Jun 222018

Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha Wells.B&N SFF Blog: Like the first book, this novella’s chief strength is Murderbot’s narration. Snarky, independent, and keen to be left alone, Murderbot is an AI like no other.

Wells has also shown skill writing from an alien point-of-view in her celebrated Raksura fantasy novels (nominated for a Best Series Hugo this year), and she has turned it to good effect with her title character here.

Wells’ has always excelled in creating character relationships with depth.

ARTIFICIAL CONDITION answers key questions about the characters and the world and sets up mysteries to be unpacked in future installments, and how lovely that personal autonomy gives us the freedom to follow Murderbot wherever they go next.

Jun 212018

Cover of Always Never Yours by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley.VOYA: Bold flirt and theatre director Megan prefers to be behind the scenes, but must take one acting credit to get into her dream college. Hoping to get the smallest part in her schools’ performance of Romeo and Juliet, she is stunned to find herself cast as the lead—and Romeo is not only her ex, but also her best friend’s current boyfriend.

Like a modern-day Rosaline, Megan tends to be the girl that guys date right before they find true love. Megan agrees to help budding playwright Owen Okita with his latest play in exchange for his help getting the attention of hot stagehand Will. Time with Owen becomes an increasingly enjoyable respite from school, family, and social stress. With her divorced father’s new family growing, it seems his new life does not include her. Her constant flirting with Owen could turn the newfound friendship into something bigger—but at what cost?

There are plenty of Romeo and Juliet-inspired YA books that only use the device as an initial hook. Always Never Yours, however, entwines the play throughout the plot, the characters, and the settings. It is refreshing to see a female character portrayed as fearless and comfortable with her own physicality. Glimpses into her vulnerability help keep Megan from being over the top. Supporting characters include a realistically diverse group of friends, and their interactions are authentic. Fans of Jenny Han and Kasie West will root for Megan’s happiness

Jun 192018

Cover of Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett.Kirkus: Bennett (City of Miracles, 2017, etc.) inaugurates another series of imaginative, thoroughly idiosyncratic fantasy novels.

Mona Lisa meets The Matrix in Bennett’s introduction to the carefully constructed world of Tevanne, a city-state dominated by four merchant houses—literally. The four big boy…are no match for Sancia Grado, a gamin version of the Tom Cruise of Mission Impossible, if not Spiderman.

Sancia scales walls and penetrates castle keeps with ease, and she’s not above dispatching a guard or two in the pursuit of her work: “She did have her stiletto, and she was an able sneak, and though she was small, she was strong for her size.” Bless her heart, Sancia shows mercy, pulls off the heist she was hired for, then retreats into the teeming, seething world between the walls of those great houses, whose masters have made a killing with a thing called “scriving”—“instructions written upon mindless objects that convinced them to disobey reality in select ways.”

Thus a carriage on a horizontal plane might be commanded to roll as if on a steep slope, removing the need for horses to pull it. But what if some corporate villain were to scrive a person in such a way that he or she might become a soldier impervious to pain or discomfort, an arrow that might travel with the wall-breaking force of a cannonball?

If you accept the notion that the laws of gravity are just suggestions, this makes for a grand entertainment.

Jun 182018

Cover of Always Never Yours by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley.Entertainment Weekly: The book is a love letter to high school drama classes, Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet most especially), the power of friendship, first love, and the empowering act of recognizing one’s own self-worth. Every page bursts with humor, squee-inducing romance, and an abiding sense of the deep love and joy of its two writers.

Designed to induce both heart-warming bursts of happiness and a sense of recognition and pangs of empathy for Megan’s struggles, Always Never Yours is a necessary, feel-good addition to the YA canon.

Jun 122018

Cover of Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee.Locus: Revenant Gun is a fast, gripping story. Its shifting viewpoints – all seeing some part of the picture, none with a complete view or good insight into other people’s motivations – and potential for betrayals make it feel complex and demanding. At base, though, it’s a thriller crossed with a story about learning to live with consequences you didn’t choose.

It’s a story in part about mortality: it holds a contrast between someone who wants to die and someone who wants to never die, and the costs, to oneself or to others, of taking those desires to extremes. Jedao, like Cheris, is an extremely compelling character – as is, somewhat to my surprise, the robot servitor Hemiole, whose naiveté and determination make an interesting comparison with the other, more jaded characters.

I really enjoyed Revenant Gun, and I sincerely hope that Lee has the opportunity to write many more novels. This is excellent space opera, and I wish there were more like it.

Jun 052018

Cover of Brief Cases by Jim Butcher.Library Journal: In a collection that follows Side Jobs, 12 stories, including a trio of Bigfoot tales and the never-before-published “Zoo Day,” star wizard Harry Dresden and his associates once again.

John Marcone shows that even criminals have rules when he defends those seeking shelter with him in “Even Hand.” Apprentice Molly Carpenter learns WWHD—What Would Harry Do?—as she searches for vampire Thomas Roth in “Bombshells,” then uncovers the truth of her new role as the Winter Lady in “Cold Case.”

It’s been four years since the last full Dresden novel (Skin Game) was released, so readers will become reacquainted with Dresden’s gritty wit, the Chicago setting, and the not-so-happy endings typical of these urban fantasy tales. Butcher shows there is a dark side, even to those considered heroes. And while these pieces will be familiar to those already acquainted with the series, as many have been previously published, newbies meeting the author’s iconic protagonists for the first time will not be too lost within these pages.

VERDICT: Butcher’s die-hard fans, along with short story fantasy enthusiasts, will find this compilation irresistible.

Jun 042018

Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha Wells.Tor.com: Martha Wells can always be relied upon for atmospheric novels with great voice and precise, gorgeously descriptive turns of phrase.

In the Murderbot Diaries, Wells’ enormous talent for voice and atmosphere has full reign in a space opera setting—and her deft facility with characterisation makes Murderbot an incredibly appealing character. Self-conscious, awkward, and self contradictory: we can all recognise ourselves in Murderbot’s struggles with acting like a person.

Jun 012018

Cover of Brief Cases by Jim Butcher.Publishers Weekly: This entertaining collection assembles 11 reprints and one brand new novella, all set in the world of Butcher’s popular Chicago based wizard PI, Harry Dresden (last seen in 2014’s Skin Game).

In a trio of lighthearted Bigfoot-centric stories, Harry helps out an erudite Sasquatch named River Shoulders on behalf of his half-human son, Irwin. In “Bombshells,” Harry’s apprentice, the quick-thinking Molly Carpenter, goes up against a powerful foe (while wearing a little black dress, no less), and in “Even Hand,” Harry’s sworn enemy, dapper crime boss John Marcone, takes drastic steps to protect an innocent child. The Wild West–set crowd-pleaser “A Fistful of Warlocks” features White Council Warden Anastasia Luccio, who teams up with Wyatt Earp to put a stop to some very dark deeds. The standout is the tender original novella, “Zoo Day,” in which Harry takes his 10-year-old daughter, Maggie, to the zoo. First they encounter a young warlock in need of Harry’s help, and then Maggie is attacked by a group of haunts.

May 302018

Cover of The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal.Publishers Weekly: Kowal’s outstanding prequel to her Hugo-winning novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” shows the alternate history that created a mid-20th-century Mars colony.

In 1952, mathematician and pilot Elma York is on vacation with her rocket scientist husband, Nathaniel, when a meteor strikes Chesapeake Bay, obliterating most of the East Coast. Elma quickly realizes that this is an extinction event, and that the only option for humanity’s survival is off-world colonization. In a compelling parallel to our own history, Elma, who is Jewish, fights to have women of all races and backgrounds included in the burgeoning space program, squaring off against patriarchal attitudes, her own anxiety, and an adversary from her past service as a war pilot.

Kowal explores a wide range of issues-including religion, grief, survivor’s guilt, mental health, racism, misogyny, and globalism-without sermonising or subsuming the characters and plot. Elma’s struggles with her own prejudices and relationships, including her relationship with herself, provide a captivating human center to the apocalyptic background.

Readers will thrill to the story of this “lady astronaut” and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.