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.

Nemesis Games (The Expanse #5)

nemesis gamesNemesis Games (The Expanse #5) by James S.A. Corey 

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaaace! 

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 532 pp

Published by: Orbit

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In book 5 of The Expanse series, the crew of the Rocinante all go their separate ways. Temporarily, of course. The crew are family now and the Roci is home. That doesn’t mean they don’t still have business elsewhere to tend to, though, and they do. Holden is the only one who stays put; Naomi goes to Ceres Station to deal with a family  problem, Alex goes to Mars with a vague idea of getting his ex back, and Amos goes to Earth to make sure the death of someone he cared about was natural or not. Naturally, the entire solar system goes up in flames while the crew is scattered every which way.

The political situation is fraught in this entry. A radical branch of the OPA is behind the most devastating attack in history, their attempt to carve out a place for themselves within the larger political landscape. Because terrorism totally works. That was sarcasm for anyone who can’t parse Kristen-speak. 😊 Holden tries to work with Fred Johnson to reign in the violent nutjobs while, elsewhere, Alex researches why ships are going missing, with some help from Bobbie Draper. Amos makes an unexpected new friend. Or old friend, depending on how you look at it. And Naomi finds herself in the middle of everything in some strange ways.

The last few entries of The Expanse series, I have hoped for the other primary characters – Naomi, Alex, and Amos – to be point-of-view narrators. I got my wish in this novel! All of the POV characters were the crew of the Rocinante. We get a glimpse into their histories and some parts raised more questions. I learned, though, that there are Expanse novellas that dive into their past selves in more depth, so I have no doubt I’ll be reading those at some point as well. Because I am a giant sucker for a good back story. 

I like that there was a theme of family and home woven throughout. Everyone kept reflecting on home in terms of their past, but now that isn’t home, it isn’t their family. Home is where you make it, and family is who you choose. Birth and blood don’t really factor into either of those unless you want them to. I liked that the crew knows with a deep certainty that they are each other’s family. 

All in all, another fun entry in The Expanse series. Can’t wait to read the rest!

Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4)

cibola burnCibola Burn (The Expanse #4) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter, Expanse Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaaace! And Ilus/New Terra

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 581 pp

Published by: Orbit (2014)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this 4th entry in The Expanse series, humans are moving beyond their solar system and beginning to colonize far-flung planets on the other side of the Ring. Of course, they’re doing so before having fully studied them and analysed the data. What could go wrong?

Everything, of course! A group of Belter settlers lands on a planet they call Ilus and set up camp, ready to mine the planet’s rich deposits of lithium; the UN gets a contract to mine the same lithium on the same planet, which they’ve dubbed New Terra, and proclaim the Belters as squatters. Terrorism, murder, and mayhem ensue. This is all before the weird debilitating disease strikes. And the planet itself attacks the humans. And also, the orbits of the ships are all degrading and it’s only a matter of time before they all come plummeting out of the sky, including the Roci

Naturally, Holden and crew are the only ones who can fix things. 

I think sometimes Holden comes off as sort of Gary Stu in this one, even though he isn’t written as a perfect man free of weaknesses. He has plenty of those. But is it really a weakness to be the only one who can save humanity from itself? Again? I mean, it isn’t his fault everyone else is too wrapped up in their petty quibbles and research and murder to see what’s actually important. I’m still not entirely sure Holden is really a Mary Sue despite the above, and his human frailties do keep it from going too far over the edge. But it might be nice to see someone else come charging to the rescue sometime. 

Speaking of that. I do love how every book in the series so far has different POV characters. Yes, one is always Holden, but that’s fine and only makes sense given that he really is the main character. I like how we are meeting characters in this book as POV figures who were minor characters in previous books. I dig that kind of plot continuity. I would REALLY, though, love it if Naomi, Alex, and Amos were all POV characters in at least one of the books. I like them all but I have a soft spot for Amos. He reminds me a bit of the man they call Jayne.

It was interesting to see Basia Merton as a POV character. He was the man who was friends with Prax and whose son died on Ganymede back in book 2. Basia’s been through some things and his pain makes him do some stupid, cruel things that he normally wouldn’t. His character development was certainly thorough. He was a nicely complex person and I enjoyed seeing his progression. 

Overall, another great instalment in The Expanse series! It’s been a long time since I enjoyed reading a full, long series quite as much as this one!

Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse #3)

abaddons gateAbaddon’s Gate (The Expanse #3) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter, Expanse Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 539 pp

Published by: Orbit

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this third Expanse instalment, Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are freelance contractors now, parted way somewhat acrimoniously with Fred Johnson and the Outer Planetary Alliance. When one of their clients, a rather shady bunch, suddenly back out of their contract with Holden, the crew discover that they are being sued by the Martian government to get the Roci, formerly a Martian Marines battle ship, back. Coming to their rescue is Monica Stuart, a journalist from the UN Public Broadcasting, who contracts Holden on an exclusive if he takes her and her team out to a mysterious ring. The ring was constructed by the protomoluecule creature that launched itself off Venus at the end of the previous book, and it is weird. It appears to be a simple ring construct, and yet ships that go through it do not come out on the other side as expected. It’s like it’s a…stargate… 

A flotilla of ships from Earth, Mars, and the OPA is on the way to the ring to investigate, each government hoping to gain the upper hand. When a person from Holden’s past sabotages his reputation, he is forced to flee with his crew and ship through the ring. What they discover on the other side is not at all what they expected. 

The thing about book series, for me, is that if they are longer than a trilogy, I tend to lose interest. Usually around book three or four. However, that isn’t close to being the case with this series. Yes, it follows the same core of characters. Yes, it has an overarching plot revolving around a weird protomolecule. But each novel has a large and diverse cast of secondary characters and a new basic plot, each different from the previous book. It isn’t a cliffhanger from one book to the next where you have to keep reading about the exact same goddamn characters over and over. Corey’s style works wonders for me.

Holden is evolving as a character in a good way. He can still be a sanctimonious bastard, but he is self-aware enough now to know it. He is making a concerted effort to be a better person, not only for himself, but for his crew, and especially his lover, Naomi. We know a bit more about Holden’s past than the other main characters, possibly because he is the captain. But we get tidbits of information about Naomi, Amos, and Alex as well. I hope we get to learn more about their past lives as the novels progress. What drove them to be on the Canterbury way back in book one? Why did they end up on a bottom-of-the-barrel ship when they all clearly have crazy skills and can do what they want in much better positions? These things, I want to know. 

The secondary cast this go round is Carlos Baca, called Bull, a security officer for the OPA. He is assigned as the security chief to the Behemoth when it heads out to the ring. He’s kind of bitter about his position since he should really have been the captain, and Fred Johnson knows it. But he’s not, because politics! Instead, some jackoff called Ashton is captain, and he seems like a skinny Trump, all ego and narcissism and demands of loyalty. We hate Ashton. But we love Bull.

Joining the Behemoth is Sam, the engineer from Tycho Station and Naomi’s best friend; Clarissa Mao, in disguise as someone called Melba Koh, who is on a private mission of vengeance against Holden for his perceived harm to her family’s good standing; and Pastor Anna, a Russian, well, pastor who is on the Behemoth because she believes God called her there to help in some way. And of course a colorful variety of various others ranging from Martian Marines to news reporters to a neurotic socialite. Each one is there for their own reasons, and each one ends up playing parts they hadn’t anticipated. 

Also, Joe Miller is a recurring presence, despite having ridden Eros on its collision course with Venus at the end of book one. So there’s that. 

The biblical and religious allusions are inescapable. I mean, it’s built right into the title. Abaddon is the Hebrew word for “place of destruction,” or hell, or the realm of the dead. Pastor Anna has a lot of things to say about the place of religion in human society, about forgiveness, and about the ways in which humans must fit in with the greater universe. It was not a “beat you over the head” sort of religious discussion. It was interesting and in the background. I’m sure others who are more inclined could find a lot more to say about it. I can, too, but find that I can’t be bothered with religion today. Suffice to say, the title is a perfect highlighting of the plot in this one. 

Themes of loyalty and bravery are front and center as well, which I’m coming to expect from this series. There are so many ways in which these characters, and those in the previous books, have displayed these concepts. I think one of the most important discussion on bravery in this instalment is when Holden figures out how scared he really is by anything to do with the protomolecule. And yet, he does whatever has to be done, despite his fear. I guess Ned Stark was right – when you’re scared, that’s the only time you can truly be brave. 

I have to take a forced break in the series to read a couple books I promised to a friend for a review, and that’s cool, but I can’t wait to get back into this series!

Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2)

caliban's war

Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2) by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 595 pp

Published by: Orbit (26 June 2012)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, is the agricultural breadbasket for the Belt and the Outer Planets. Which is weird since it’s a ball of frozen ice for the most part, with almost no atmosphere. But thanks to giant mirror arrays, people have been able to make shit grow on it so that the people who do not live on Earth, Luna, or Mars can have something to eat. That all becomes a problem when Roberta “Bobbie” Draper, a Martian Marine stationed on Ganymede, watches helplessly as her entire platoon is annihilated by a monster that rose out of nowhere. In the process of all this, the mirror arrays get damaged as well. So now there’s no food being grown on Ganymede and it’s entirely possible the Outer Planets and Belt are basically fucked. 

Bobbie gets sent to Earth to give her view on the incident and earns the attention of Chrisjen Avasarala, the Earth government assistant undersecretary to something or other. She’s in charge of all the things. She’s also a rude and crude old granny, so right away she’s one of my favorite characters. She convinces Bobbie to come work for her, which is good because it turns out crude granny needs some armed protection, especially when they fall in with Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Holden et al have torpedoed their job with Fred Johnson of the OPA and are now working for Prax Meng, the head botanist on Ganymede. Prax’s 4 year old daughter, Mei, was kidnapped just before the shit hit the fan on Ganymede and he hires Holden to help him find her.

And naturally everyone’s paths cross, uncross, and become a Gordian knot of military and political intrigue, all while trying to fight against the protomolecule monster that evolved out of the alien virus from the previous book. Good times. 

I have really been enjoying these books. I know this is only the second one in the series, but it’s an action-packed, complex story. I love the crew of the Roci from priggish, self-righteous Holden to mechanic with a shady past Amos. Avasarala is an awesome character in this story as well. She looks like a sweet old granny until she starts talking. Then she becomes wonderfully imaginative in her use of invective and she isn’t shy about dressing down anyone who isn’t doing what she wants them to do. She runs political rings around every single person ever, whether they’re from Earth or the furthest reaches of the Outer Planets. 

I like, too, that we got a hint of Amos’s history, and a small teaser of Alex’s. I am hoping those both get fleshed out more in the future books. I didn’t expect to like a character like Amos. He is huge and violent and probably a murderer. But in this book, he reminds me a lot more of Jayne Cobb than anyone who is actually a bad guy. Now he is one of my favorites from the Roci. I think it is excellent writing when I can genuinely like a character who is so morally ambiguous, because really he isn’t. He just seems like a bad guy or former bad guy but is really someone who will protect you to his last breath. 

The action in this series is visceral and exciting. It is pretty gory but it isn’t gratuitously so. I think the action sequences truly serve a purpose here rather than being tossed in for the hell of it. I really appreciate that and feel it makes the story much more effective. I am not at all opposed to violent scenes in books, but they need to serve a purpose other than just yay violence! So in that regard, too, nicely done, authors!

I have been on a mission lately to minimize, save money, cull things, and so forth. Buying more books is not a thing I am doing right now. In fact, I am culling quite a few of my books, which is not a thing I tend to do. So naturally I went out and bought my own copies of the first three in this series. I am pretty sure I’ll be buying myself the whole series; I have the first three and the next two are on order. This series has undermined my determination to have an orderly home library and to stay inside my budget. Neat!

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

leviathan wakesLeviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: public library 

Length: 572 pp

Published by: Orbit (2 June 2011)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In the future, humans have colonized the solar system but we’re not cool enough yet to have warp drive or be able to get out of the solar system. Instead, we have a complex system with the inner planets of Earth, Mars, and Earth’s moon Luna, living in relative safety and security. Then there are the Belters, the people who have lived and worked in the asteroid belt for generations. Belters are taller, lighter, tough folks used to living in microgravity. Economy is based on selling air to space stations and colonized asteroids, foodstuffs to the Belt, water mined from Saturn’s rings and other asteroids. Mars and Earth have a tense political and military relationship. Most of the inner worlds ignore the Belt. And now there’s a young woman missing in the Belt who may or may not be the center of a terrible secret that has the power to kill billions.

Detective Miller is assigned to search for Julie Mao. Jim Holden is the executive officer of an ice miner. Their paths cross in some truly weird ways as they track Julie and this awful new evidence of extraterrestrial life all over the Belt and back. The ship Holden is from gets blown away to prevent them from telling the truth. Miller gets canned to prevent him from finding Julie. Everyone really likes to shoot first and ask questions later. 

This novel is, in a nutshell, a fucking awesome space opera. I have been on a big sci-fi binge lately anyway, but I am not sure how I missed this series before. I saw that there is a show based on the books and I had the thought to watch it. But books are always better so I figured I’d try it. If I was bored with the books, I planned just to watch the show. Instead, I blew through this doorstopper in just a couple days. Now I’m on the second book and almost finished with it. 

Anyway. The characters are maybe a tad stereotypical. A depressed, down on his luck detective. An unruly XO who sympathies with rebels. A girl from a rich family who gives it all up for her political views. Lots of stereotypes. But at the same time, they were well developed and very different. I enjoyed getting to know them and see how they intersected with one another’s stories. I loved the idea of basically two kinds of humans in conflict with each other in the solar system rather than humans vs aliens. 

I also loved the culture of the Belt. They have their own patois and even though I’m usually really good at figuring things out on context, even I had a hard time understanding what some of the true Belters were saying. I thought it added a layer of complexity and grit to the story overall. I loved that the Belters all really did live in the asteroid belt, that they develop differently because they don’t live in a gravity well like on Earth. The stations were vividly described to the point where I could see the crowds of people on Ceres Station, hear the hiss of air circulators, feel the way the gravity changed in relation to how close you were to the center of the spin. It was just a really fun read. I doubt the show can live up to it, though I still plan to watch it once I read all the books first. 

Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: several different variations of Chicago

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 342 pp

Published by: Crown (26 July 2016)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jason Dessen is a physics professor at a small college in Chicago. Years ago, he’d had a promising future as one of the brightest young scientists in the world. He gave it up, though, in favor of living a quiet life and making a family with his wife. Then, he gets abducted and ends up in an alternate Chicago, looking at an alternate life. Now he has to figure out how to get back to his actual life in his own reality – or decide if he even wants to. 

This was a fast-paced, fun read full of “what ifs” and hypotheticals. It makes you think about the choices you make in your life and ponder the consequences of having chosen one way over another. What happens if you, as Jean-Luc Picard once did, start pulling at the threads that make up the tapestry of your life? 

akata warrios

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: Nigeria

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 477 pp

Published by: speak (3 Oct 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunny Nwazue is a Leopard Person, AKA Nigerian witch. In the aftermath of defeating the evil masquerade Ekwensu, Sunny is spending her time studying with her mentor and learning how to read her magic Nsibidi book. She soon learns of an existential threat to humanity, centered in the town of Osisi, which exists both in reality and in the invisible spirit world. Sunny goes on a quest to save mankind, aided by her friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and her spirit face, Anyanwu.

Okorafor’s characters are ALL delightful and well developed. I fucking love Sunny and her friends, and am fascinated by the intersection of history, myth, and folklore that these books portray. The adventures and challenges Sunny faces are crazy fun to read and show kids overcoming obstacles, learning to be independent, becoming supportive friends, and strong leaders. Love it! Rumor has it that there’s a third book in the works for this series; I really hope that is true and that it will come out sooner rather than later. 

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 327 pp

Published by: Pamela Dorman Books (9 May 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleanor Oliphant is a woman struggling with other humans. She appears to be on the spectrum, is highly structured, dislikes being touched, and generally prefers her own company. Sometimes I wonder if I, too, am on the spectrum. I identified with Eleanor in some very uncomfortable ways. Anyway, a wrench is thrown into her routine when she meets Raymond, an IT guy at her work who insists on befriending her. They share a further connection when they both assist an elderly man who faints on the sidewalk. That connection impacts them both in ways no one could have predicted. I don’t mean romance. That’s boring and predictable in most books. This isn’t that.

I loved this book. One of my top reads of 2021 so far. Eleanor has a terribly sad history, which readers piece together slowly with tidbits of information parsed out over the course of the book. Raymond is a proper good guy you can’t help but like. The novel is about the various ways we can destroy ourselves but then usually we get by with a little help from our friends. 

Girls in the Garden

Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Twitter, Insta)

Genre: mystery, I guess

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 313 pp

Published by: Atria (2 July 2015)

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

 

This was a solid meh for me. I enjoyed it well enough to finish it, the writing was fast paced and held my attention. But it maybe wasn’t a mystery? Especially since the answer is literally in the title? I figured this out like in chapter two; I think it would not come as a surprise to anyone who has been or lived with teenage girls at any point. Teen girls can be real assholes. 

That said, I didn’t hate this book at all. Just wasn’t surprised. I do plan to read other books by this author. Maybe if there are ones that aren’t centered on teenage girls, those will not be as easy to solve. Plus, if they’re all set in Britain, I’m down for that. I’ll read just about anything set in Britain.

Love After Love

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Twitter)

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: Trinidad and NYC

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: public library 

Length: 327 pp

Published by: One World (4 Aug 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Betty Ramdin is a young widow raising her son, Solo, on her own. Like, solo. In need of a little extra income or help, she takes on a boarder, Mr. Chetan. The three of them become their own unique little family until one day, Solo overhears his mother telling Mr. Chetan her darkest secret. Solo, like the little shit he is*, takes off to NYC to live with his paternal uncle as an undocumented immigrant. Mr. Chetan becomes the glue that tenuously holds the family together, until his own secret comes to light.

I read this for my book club, which is good because on my own, there is no fucking way I would have even looked at a book titled Love After Love. It sounds like a romance. I do not do romances. I’m glad I read it because it is on my top books of 2021 now. All the characters were richly developed, even if they were little shits. It was also interesting – and sad, sometimes – to see a glimpse of life in the Caribbean. Would definitely read more by this author!

*Solo isn’t a shit because he is undocumented. I am in favor of granting amnesty and Social Security numbers to everyone who wants to be here who doesn’t otherwise break the law. Solo is a shit because he is a spoiled, myopic asshole who could use a good ass-kicking.

Interdependency

The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, The Last Emperox (The Interdependency) by John Scalzi (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaace! And various habitats, space stations, and occasional planets

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection 

Length: 9:24:00, 8:19:00, and 8:07:00, respectively

Published by: Audible Studios

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars, both for each book and for the series as a whole

In Scalzi’s Interdependency trilogy, humans have managed to colonize a lot of the galaxy. They do not do this, however, through the use of any sort of FTL or warp drive. The laws of physics prevent that. They do, however, have something called the Flow, which sounds a little like wormholes through which a ship can travel and arrive at a location in a matter of days, weeks, or months, depending on distance. Ships can only enter or exit at Flow shoals, and the Flow streams only go one direction. So if a Flow stream goes from Hub, the Capital of the Interdependency, to End, the one planet that supports human life and which is at the farthest reach of the Flow streams, then they need to use a different stream from End to get back to Hub. 

Oh, and the streams are beginning to collapse.

This is a problem because, as the title implies, every human habitat is interdependent upon each other for survival. The places where humans settled are all, with the exception of End, not compatible with human life. They’re either on tidally locked moons and planets, too hot or too cold to survive, or on space habitats in orbit somewhere. The Interdependency is organized around Guild Houses, each of which have a monopoly on a certain aspect of manufacturing things needed to sustain life. Once the Flow streams collapse, everyone will be well and truly fucked. 

Enter an inexperienced Emperox, Cardenia Wu Patrick (Imperial name Greyland II), a young woman who was never supposed to be Emperox and only became so when her half brother the Imperial heir died in an “accident.” The various noble Houses think this will be a good thing because they expect to be able to manipulate her. The main houses of Wu (the hereditary Imperial house as well), Lagos, and Nohamapetan, are the political powerhouses and are out for blood and profit. Also, I listened to these, so I may be WAY off on how the names are spelled. Just saying.

The Houses of Lagos and Nohamapetan are particular enemies. On one run between Hub and End, Kiva, the Lagos representative to the Guilds, learns that her House’s entire crop on End had been sabotaged and she naturally suspects the Nohamapetans. Having just spent 9 months in the Flow traveling to End, Kiva is righteously pissed because now she will have spent the best part of 2 years on a trip that is profitless. Kiva soon learns, however, that there is something wrong with the Flow and she ferries a young noble and Flow physicist, Marce Claremont, back to End to meet with the Emperox and come up with a plan to save the billions of people dependent on the Flow for survival. She also comes up with a way to make money on an otherwise failed venture, as one does. 

There’s a lot of politics in this story, but Scalzi makes it fun! Kiva is definitely my favorite character. She’s so thoroughly outspoken and rude and it’s just delightful. She’s also crazy skilled at strategy and politics and is the best person the Emperox could possibly have in her corner. Cardenia is sweet – on the outside. Then she manages to deflate the machinations of everyone conspiring against her, which is especially fun when she hamstrings the Nohamapetans. Really, the characters in this series are the best thing about it. Yes, the overarching story is bomb, and is very Scalzi-ish. But, as Renay Williams wrote, the central characters are all women, and they’re all truly awesome in their own ways. 

Also, the trilogy covers a lot of ground that lovers of sci-fi space operas will appreciate seeing, happily updated with a lot of modern thought, because actual colonialism is gross. There’s far-flung human colonization, empire, the ways in which all these things are connected and, like, interdependent on each other. It is really a good commentary on a lot of our actual current events and politics. I have screamed for years that sci-fi is the ideal medium in which to discuss and analyse current events; Scalzi’s trilogy is further proof. 

As I mentioned above, I listened to The Interdependency trilogy on audiobook. Wil Wheaton did a phenomenal job narrating. I honestly think it is one of his best performances. His timing and tone were spot on and turned elements of the book that were already amusing into laugh out loud hilarity. I loved listening to these books so much that when the third one ended, I wanted to start the series all over again. I didn’t, only because I have so very many audiobooks to listen to that I haven’t even touched yet. But I did go and buy the trilogy in paperback, even though I swore I wouldn’t buy any more books until I get through more of my TBR and cull ones I know I’m not going to read ever again. 

I can’t wait to read these again, and I can’t wait to see what Scalzi publishes in the future. If you haven’t read, or even better, listened to, this series yet, you are really missing out!