a flat character that is so common in folktales, purely good or purely evil. 

I liked, too, how Novik wove in a lot of Jewish culture and stories with this. I think it was a great blend of cultures and tales – Jewish culture, the girl who could spin straw into gold, and Russian Baba Yaga and Chernobog folktales. I definitely recommend this one. I should check out Novik’s Temeraire series one of these days!

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • (Irina considering political marriages): But he wasn’t a fool, or cruel. And more to the point, I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered (229-230).
  • I had never seen any Jew but Miryem’s family before except the woman on the line and her son. Now I did not see anyone else. It was a strange feeling. I thought that when Miryem had to go to the Staryk Kingdom maybe it was like this for her. All of a sudden everyone around you was the same as each other but not like you. And then I thought but it was like that for Miryem already. It was like that for her all the time in town. So maybe it hadn’t been so strange (303).
  • But I won’t ever tell you what it is (466). [My favorite last line of a book in a good long while.]

The Whisper Man

the whisper manThe Whisper Man by Alex NorthTwitter )

Genre: mystery

Setting: Featherbank (fictional, England)

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 355 pp

Published by: Celadon (2019)

Her Grace’s rating:  out of 5 stars

The Whisper Man by Alex North is a fast-paced, engaging novel about a widower and his young son. Deciding they need a fresh start after his wife’s sudden death, Tom Kennedy and his son Jake move to the countryside village of Featherbank. Or send an ideal setting, but it has a dark past that is coming back to life. 20 years ago, a serial killer murdered give young boys. Detective Pete Willis thought the like was caught and put away, but now another boy was murdered in the same manner. The killer has his sights set on Jake next.

As not only a single parent but my child’s sole parent, this book gave me anxiety. I cannot imagine anything worse than for your child to go missing. It would even be worse than if they died because then at least you would know it instead of wondering where they were or what was happening to them. If they just disappeared you couldn’t even kill yourself because what if they turn up the next day? 

Also, no. I totally don’t have anxiety. /sarcasm

I think the thing I liked most about this book is how it captured a lot of parental guilt, feelings of inadequacy, and helpless uncertainty. Mothers are very often depicted with these feelings but I haven’t come across many books that assign these emotions to fathers. I think that’s a good thing to discuss. Normalize men feeling uncertain and insecure in their parenting choices as well as women. It’s ok for fathers to think they’re completely fucking up their kids just as bad as mothers think they are.

Parental feelings of utter failure aside, this plot was fun (side from the crippling anxiety it instilled in me and the fact that it was centered around killing children) and well written. I’m not really sure why I like murder mysteries, to be honest… 

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

Courage is not the absence of fear, Pete knew. Courage requires fear (63).

My Sister’s Keeper

my sister's keeperMy Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (Website | Twitter | IG)

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: Providence, RI

I read it as a(n): MMP

Source: my own collection 

Length: 500 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (2004)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

**Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and smack a great big SPOILER ALERT on this whole review. Read at your own risk, you’ve been warned**

Thirteen-year-old Anna Fitzgerald loves her sister, Kate, who has a rare form of leukemia. But that doesn’t mean she is willing to donate a kidney to her on top of everything else she’s already had done to her. Anna was born via in vitro specifically so that she could be a donor for Kate. To be fair, her parents only wanted to use her cord blood to help Kate and everyone thought that would be the end of it. Turns out, it was only the beginning of years of blood, bone marrow, and other body part donations to Kate. Now Anna is suing her parents for medical emancipation, for her right to control her own body, even if it means Kate dies as a result.

Somehow I have missed the Jodi Picoult fandom; this is the first book of hers I’ve ever read. I can see why she is so popular! I sat my ass down and read this entire 500 page book in one day. I found her writing to be engaging and the story compelling. I look forward to reading more of her books in the future. 

The appeal of this one was how easily I could see and sympathize with all sides of the situation. There is so much to talk about regarding medical and scientific ethics. I don’t think anyone know what they would do in certain circumstances until they found themselves in it. I’m not sure I would have a whole other baby on the off chance their cord blood was curative. But then I also don’t have a child with a rare, treatment-resistant form of leukemia, either. Maybe I would have had baby after baby until one was a match, or gone the route the Fitzgeralds took and basically had a designer baby who would be a perfect match. I just don’t know. And neither do you, unless you’ve already lived it. 

I am not sure what I would feel about discovering that the cord blood only worked for a while and now the leukemia is no longer in remission, thus needing to turn to the younger child again for more blood and platelets. Or for that to be the constant situation. Or to have both children in the hospital because one has leukemia and the other is recovering from whatever else was done to her to donate blood, marrow, and other body fluids to the other. 

I really don’t know what I would do if my child was guaranteed to die without a new kidney, but might not make it off the table even if she did get her sister’s organ. I don’t know how to weigh the almost-certain death of one child against the life-long risks associated with losing one kidney for the other child, not to mention that the kidney donation itself is a major surgery with many weeks of recovery time required. 

And poor Jesse! Who is Jesse? He’s Anna and Kate’s brother. Yeah, his parents and usually his sisters forget about him all the time, too. I’d act out if I were in his shoes. I don’t need to have lived the same experiences to know at least that much. 

The parents of these kids were given the short straw for sure. But so did their children. This isn’t Never Let Me Go or The Unit. We don’t breed or keep people for the sole purpose of giving other people their organs. I know they only thought they would need Anna’s cord blood. But it still feels morally wrong to me to have a baby even for that one-time donation. I think if I were that kid, I would probably feel very used and mostly unwanted, that I was only here because of that and otherwise, they didn’t want me in the first place. 

I liked the lawyer, Campbell Alexander, for taking on Anna’s case for free, partly because of his own lack of control over his body and partly because Anna refused to take no for an answer. He did his job and won her case and then had to use his new Power of Attorney over Anna in the most heartbreaking way. This ending, BTW, was entirely different in the film version of this book, which I watched after I finished reading it. The movie ending sucked. The book’s end was so much more poignant. I can’t fathom why on earth the screenwriters would change it.

In the end, I loved this book for its multitude of ways it got me thinking. The fact that it was written in such an engaging and easy manner, with characters who I cared about, made it that much better. I am looking forward to reading more books by Picoult. That’s one good thing about coming to the party so very late – now I have a plethora of her books to choose from!

Binti: The Complete Trilogy

BintiBinti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: Earth, Ooma Uni, and spaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 358 pp

Published by: Daw

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Binti is a young woman from Earth, a member of the Himba people of Namibia. She is what is known as a master harmonizer, a person who has a skill in bringing balance to all, usually through math. Her role is to succeed her father as her tribe’s master harmonizer. However, that is upended when Binti is accepted into the prestigious Oomza Uni, an entire planet devoted to learning. Binit runs away against her parents’ wishes to study, but while her ship is en route, it is attacked by the warlike Meduse, leaving her the traumatized only survivor. Binti eventually forms a bond with Okwu, one of the Medusae from the attack, and a link is created between their two peoples, paving the way for an unusual peace.

I read these novellas in the form of an omnibus paperback, so I can’t really separate the three stories in my mind. To me, they’re all one story. But, as always, I am impressed with Okorafor’s skill in creating such rich characters and culture in a relatively short span of pages. The Himba people are not fictional; they have a long and complex culture from which Okorafor could draw. But she fleshed out the people in ways that made them entirely real. I cared about every character on the page, which is a rare thing for me. 

I loved Binti’s search for herself, her bravery in leaving the only home she’d ever known in an attempt to create a different life for herself. The act of leaving home, becoming independent, learning new things about yourself is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. I feel bad for people who never experience that in any way. 

The ways that humans and the Medusae were at conflict and how they resolved their problems is sadly still a relevant metaphor for human society as a whole. We seem plagued with people, whether groups or individuals, who only care about enriching themselves or enforcing their agenda and worldview. There isn’t enough peace anywhere. So much can be said about this but, as I’ve said for years, SFF is an ideal medium in which to discuss real-world issues. Binti is no different. There were many themes that made me think: home, community, identity, conflict, colonialism, friendship. I’m sure examinations of these themes and more could be made, and wind up longer than the book itself. I love that; books that make me think while also providing a good story are to be treasured.

Overall, I liked this story, though I think I enjoyed Okorafor’s other works that I’ve read a little more. This trilogy (plus the short story included in the omnibus edition) seemed to focus more on how to fit in social issues than how it impacts the plot, so I think there are some gaps that need to be filled. But still, the Binti trilogy is a terrific story and one I definitely recommend. 

Favorite lines:

  • Will his happiness kill him? (Okwu asked this without a hint of irony or sarcasm. Me, too, Okwu. Me. Too. Deeply suspicious of happiness.)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

the hundred thousand kingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin (Website, Twitter)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: the city of Sky

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Cassaundra Freeman

Source: my own collection 

Length: 11:47:00

Published by: Daw 

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Yeine Darr is the daughter of a disgraced noblewoman of the Arameri, the rulers of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Their seat of power is in the city of Sky. Yeine is summoned to Sky by her grandfather, her mother’s father, who is also the ruler of the Arameri. To her utter shock and horror, he names her as one of his three heirs to the throne. Now she will be expected to compete against two cousins she never knew for the throne. While she is learning the ways of Sky, rife with political machinations and corruption, Yeine also learns that several gods are held by the Arameri as slaves after they lost to the god Bright Itempas in the Gods’ War. Now those gods are bitter, unsurprisingly, and they have a plan to help Yeine win in her struggle for the throne.

This first instalment in Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy is, in many ways, a pretty typical fantasy narrative: a young warrior woman loses her family, is named an heir to the kingdom, falls in love with a god, is used as a pawn by a variety of people, and eventually is victorious. But Jemisin sort of upends a lot of traditions as well, which was her stated goal in writing her novels. 

The people who were the ruling class, the Arameri, were the highest class because the high priestess of the goddess Itempas was an Arameri when the Gods’ War occurred millennia ago. So that part makes sense within this story. I really like how Jemisin then creates a society that is more and more corrupt the closer one gets to the gods. I don’t think it is untrue at all here, but it is certainly not what most people want to believe. This story tackles it head-on. 

The world building in this novel is amazing. That is one of the best things about Jemisin’s writing. I did find it a little hard to keep track of at times, which might be partly because I listened to the audiobook rather than eyeball reading this one. Sometimes the dialogue was not well marked that I could tell, so I wasn’t sure who was speaking for kind of big sections of discussion. But I’m not sure, again, how much that is a function of listening to the book instead of reading it. 

In line with the rich world building are many, MANY different themes. Off the top of my head, there is slavery, colonialism, racism, power, tradition, and religion. These are intricately woven throughout the entire narrative in ways that are sometimes startling or subversive. It’s a great way to get readers to think about many things we believe and hold dear without really knowing WHY we do. So many traditions in this novel were followed simply because that’s what has always been done, which is of course why something is a tradition. But if a tradition blows, then you should change it or abandon it. Columbus Day, for example, isn’t a traditional holiday we should still be observing in the 21st century. It is being replaced in many states by Indigenous Peoples Day, which is far better. Change can be a good thing. 

Every single character in this book is richly nuanced and complex with the exception, I think, of Scimena Arameri, Yeine’s cousin and another potential heir. She was all hate and bitterness, all the time. I’m not too sure why this one character was so one-dimensional but I’m sure Jemisin has her reasons. I may have just not picked up on what it was. She was an easy character to despise, though. Otherwise, the rest of the cast was really interesting, even those who you don’t like. 

Looking forward to getting into the second book!

Sistersong as Social Narrative

In modern society, it can feel nearly impossible to escape from news focusing on politics, social issues, or conflict. Regardless of where one falls on the social or political spectrum, there is no escaping the fact that these topics are instrumental in shaping the cultural narrative. Exploring the implications of these topics is similarly vital and, as readers of historical fiction well know, an ideal place to do so is within the pages of a book. Lucy Holland’s Sistersong examines several social and political topics through the fascinating lens of a forgotten character from a traditional folk ballad. 

Sistersong centers around three sisters, children of King Cador of Dumnonia, whom Holland interprets as the sisters from the ballad “The Twa Sisters.” Riva is the eldest of the three, scarred for life by a fire; Keyne, the middle child, battles with her family to be accepted for who she truly is; and Sinne, the youngest, is spoiled and thoughtless in her pursuit of romance. When a mysterious warrior, Tristan, arrives at their father’s stronghold with urgent news about an imminent invasion by a dangerous Saxon king, a chain of events is set off that will affect the sisters in unimaginable ways. Aided and mentored by the fictional Myrdhin, stymied by the historical Gildas, the royal sisters embark on their own journeys to become the people they were meant to be. 

Throughout the novel, there is a recurring theme of agency. “The Twa Sisters” is a murder ballad in which a man comes between two sisters and “even the bonds of sisterhood are not strong enough to withstand the sexual jealousy that leads one sister to murder the other.” Holland believes the genesis of such ballads can be placed directly from the limited role women had in society. She tackles the question of agency by giving the sisters control over their fates while also acknowledging the social role expected of them. Riva, Keyne, and Sinne, as royal daughters, were expected to marry men their father chose for them based on political alliances. This expectation is fundamentally at odds with Keyne, who identifies as male and battles daily to be recognized as such by his family. Disregarding Keyne’s identity and refusing to use masculine pronouns for him is a symptom of erasure. This misuse of language and deliberate forgetting of people because it “does not fit with the narrative upheld by the patriarchy” partially explains a lack of gender fluid or transgendered people in much of the historical record, despite evidence that these identities are not found only in the modern world. 

Holland says, “The absence of people like Keyne is indicative of the way they are written out of the dominant social narrative. In writing Sistersong, I felt it was vital to restore such people to a society in which they undoubtedly participated.” Holland envisioned Keyne’s identity as an explanation for why “The Twa Sisters” initially referenced three siblings but by the end, there were only two mentioned.

Holland’s novel begins in 535 C.E., in post-Roman, pre-Saxon Britain. She describes it as a liminal moment in time, an ideal term to apply to the political, social, and even spiritual shifts that were occurring. Further, the discovery of a Romano-British settlement near her home in Devon intrigued Holland, as well as the relative lack of primary sources and the fact that the region was one of the last in Britain to come under Saxon rule. As such, she felt that it was a “perfect setting for a folktale that would draw heavily on myth as much as history.” Sistersong balances on that fine line between myth and history, which readers see in Holland’s use of Christianity, paganism, and pure magic. This commingling of religions was not fictional. As Holland explains, the installation of Christianity into Britain “was not a smooth or straightforward process. Tensions between these two spiritualities led to a complicated fusion of beliefs…in which both religions were practiced alongside each other, vying for control of a nation’s collective soul.” Religious and political issues were also overshadowed by the steady migration of the Saxons throughout Britain. 

When dominant groups begin to shift, as they are doing in Sistersong, the intersection between the groups and the way they write the social narrative can cause a great deal of conflict. Holland exemplifies such conflict in the characters of Myrdhin and Gildas. Myrdhin is a variant of the Arthurian wizard Merlin; Gildas was a historical monk who lived in the 6th century. His major work was De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain), which was an excoriation of the five most recent rulers and ecclesiastical leaders of his time. Myrdhin embodies the waning strength of druidism and other pagan religions in the face of the rising power of Christianity and its ability to convert kings to the new faith. Gildas reflects the sense of inevitable change that came to British society alongside his religion. The conflict between Myrdhin and Gildas was natural – they did represent opposing religions, after all – but Holland admits that her portrayal of Gildas might have been “overly influenced by his vitriolic treatise.” She is quick to point out, though, that she didn’t intend for him to be the stereotypically evil priest common to historical fantasy: “I am sure he believed wholeheartedly in the benefits that Christianity could bring to Britain; it’s this belief that directs his actions in the book. He is guilty only of intolerance…but it’s worth remembering, of course, where intolerance can eventually lead.” 

There are so many pertinent topics covered in Lucy Holland’s enchanting novel, Sistersong, proving again that historical fantasy is an excellent medium in which to examine them. The issues that occupy our thoughts today are much the same as they were in early medieval Britain, at least in this beautifully written novel. Holland’s skill brings to life a mysterious period of history and shows that history, myth, and folklore can intersect in wonderfully relevant ways. 

This article was originally published by the Historical Novel Society: Sistersong as Social Narrative

To Lose the Earth (Star Trek VGR)

ST VGR to lose the earthTo Lose the Earth by Kirsten Beyer

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 354 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

**Spoilers abound!**

This Voyager novel, roughly two years in the making, continues the story of the Full Circle Fleet, led by Admiral Kathryn Janeway and Captain Chakotay. Here, Lt Harry Kim had been aboard the medical ship Galen to visit his girlfriend, Nancy Conlon and their baby, who had been placed in a gestational incubator. Suddenly, the Galen explodes. Or seems to. In reality, it was transported thousands of light-years away from the rest of the fleet by an alien species of unimaginable power. Now the crew of the Galen has to try to repair their supremely damaged ship, figure out where they are and how to get back to the fleet, and what the hell the aliens want.

So, it’s known among my Star Trek-loving friends and family that I have never cared very much for Beyer’s Voyager novels. I liked Christie Golden’s a lot better. I get impatient with story arcs that go over a dozen books and a decade or more to complete. That seems to be the way Trek novels are going to go forever now, though, and I hope that changes. I miss the old numbered paperbacks where one book equals one story, for the most part. Anyway, Beyer is not a bad writer. At all. I just don’t care for her take on VGR. I think she did a much better job writing for the Discovery series. 

That all isn’t really relevant to this novel, though, just general griping. For THIS book, Beyer’s author’s note implies that this is the final Voyager novel. All I can really think of to sum up my thoughts on that is, “That’s finally over with.” I should feel sad about it, because I loved Voyager, but I don’t. This one ended with so many unanswered questions and loose ends. If it really is the final VGR novel, then it was terribly done. Maybe S&S plans to pass the torch to another author to finish up or carry on the VGR storyline. If so, then I have a list of things I hope to have explained:

  • I’m still waiting to hear how a couple in the 24th century accidentally gets pregnant. Surely by then they can turn off someone’s ovaries or something until she is ready and willing to conceive. That is still a plot device I simply can’t buy.
  • Where is Reg Barclay going to go? His decision was left hanging.
  • What about Gwyn? Her connection to the fetus was never explained to Harry or Nancy. Is she going to get to be involved in the child’s life? Will Harry transfer his affections to her since Nancy finally figured out that none of this is what she wanted and bailed?

That’s just a start. I’m sure I can come up with some more.

Also, this book had so. Much. Technobabble. I get that technobabble is fun and it is a very Star Trek thing to do. Normally I don’t mind it; I even like it. But there was so much here that I found myself skimming over many rather large sections just because the technobabble was ridiculous. It felt like filler. As a writer, I get that writing is really hard. But please, if you are struggling with the plot and feel the need to fill it with pretty unnecessary stuff to get from point A to point B, take a break and put it down and figure out what to do better.

I’ve never been a Janeway/Chakotay shipper, though I know many Trekkies are. I just never thought they had romantic chemistry at all. So their whole relationship is not a thing I care about one whit. That said, I do feel bad for the folks who ARE J/C shippers. They waited years, not only for that relationship but for this specific book, and all they get in the end is a single page wedding at the end? No conversation among the characters about it? Nothing? That is really not cool. 

So yeah, this was one of my least favorite Trek books, in any series, in quite some time. If this is the end, then I’m not sorry to see it go after all this. 

 

Even the books I don’t like often have some great lines. Some of my favorites from this book are below:

  • Intelligent life exists on a continuum. …I didn’t know…how far humanity had yet to go or how mortified I could be by our ignorance. It’s simply intolerable. … It turns out humanity has spent too much time in the children’s section of the universal library, and I’m not content to allow that state of affairs to continue indefinitely. Why are we here if not to transcend ourselves? And how are we to do so if we shrink from the work transcendence requires? (90)
  • Fear was a powerful thing. It led people down paths that felt true, even if they were lies. (98)
  • But the whole thing with new people, aliens or not, is that you can’t go in just looking at the ways you are different and decide you’ll never get along. You have to look for the ways you are the same. They can be hard to find but they are almost always there. And once you find a little common ground, that’s how you get to know each other better. (177)
  • But for now, and probably forever, it’s just going to be you and me. It might be a long time before you even realize that’s unusual. Although it isn’t, necessarily. Lots of children are raised by one parent, even if their parents are married. Some families have more than two parents in a relationship. The Andorians come to mind. Anyway, point is, families come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and for now, we are a family of two. (348)

Armada

armadaArmada by Ernest Cline 

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: Portland, OR, United States, Earth, the solar system

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection 

Length: 11:50:00

Published by: Random House Audio (2015)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Zack Lightman is super into gaming, in particular a game called Armada, which centers around an alien invasion of Earth. Players get to control various battle drones and ships to stave off the alien attack. So it is understandable that Zack thinks he’s losing his mind when he sees a spaceship exactly like those in Armada flying around outside his school window. But nope, the aliens are real and the game developers created the game, in tandem with an actual Earth Defense Alliance, to train millions of civilians to fight when the actual aliens arrive. Only of course it isn’t as straightforward as that. 

Zack has an anger problem because his father, Xavier, had died when Zack was just a baby. He died in a stupid accident at his job in a waste facility installation. He literally died getting blown up by human shit. That would cause most people some kind of angst, I would imagine. But he still managed to pass his love of gaming and 1980s pop culture to his son because Zack’s mother kept that part of her husband alive for him. His anger makes for a great gamer, though, and so when Zack learns the truth about the aliens and is recruited into the EDA, he jumps at the chance to defend Earth. 

So this book was ok but it was not nearly as good as Ready Player One. I found it to be entirely predictable. Entirely. Literally not one thing came as a surprise to me, there was no bated breath, no anxiety about what would happen, nothing. My granny could have written it, and she hates sci-fi (I’m not really sure how I’m related to her sometimes). I know the publisher’s blurb claims that it is intended to subvert a lot of sci-fi tropes. But I don’t think it did that. It basically just copied them (mostly from The Last Starfighter, Ender’s Game, and ET, from what I could tell) and provided nothing new to the genre, subversive or otherwise. I am quite disappointed since I really loved RP1 and had hoped Cline could pull this one off as well. But no. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it all that much either. Mostly I kept listening because I think Wil Wheaton did a great job narrating it, as he always does. I just didn’t care about the plot or the characters enough to truly love it. Which makes me sad because I am a geek and am always ready and excited to embrace any aspect of nerdom. Oh well. Can’t always roll 20, I guess.