A Rover’s Story

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 294 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This story is about a Mars rover called Resilience, which is based on real Mars rovers. He wakes up in a lab one day and learns that he is being built to go explore Mars, which is exciting to him because he was programmed a little too well and he’s developed human emotions. He develops attachments to his primary programmers, Raina and Xander, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, though they don’t know it since he can’t actually speak to them. Res is utterly determined not to disappoint them in any way and to do everything he can to live up to his name. 

I can’t remember where I first even heard about this book but as soon as I did, I put in a request for it from my library. I knew I had to read it. I went into it expecting something similar to Wall-E or Short Circuit. I didn’t know that I would be absolutely enthralled and shattered by a fictional Mars rover. This book made me cry more than once. 

Throughout, Res discovers new emotions and works through how they apply to his current situation. His friend and secondary rover, Journey, is deeply disturbed by his emotions, as is Guardian, the sentinel satellite (I guess?) in orbit around Mars. But Res persists in his exploration both of Mars and of his own inner world. I loved his thoughts about meaning in life, about death, about the importance of names. I loved his determination to live up to his own name. 

The majority of the story is from Res’s POV but interspersed throughout we also get to see journal entries from Sophie, Raina’s daughter. Sophie is about 8 years old at the beginning of the book and her chapters contribute valuable insight into the ways the rover mission is seen by the population in general as well as how it impacts her own family life. She is a little girl who misses her mom because she’s so often at work instead of, say, at Sophie’s ball games. In the same way it was fun to see Res evolve as a being, it was nice to see Sophie grow and change over the years as well. 

I loved this book so much that, if I get any gift cards for Amazon at Yule, I will be breaking my self-imposed moratorium on book buying and will get a copy of my own. This is a book I would read over, especially if I find I need a dopamine boost. 

Favorite lines/scenes:

  • “Where did you learn the term beeps and boops?”

Journey is quiet for a moment. It is not like her to be quiet. She is a fast processor. Her answers normally come at rapid speed.

“Journey?” I say.

“I created it.”

“You created it?”

“It is my phrase.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Do you think that is unscientific?”

“No,” I say without pause. “I think it is extraordinary” (24).

  • I want so badly to say, I’m going to try to be worth it (33).
  • There is clapping. Lots of it. Clapping is something I have observed that hazmats like to do. It is one of their ways to celebrate. They seem fascinated and delighted that their hands can make so much noise (79).
  • Avoid dust and see stars (124).
  • I experience the human emotion of hope. It is a sticky and strange feeling. It is a beautiful one (180).
  • I hear Xander’s words in my head. Telling me the meaning of my name. Resilience.

I must earn my name.

I must earn it over and over again (195).

  • It means something to have a name. To matter enough for someone to give you one (250).
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Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Ray Porter

Length: 16:10:00

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Ryland Grace is an astrobiologist who wrote a paper that speculated that life didn’t necessarily need water to evolve. People laughed at him so he left academia and went to teach middle school science. A friend from his academia days remained in touch and eventually she told him that there is a line of particles beaming from the sun to Venus. It has the unfortunate effect of dimming the sun, which will decrease in luminescence by about 20% in a matter of a couple decades. That would effectively mean the end of humanity. Eventually it is discovered that the particles are actually life forms. Unfortunately for Grace, they’re still made out of water. They get named Astrophage.

Fortunately, a top scientist remembered Grace’s paper and was in a position to recruit him to her project to save the Earth. By recruit, I mean conscript and by project, I mean desperate, seat of your pants, last-ditch attempt to save the world. Hence, Project Hail Mary. Grace and 2 other crewmates get launched out of the solar system to try to discover why Tau Ceti, the star at the hub of the Astrophage lines isn’t getting dimmer, and in that discovery, to find a way to save Earth. Except Grace is the only one of his crew to survive the years-long trip via medically-induced coma. So now the fate of the entire planet rests solely on his shoulders. Good thing he meets a really cool friend to help him out. 

I really fucking loved this book! I’ve heard some describe it as The Martian on a spaceship but I didn’t think so at all. It was fun and anxiety-inducing but in different ways from The Martian. I really, REALLY loved Rocky. He is my favorite character entirely. 

I loved the interactions between Rocky and Grace, even though I thought they learned each other’s language awfully fast. Though I suppose when you’re in dire straits, you can do a lot of things you didn’t expect. The humor was exactly right and exactly what I expect from Weir. The action was fast and exciting, the plot was engaging. There were a couple times I cried. 

SPOILER NEXT!! I think literally the only thing I didn’t love about this book was that it wasn’t clear to me if Ryland sent all his info about the Erideans back to Earth along with the data on the astrophage and taumoeba. Maybe I missed it somehow but if he did not send that, then I think it was a missed opportunity. If he did, then it is totally an opening to a follow-up book from Weir about how humans and Erideans become interstellar friends. 

Favorite lines:

  • “So…when you say ‘a certain amount of authority’…” 

“I have all of the authority.” (39)

  • I gasped. “Wait a minute! Am I a guinea pig? I’m a guinea pig!”

“No, it’s not like that,” she said.

I stared at her.

She stared at me.

I stared at her. 

“Okay, it’s exactly like that,” she said. (58)

  • I check the corresponding star in my catalog: It’s called 40 Eridani. But I bet the crew of the Blip-A call it home (149).
  • “And just like that another climate denier is born. See how easy it is? All I have to do is tell you something you don’t want to hear” (234).
  • We have an unspoken agreement that cultural things just have to be accepted. It ends any minor dispute (279).
  • Sample device radio signal strong,” Rocky says. “Getting closer. Be ready.

“I’m ready.”

Be very ready.

“I am very ready. Be calm.”

Am calm. You be calm.” (317)

  • Usually you not stupid. Why stupid, question?” (347)
  • “We’re as smart as evolution made us. So we’re the minimum intelligence needed to ensure we can dominate our planets” (349).
  • “Rocky, you can make screws, right?”

Yes. Easy. Why, question?

“I dropped one.”

Hold screws better.”

“How?”

Use hand.

“My hand’s busy with the wrench.”

Use second hand.

“My other hand’s on the hull to keep me steady.”

Use third han…hmm. Get beetles. I make new screws.

  • “Good. Proud. I am scary space monster. You are leaky space blob.” He points to the breeder tanks. “Check tanks!” (421).
  • Erid will live! Earth will live! Everyone live!” He curls the claws of one hand into a ball and presses it against the xenonite. “Fist me!” 

I push my knuckles against the xenonite. “It’s ‘fist-bump,’ but yeah” (422).

Revenant

Revenant (Deep Space 9) by Alex White

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 308 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Revenant is set during the early 4th season of Deep Space Nine and follows Jadzia Dax to Trill. An old friend of hers comes to ask for her help in tracking down his wayward granddaughter, Nemi, who ran off after being denied twice to be joined with a symbiont. Upon finding the young woman, whom Jadzia views as a younger sister, she realizes there is something very wrong with Nemi. Scans reveal that Nemi has a symbiont and no life signs of her own. Horrified, Dax returns to Trill to unearth a centuries-long conspiracy which involves not only Jadzia, but at least two of Dax’s previous hosts as well.

I loved this story from the plot to the title. A revenant is someone who returns from death, like a zombie. Or Jesus. You know. As one does. I thought the idea of an evil symbiont who takes over a body and reanimates it is so interesting and I’m honestly not sure why since I generally think zombie stories are dumb. But this wasn’t a zombie story, per se. It was a glitch with the Trill and their symbionts and the ones like Nemi weren’t all corpsified and gross like other zombie stories. 

I’ve always thought the Trill are an interesting species and this book reinforces that interest. The idea of hosts and symbionts can make for some terrific discussion on identity and mortality. How does it affect one’s perception of time if you get a really old symbiont? What becomes important? 

Dax’s condemnation of the Symbiosis Commission also raised some good points about the elitism of joined Trill. The Commission always matches symbionts with the best and brightest young Trill, those who excel in their field in some way. I can see their point in doing so – I suppose you wouldn’t want to join a symbiont with the Trill equivalent of a maga hillbilly or something – but there is no reason not to allow a regular person to be joined. Sure, join them with astrophysicists and doctors and diplomats, but maybe also join them with housewives and schoolteachers and mechanics sometimes, too. It takes all kinds. 

The hive mind element was also intriguing. In Star Trek, when you hear hive mind your first thought usually is, “Borg! Run away!” But this was more like a telepathic fungus and made me think a bit of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’m not sure if that was intentional on White’s part or not but I thought it was a cool connection regardless. 

I’m super behind in reading the newest Trek novels, so maybe more of them are like this, but I am digging the apparent return to episodic, one book equals one story format. The relaunch books were nice but I never liked how you had to read all of them to know what the fuck was going on. Episodic novels are way better IMNSHO. 

It was also fun to see an early side to the Worf/Jadzia relationship. I never cared one way or another for that ship but I know it was popular and sad so it was fun to see a new story about them from early on. 

At any rate, this was a really fun story. Enthusiastically recommended for any Star Trek fan!

The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 517 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Fall of Hyperion picks up right where Hyperion left off. The Shrike pilgrims are entering the Time Tombs, war is brewing, and political machinations are at peak levels. The pilgrims are tasked with carrying on, regardless of what else is happening on the planet Hyperion or in the greater universe. The CEO of the Hegemony, Meina Gladstone, is working furiously to prevent a full-scale war with the Ousters while simultaneously trying to decide what choice to make to save humanity. Either way, she’s pretty screwed. 

The main focus of this book was less on the pilgrims themselves and more on the political climate as a character in itself. War is looming, then erupts, Hyperion is getting a raw deal both in terms of the war, which is taking place in part directly above and on it, as well as the Shrike going completely ape and raining down terror on the inhabitants of the planet. We get to see a lot more scheming and bargaining behind the scenes in this book than we did in Hyperion. Reading about fictional politics can get boring real fast if not done well; Simmons knows how to do it well. The war and the shocking secret CEO Gladstone learns are just a part of the overall story.

The structure of Fall of Hyperion necessarily does not resemble The Canterbury Tales in space as Hyperion did. I really, really loved the way Hyperion was structured, but I also really, really love The Canterbury Tales. So maybe I’m a little biased. But I also loved how much of Fall of Hyperion was crafted through the perspective of Thomas Severn, a cybrid based on the poet John Keats. Actually, it isn’t his POV so much as his dreams that connect the politics of the greater Hegemony with the goings-on of the pilgrims. So that was nifty. 

There were a lot of themes going on, from religion to literature to environmentalism to technology. I particularly enjoyed the themes of becoming overly reliant on technology and the impact on the environment such reliance can have. The farcasters the citizens of the Hegemony use to travel vast distances instantly are awesome, but it’s revealed they don’t really know how they work. It’s like the Pakleds on Star Trek – they take and use technology they have limited understanding of, and it never works out well for them. Learning the hard way is really the only way to truly learn something and the Hegemony is in the “find out” phase of things throughout this novel. Just like we are in real life, I’m afraid. 

Anyway, Simmons has penned a fantastic book. He’s become one of my favorite sci-fi writers. His work is intelligent, fun, and deep all at once. There’s plenty here to make readers think and discuss. Definitely recommended, and I am looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 320 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Klara is an AF, or Artificial Friend. When the story opens, she’s in a store with several other AFs, waiting to be purchased so they can be a child’s companion/nanny/caregiver when their parents are busy working. Klara and friends are given turns sitting in the front display window where they are easy to see and can get the full benefit of being in the sunlight. The sun takes on the role of deity to the apparently solar-powered AFs so getting to be in the display window gives them not only a better chance to get charged up but more time to see the sun directly. Eventually, Klara is purchased for a girl called Josie, who has an unspecified disease that is likely to kill her. 

Klara learns the routines of her new household and how to care for Josie. In this particular, Klara is uniquely suited to be Josie’s AF since Klara is keenly observant, a trait not shared by most other AFs. Because of her ability to observe, Josie’s mother approached Klara with a strange request when it becomes clear that Josie isn’t likely to survive much longer. Klara agrees, but she also takes it upon herself to try to strike a deal with the sun to save Josie. 

There are a lot of complex ideas and themes in this book, which I totally expect from Ishiguro. We could discuss what it means to be human, religion, eugenics, or obsolescence. But here’s the thing – I didn’t care enough about any character in this novel to really want to do that. I found Klara to be utterly boring, Josie to be shallow and vapid, and her mother disengaged. The only character who seemed at all relatable was Josie’s friend Rick. He is an “unlifted” kid, whatever that means. It seems to be some kind of genetic enhancement to make them smarter. As a result, unlifted kids tend to be denied entry to schools or other opportunities, but the lifted ones seem to have potentially deadly side effects. It seems very eugenicist. 

The thing I thought was the most interesting was Klara’s anthropomorphization and deification of the sun. It became a living thing to her, capable of making decisions and deciding whether or not to save people from death. The deification was always present in Klara, so maybe all the AFs are programmed with a basic belief in the sun as a god. That’s super interesting since religion is entirely a man-made construct anyway. But it also was painfully ridiculous at times, the way Klara begged the sun to help Josie or to notice her, promising to do good things in return for the sun’s help. I never got a sense that Klara actually felt emotions, so her asking the sun to heal Josie felt flat rather than touching. The whole thing could easily be read that religion is similarly silly and useless as Klara’s devotion to the sun. Ishiguro himself is officially Zen Buddhist but says he and his family were really without religion; they just said Buddhist because it was required at the time for a religion to be on the birth certificate (NPR). This whole part of the novel makes me think that he was commenting on religion as an unnecessary, man-made construct, or that Klara’s programming could be analogous to the human need to find patterns and meaning in everything, the so-called “god gene” on a robotic level. For me, this was the most interesting part of the novel.

I was really disappointed with this book overall. Never Let Me Go it was not. That book was amazing and deep and dense. Klara and the Sun, by contrast, felt shallow. I’m not sure if that’s because Klara was the narrator and I found her to be supernaturally boring or if I just didn’t like it or what. Whatever it was, it made me want to reread NLMG to wash the taste of this one out of my brain. 

Reference:

“Kazuo Ishiguro Draws on His Songwriting Past to Write Novels about the Future.” NPR, NPR, 17 Mar. 2021, https://www.npr.org/transcripts/978138547.

Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 482 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The planet Hyperion is under threat, partly from a brewing interstellar war and mainly from the Shrike, a quasi-mythical creature from the planet’s Time Tombs. The Church of the Shrike allows a certain number of pilgrims each year to make a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs and to make a wish to the Shrike. However, given the war and the fact that the Shrike is now loose and wreaking murderous havoc on Hyperion, only one last group of pilgrims will be permitted. Seven people with wildly different backgrounds have been selected to travel on the final pilgrimage. Along the way, they share their stories of what led them to be selected.

This book is basically The Canterbury Tales in space, so naturally I really liked it. As with the Tales, there were some stories I found to be more interesting than others and one I just didn’t really get. I think my favorites were Sol Weintraub’s and Brawne Lamia’s. Probably my least favorite was the Consul’s. Everyone else’s was fun and interesting to varying degrees. 

Giving the characters their turns to tell a story allowed Simmons to give more depth to each character than maybe he could have if he had simply told a story from 3rd person omniscient. I liked the different narrators and think he did a great job with creating a unique voice for each pilgrim. 

I had a hard time picturing some things in the settings, though. Like farcasters. Are they like doors but you go through and go to a different planet? And the actual planetary settings never quite gelled in my head either. Maybe I was distracted when reading parts of this or something but I wanted more in that regard. “New Earth” doesn’t mean much to me. Is it a place just like Earth or is it just called that because that’s where humans landed after Earth Actual was destroyed? 

Similarly, I wanted a little more depth on the politics of the story. Maybe there is more detail in the second book but I wanted to know more about all the machinations, how the AIs and Ousters fit in (and who WERE the Ousters? Are they other humans who want nothing to do with the Hegemony? Aliens? If they’re humans, why are they apparently so much more advanced than the other humans?), and why there was a spy. I actually feel like it might have been better to leave at least some of these things out entirely and just focus on the pilgrims but then it would make one pilgrim’s story less relevant. 

The things I felt were lacking, like an actual resolution to the plot once the pilgrims get to the Time Tombs, can be overlooked if you figure the journey rather than the destination is the important part. But even with a plot that is supposed to span across a few books, I feel like each book ought to have a solid conclusion that leaves readers largely satisfied if they choose not to continue the series. I do feel somewhat unsatisfied with the ending since they arrived at the Tombs and then…what? We don’t get to find out. I did truly enjoy the book, but it left me hanging and that makes me crazy. 

This was actually the first book by Simmons that I’ve read but I have a couple of his others. I’m looking forward to those as well. I thought I had read Hyperion years ago but even with my forgetfulness, I don’t think I ever did actually read it. I’m glad I did, not just because it’s basically a sci-fi requirement but because it really was a fun story. I’m trying to go back through a lot of the sci-fi from the ‘70s and ‘80s that I missed and this was one of them. 
Now I’m trying to decide whether I should read the rest of the books in the trilogy or whether I should let it go and actually read more from my ridiculous TBR pile. Being who I am, I’ll probably buy the books and let them sit in my TBR for years before getting around to them, like I did with Hyperion in the first place. LOL.

Star Trek Coda: Moments Asunder, The Ashes of Tomorrow, and Oblivion’s Gate

Moments Asunder (MA) by Dayton Ward; The Ashes of Tomorrow (AoT) by James Swallow; Oblivion’s Gate (OG) by David Mack

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperbacks

Source: my own collection 

Length: 368 (MA), 368 (AoT), and 448 (OG)

Her Grace’s rating:  out of 5 stars

**There are spoilers below. You have been warned.**

Before beginning my own review, I think it would be helpful to share this exceptional, self-described “high speed crash course” summary of all the relevant Lit-verse post-series relaunch novels that lead up to the events depicted in the Coda trilogy. 

Have you finished reading that now? I hope so, because there is no way I can summarise all of the relaunch novels, and certainly not as nicely as Alvaro Zinoas-Amaro did up there. 

Given that there was not any new TV or film material to build on, it made sense that the post-series books would attain a life of their own. What followed was a vastly complex, intertwined mingling of stories, series, and characters that developed further the massive fanwank litverse of Star Trek. But then Star Trek: Picard began and it became clear that the relaunch books no longer bore any resemblance to the official canon of Trek. This Coda trilogy was designed to wrap up all the various relaunch storylines that sprang into existence in the 20 or so years since the end of all the Trek series. 

Fucking finally.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Star Trek in just about any form I can get it. That held true – and still holds true – for the rich litverse as well. But OMG, you guys, I’m so sick of the massive, overarching, crossover, mingled serial plots. I actually started feeling a little resentful that I had to read nearly every Trek novel after a certain point just to keep up with the story, even if it wasn’t a series that I really wanted to read about. 

With the conclusion of the relaunch books, I devoutly hope that it signals a return to the single story format. One book equals one story. I miss the old numbered paperbacks. I could read those when I wanted, in whatever order I wanted, could skip books from my less-beloved series if I wanted, and never missed out on any part of the actual necessary plot. There have been a couple episodic novels fairly recently, and they were awesome. Dear Star Trek authors – please, PLEASE return to episodic novels, even if the various TV series don’t. 

That said, I am very much looking forward to new Trek books, ESPECIALLY Discovery and Strange New Worlds. I’m digging Disco right now and am pumped for SNW. Anson Mount’s Capt. Pike is fucking awesome. 

So. The books. First thing to note, for anyone who hasn’t yet read these, nothing is sacred and not one single character is safe. 

Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward started the trilogy off, setting the stage for a cataclysmic disaster involving the very existence of time itself. The Devideans – remember the weird glowy dudes from the “Time’s Arrow” episodes in 1800s San Francisco? They’re back – have figured out how to feed not only on specific periods of time where there were a lot of people suffering. They figured out how to destroy entire universes and timelines to feed on an infinite number of people. 

Wesley is central to alerting Picard about the Devideans. His powers as a Traveler are the main reason the rest of Starfleet learns about the threat to their existence. Of course, it wouldn’t be normal if everyone believed Wesley or Picard immediately, so they have some work to do. Ezri Dax and her crew, along with all of Deep Space Nine, witness firsthand the Devideans and the creatures they’ve created, the phased serpent-like Nagas, and how a mere touch from a Naga can instantly age anything to death, from ships and metal to sentient beings. Naturally, Picard et al. are going to want to fight that.

Moving into The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow, readers get the rising action and honestly, I blew through this book in about 3 days. It was fast paced and exciting. Picard and Wesley head to Starfleet HQ to convince Admiral Akaar and President Kellessar zh’Tarash but are floored when everyone wants to take a wait-and-see approach. Like, they are literally running out of time period, let alone time to do anything, so wait-and-see is a really stupid idea. Naturally, Picard takes matters into his own hands, aided along the way by the likes of Benjamin Sisko, Tom Paris, B’Elanna Torres, Odo, Quark, Miles O’Brien, and many others we’ve seen over the years. 

Their plan? They figure out that the Devideans are using the Bajoran wormhole as a staging ground for their temporal incursions into this timeline. So naturally, the plan is to close the wormhole. Permanently. At both ends. Beyond that, they actually need to totally destroy it. You can imagine what that means to the Bajorans who view the wormhole as their Celestial Temple and the home of their gods. 

Throughout AoT and Oblivion’s Gate, Rear Admiral William Riker goes completely off his nut. At first, readers assume it’s just because he’s righteously pissed that Picard not only went rogue but that he talked a shitload of other people into going along with his plan. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Riker is suffering some kind of bad effects of the weird temporal shifts caused by the Devideans, resulting in what is termed Temporal Multiple Personality Disorder. Worf is also affected, but he is cured through a mind meld with none other than Ambassador Spock. 

In the final book of the trilogy, Oblivion’s Gate, the mission becomes desperate. Multiple timelines are at play and the mission now is to shut down a splinter timeline that never should have happened. Doing so will prevent the Devideans not only from feasting on the neural energy of billions of sentient beings, but also from annihilating time itself. To accomplish their mission, Picard and friends have to find the core of the Devideans’ temporal base, sync it with the timeline that shouldn’t exist, and obliterate the core. Oh, also, Kira Nerys has to take the Orb of Time into the Bajoran wormhole, which is always a good time. And K’Ehleyr is there, too! When they go to the Mirror Universe for help. Because that happens, too. K’Ehleyr is fucking awesome. One of my favourite lines in the trilogy was about her: “This is what it means to be Klingon. To savor the cries of my enemies and feel their blood on my faceMy Klingon ancestors would be proud. … She let go of her life, aglow with pride. Prepare a feast, heroes of Sto-Vo-Kor – a family of warriors is coming (Mack 379-380). 

Overall, I think Ward, Swallow, and Mack did a great job wrapping up the relaunch books with this trilogy. Of the three, my least favourite was the first, Moments Asunder. I love Star Trek and normally I don’t mind Dayton Ward’s writing, but the first probably 75% of MA was just a total slog for me to get through. It was just so boring. I almost didn’t bother to pick up the rest of the trilogy. It only picked up the pace in the last quarter or so, and mainly because he killed off Ezri Dax. I’m glad I DID finish reading the trilogy, though, because as I mentioned earlier, Swallow’s contribution was action-packed and fun, and Mack’s was similarly fast-paced and also really touching. 

In the end, I think the only thing I would have done differently would have been to find a way not to have to collapse the splinter timeline. It is Star Trek, after all. Amazing, 11th-hour rescues full of technobabble and marvels of engineering should always happen in Star Trek. 

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter when, how, or whether it’s expected. It hurts every time.

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.)

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.