Stars and Bones – by Gareth L. Powell (Review)

Stars and Bones Universe #1

Scifi, Space Opera

Titan Books; February 15, 2022

352 pages (ebook)
8hr 28m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

6.0 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

When worst came to worst, the Angel stepped in to save us. Not an actual Angel mind, but super advanced aliens that stepped in in humanity’s last hour and saved it from destruction. So, kinda an actual Angel. Something that saved humanity. Or, rather, saved the Earth from humanity.

Now, cast out upon the stars, humanity exists on a multitude of great Arkships, where everything is provided and no one is left behind—a true paradise. And so the fleet wanders, knowing that the eye of the Angels will forever remain on them, and knowing that they can never return to Earth.

Eryn is a scout pilot. Together, she and her ship, the Ferocious Ocelot, scout the edges of the Arkships’ path as they wander through space. When her sister Shay disappears while responding to an alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew to find her.

Candidate-623 is a lonely rock, but harbors something both terrifying and deadly. Something that might spell humanity’s doom should it reach the Arkships. When the crew is attacked, Eryn races to warn the fleet, all the while dreading whether or not this certain something might have followed her home…

“Holy shit,” she breathed, “You are not going to fucking believe this.”

And she was right, I didn’t. At least, not at first. Because high above the atmosphere, something vaster and older than the Earth had reached down and snatched every ICBM from the sky, every torpedo from the ocean, and every tank shell, mortar round, and bullet from every battlefield on the planet.

And is was not at all amused.

Man, this was a weird one.

First off, if you’re put off by language, LGBTQ+ representation, and/or terribly done romance—maybe skip this one, eh? Otherwise, read on.

It started out like a house on fire: an extraterrestrial attack right out of the gate that quickly transformed into a desperate race against time. That transformed into a… mystery? Whereupon suddenly introducing several new characters and plot-lines around the third- or halfway mark. The last third read a bit like the latest Star Wars movies, where they just ran with whatever thing first came to mind (despite it making little sense in the overall narrative) and made sure to add plenty of action sequences.

Beware spoilers ahead for the romance! If you want to avoid them just skip the next paragraph.

The romance was… cringeworthy. What happens between Eryn and Li isn’t so much a will-they-or-won’t-they as it is a why-is-something-going-on-i-hadn’t-noticed. What starts out as a one-night stand (or, a not-even one-night stand) in the face of a certain-death mission, slowly resolves into… nothing. There are a couple of kisses, interspersed by long gaps where Eryn looks at Li like a guest, but a stranger. Seriously, they talk only a handful of times—and it actually equates to anything meaningful once. And yet I’m supposed to believe that they’re madly in love by the end? That Eryn is so smitten with the person she routinely describes as a stranger that she actually says “I realized that I was always going to love her unconditionally and forever” at the end. Now I realize that some people can go head over heels damn quick but… were they reading the same book I was, or did I just miss something? Because this romance seems so forced it literally made me cringe, and gape when they so unexpectedly ended up in love.

In addition to a truly cringeworthy romance, the conclusion to the story was a bit of a blur. By which I mean confusing. I’m not going to get into it because of spoilers, but… I spent half of the time lost and the other half either experiencing deja vu or wondering how it’d possibly come to this point. But despite all odds when the end actually came, all my questions had been answered. As far as I could tell, all major threads had been tied up. It was extremely odd, but extremely impressive.

Yes, there was a talking cat, no, I don’t want to talk about it.

Despite it all, Stars and Bones wasn’t bad. It had a solid story, so long as you overlooked all the tangents, pseudo-parenting, and the romance (ye gods, don’t get me going on the romance again). A race against the clock as humanity faces extinction. Where Eryn must do everything she can to save the human race, despite the fact that all of it should be so, so far over her pay grade. From an action and adventure stand point: it was a decent read; there was a lot of both action and adventure. As an existential crisis: it wasn’t bad; it tackled several surprising issues like the nature of love and friendship, parenting, existence, and perseverance. As a mystery: it was crap; a bit like playing pin-the-tail while ignoring any and all hints or clues—you’re bound to get it eventually, monkeys and Shakespeare and all. As a book though… Stars and Bones was certainly a mixed bag. It had a lot of strong points, but some weak ones as well. And there was a lot to unpack.

I believe that was the biggest problem I had with Stars and Bones: its identity. This is simply a case of trying to do to much. In its bones, this was a Science Fiction/Space Opera. But with a little bit of thriller thrown in. Political thriller too. Romance, as well. Mystery. Adventure. Allegory for life. Philosophical endeavor.

TL;DR

There’s a lot to love about Stars and Bones, partly due to the fact that there’s just so much going on in it. Too much, I’d argue. A science fiction/space opera by nature, the story tries to hit up every single genre on the way from start to finish. Thriller. Romance. Mystery. Philosophy. Existentialism. The list goes on. And in the end, there was just too much going on. Stars and Bones couldn’t seem to make up its mind on what it wanted to be. And while it pulled some of these transitions off seamlessly, others it definitely didn’t. The mystery and romance, to start. But either way a number was done on the pacing; what started out as a house on fire quickly transformed to a barnburner, then an… allegory for life? A decent read, but one that I just never could get a handle on. I promise you—there’s a good story in here somewhere, even if I could never find it.

Audio Note
I suffered a few burnouts reading this. I started it only to lose interest fairly quickly. Part of this could be down to timing—early March is a busy time of year for me, then I got the flu immediately after. But then these both happened in the early part of the story, when it’s all action all the time in Eryn’s POV, and we’re just learning the fate of Earth in Haruki’s. Eventually, I picked it up as an audiobook and read it to fruition. Rebecca Norfolk did a great job—most of the time. While her reading of Eryn and most other POVs proved excellent, whenever she contrived to do an accent it… just sounded ridiculous. Frank was passable; Sheppard and Ginet were decidedly not. The AIs were night and day; the Ocelot was great, while any others were flat and emotionless, even when they seemed to be expressing emotion.

Salvation – by Peter F. Hamilton (Review)

Salvation Sequence #1

Space Opera, Scifi

Pan; September 6, 2018 (UK)
Del Rey; September 4, 2018 (US)

552 pages (hardcover)
19hr 3m (audiobook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

2.5 / 5 ✪

Salvation begins another Peter F. Hamilton special: a grand space opera where humanity has expanded across the stars via wormholes. As always, this grand plan is very complex, very detailed, and prone to convolution. In fact, Salvation may be the best example of this out of all his work to date. Let me explain.

The Olyix were welcomed to Earth during our brightest hour—a Golden Age of effective human immortality where our influence spans the universe, and our colonies stretch across the stars. They required fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy—for which they offered to help advance our technology with their own. But is this another instance of humanity’s hubris sure to bring about our downfall, or is it a friendship that will last until the end of time as the resulting empire spans the stars?

Only time will tell.

AD 2204

When an alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the edge of human-explored space, its cargo finishes what its very existence began in raising a few eyebrows. The cargo however, stokes humanity’s wildest dreams, and their most terrible nightmares.

17 humans, taken from Earth, held in suspended animation, bound for and taken by an unknown threat that at the very least was not human.

Security Director Feriton Kayne is tasked with investigating this anomaly—and he handpicks a team to help him assess this threat. Kandara Martinez, corporate mercenary; Yuri Alister, Kayne’s director and architect of the whole mission; Loi Zangari, Alister’s technical advisor; Alik Monday, FBI Special Detective; Callum Hepburn, senior advisor within the Utopial culture orbiting Akitha; Eldlund, Hepburn’s utopial assistant, genetically altered to be both male and female; Jessika Mye, Hepburn’s second assistant and renowned exobiologist. And, of course, Kayne himself. Together, the eight form the most impressive team the director could imagine—he just hopes it will be enough.

Kayne needs every member of the team if he’s to address this new threat. All of them, but especially one vital member. He doesn’t know which member this is, exactly, but he does know one thing about them: they’re not human.

THE FAR FUTURE

Dellian and Yirella lead a team of genetically engineered super-soldiers with but one purpose in life: to confront and destroy their most hated enemy, the one that caused mankind’s near-extinction and resulting flight across the stars. Their goal is simple: destroy the enemy. Otherwise, humanity will be wiped from existence.

Salvation is the kind of story you’d never see from a debut author. The way it is told—through extended narratives and flashbacks, occurrences in 3+ different timelines with a story that constant jumps between them, and threads that didn’t seem to relate at all right up until the end—makes it so tortuous, and in many ways convoluted, pretty much assures that no mainstream publisher would touch it. But if you’re Peter F. Hamilton; established, famed, known for stories that span multiple time-periods, and a love of wormhole technology—well, you can get away with such things.

It’s not that Salvation tells a rotten story—the plot is very immersive and entertaining, at times—it’s just that it’s really hard to see just where the author is going with it, and incredibly easy to get lost in the labyrinth of the author’s narrative. Upon picking it up, I was spellbound for a time, but it soon wore off.

See, it’s the way this is told that’s the problem. The Assessment Team occupies the majority of the text. But their plot is divided between the present day (AD 2204) and the stories they tell about their experiences in the past (i.e. why Kayne has chosen them for the team), which can be set anywhere from 2092 to 2199 AD. These stories averaged about 2.5 hours per chapter, or 75 pages, but in the case of Callum-Yuri: Head to Head lasted over 5 hours. While these tangents were often quite interesting, they had mostly little to do with the overarching plot. In fact, it was Callum/Yuri’s that was the biggest issue. Set 60 pages into the book, this flashback lasted over 150 pages, so when I got back to what was happening at the present, around 6 hours had passed.

Now you may have noticed that my math didn’t exactly square up in that last example. This is because while the story jumps in time between the Assessment Team’s present and past, it also jumps between the Assessment Team’s narration and events in the far future, following a team of super-soldiers. So imagine you’re less than one-tenth of the way into a book: the plot has just got going, the setting keeps changing, and time has jumped from the present to the far future and back once or twice. Now, you spend the next quarter of the text off in a random memory that doesn’t connect to anything you’ve read thus far. And then you’re back in the future, where it expects you to remember what the hell is going on.

I enjoyed the stories. I enjoyed the book, to a point. I mean, that’s the only reason I finished the stupid thing (that and I’ve heard the second is much more linear). But I couldn’t for the life of me remember what was going on. It was infuriating.

The sheer disconnected nature of this book requires either intense patience and fortitude, fond familiarity with the author, or a complete leap of faith on the reader’s part. The sheer size of this is also an impediment—I mean, this was an interesting book; the life stories of each of the characters, the grand plan coming together thread by thread, the situation in the present indicating at least some of the crew had survived that long. But damned if it didn’t take its damn time getting to the point. I was interested in everyone’s stories, but taking them like that—while just abandoning whatever plot there was—was an incredibly bold, arrogant and stupid move.

TL;DR

So, I’ve heard good things about the second book in the Salvation Sequence—Salvation Lost. And I do plan to continue with the series. Those who’ve read to the point might be surprised, but there are a couple reasons. First off, I actually left Salvation wondering what was going to happen next. Second, I legitimately enjoyed the story. Third—and most importantly—I’ve heard that Book #2 is much more linear. There are still time-skips to the future, but these are spread out between 4-6 chapters set in the present, with nary a flashback in sight. If you just skipped to this point: yeah, I kinda don’t blame you. I went off on a pretty good rant there, but this book deserved it. I maintain that the author never would’ve gotten away with publishing this mess had he not already been well-established and much-loved. So, instead of rehashing my thoughts, here’s this: If you’ve not read Peter F. Hamilton before—DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! GO back and read some of his other stuff first. If you’ve read some Peter F. Hamilton and are familiar with the way he does things, and you’re a fan of space opera, and long drawn-out stories, and don’t mind a time-skip or two—go ahead and pick this one up.

Audio Note: As always, the narration by John Lee was amazing. Heck, it probably rescued this one from the embers of what should’ve been a fire long dead. He was likely the only reason I continued with this story, and even then I had to switch between reading the hardcover (where I focused on the far future) and listening to him narrate the exploits of the Assessment Team. If you’re not familiar with John Lee, dude is a legend. He’s the reader for all the Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds space opera. I would totally recommend giving him a try. Just, maybe, not this book.

Discordia – by Kristyn Merbeth (Review)

Nova Vita Protocol #3

Scifi, Space Opera

Orbit; December 7, 2021

464 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for the Nova Vita Protocol Books 1 & 2.

Review of Fortuna (NV#1)

Review of Memoria (NV#2)

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Orbit Books and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

While I usually try to abstain from language in my reviews, some of the quotes below may contain some. If you foul language is a deal-breaker for you, maybe don’t read this book.

All I had to do was… absolutely nothing. But I couldn’t even get that right. It seems I’m always finding new and improved ways to fuck everything up.

The Kaisers return to space, after the events of Memoria leave them homeless. But while they are together as a family, they are not all together as a crew. Following his betrayal during the war on Nibiru, Orion is back, where he is more or less welcomed with open arms. Daniil, on the other hand, is less so. The former Titan Sergeant may be a war criminal, but his motives are not trusted—even by Corvus, who knows him better than anyone.

Likewise, the crew of the Memoria are not universally trusted or welcomed among the planets of Nova Vita. On Nibiru, the IA has declared them all fugitives and war criminals, despite their hero-status among most of the populace. On Pax, their documents are not accepted, and are still waiting for permission to land on the largely desert world. On Deva, they are… tolerated, so long as they have something to offer: mostly consisting of goods scavenged from Gaia and Titan—the two worlds where they are most welcome. But even that is about to change.

As the system readies for war once again, the Kaisers go from simple war criminals to something more, and are almost universally hunted. Only Pax (which still won’t let them land) isn’t actively trying to capture or kill them. All for the forbidden intel they’ve gathered on the Primus—knowledge that is worth far more than just their lives. But while this information may finally do them in, it may yet save them, and the entire system of Nova Vita as well.

I was more afraid to fight than I ever have been before, because I have never wanted to live more than I do today.

Discordia concludes the Nova Vita Protocol, wrapping up all major storylines with a nice bow and flourish, while leaving a return to the universe possible, if not evident. The story is definitely the reason to read this one, especially if you’ve been following it from Fortuna. I certainly had some issues with the book, but really none with the story itself. If nothing else, Kristyn Merbeth knows how to tell a story, and does her best not to leave anything out when wrapping it all up.

But while I’ve enjoyed the Nova Vita protocol thus far, it hasn’t exactly been perfect. In fact, one of my main complaints thus far has been that the planets don’t really feel like planets. As the Kaisers fly through the system, they visit each world, every time landing in the same city or port, and at no time really exploring anywhere else. Yes, there are a few exceptions to this rule—in Fortuna, we did visit two whole locations on Titan, but then were quickly removed from the planet entirely; in Memoria, there was a bit of roving around Nibiru, but it was mostly just the ocean, and there wasn’t any further description of anything else—but coming into Discordia, it seemed that there was but one city on every planet, and nothing else worth caring about. I am happy to say that this is not the case for the third book …to a point. When landing on Gaia and Deva and Nibiru, we still only land in the same city, but manage to explore a little more of the worlds themselves. But… just the area surrounding the capitals. A little. Pax actually features more than one city, though little description is given to either, so they might as well be the same. There hasn’t been any real effort made to make the planets seem like, well, planets. It more feels like we’re moving between three or four cities, while nothing outside their limits matters.

In fact, while Discordia does try to correct the issues I had with its previous installments, the attempts never seemed all that comprehensive. In fact, it tries to do some many new things, that it kinda gets in its own way. The exploration is one; there is an attempt to expand the worlds, but not all that much. There’re more glimpses into the history of expansion into Nova Vita, but not many. The non-romantic, non-familial relationships do take center stage early in the text, but then are never really revisited. All in all, there is an attempt at expanding the scope of the universe—but it’s a bit of a half-assed attempt.

The romance is another thing I’d like to address. Though Memoria may’ve cleared up Scorpia’s love-triangle, Discordia comes back with its own in the form of Corvus. Now, I’m not a big fan of love-triangles (or romance (as a genre), really), but Corvus’ was done extremely well. Whereas the continuing romance between Shey and Scorpia begins to feel a bit forced, the one involving Corvus is just the opposite. It is subtle and enigmatic, blossoming in the background over all the books, before really becoming something tangible in the latter half of the third. Just as Scorpia’s caused me to lose interest, Corvus’ reinvigorated it. (That said, I did appreciate the effort the author made to illustrate that the Scorpia-Shey thing was far from a storybook romance—that it took time and effort, went thing bad spells and indifference and anger and strife. At the end it did feel more real, though still a bit forced).

TL;DR

Overall… Discordia was quite the mixed bag. It’s certainly a must-read for anyone who’s reached this point of the series, though if you didn’t like the content of the books thus far, you’re not going to be any happier with the conclusion. While the final book in the Nova Vita Protocol did try to address some of my major issues with the preceding entries, it didn’t really try too hard. There’s a bit more exploration of the planets outside their one hub, but not too much and not too far. There’s a bit more detail and lore, but nothing important, and not all that much. The romance replaces one love-triangle with another—although this one is entirely more well done. It’s… urrrgh. Frustrating to describe. I’d recommend Discordia for fans of the series, or those who’ve gotten through Book #2 and want to see where it all ends. For those who’ve yet to start the series… while the story of Nova Vita is strong, it’s really the only thing that is. The rest isn’t bad, exactly… just maybe don’t expect too much.

Memoria – by Kristyn Merbeth (Review)

Nova Vita Protocol #2

Scifi, Space Opera

Orbit; December 8, 2020

419 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.3 / 5 ✪

While I usually try to avoid language in my reviews, look out for that here. But if excessive language is a deal-breaker for you, you probably shouldn’t read Memoria anyway;)

Please beware spoilers for the previous Nova Vita Protocol novel, Fortuna. If you haven’t read it, maybe browse my review of it HERE before starting your adventure!

After the Kaiser family helped avoid a catastrophic multi-world war that their mother helped orchestrate in the first place, they crash land on Nibiru where they are welcomed as heroes, and granted asylum. With no ship, and no way off-world, the Kaisers decide to stay, at least for a little while. Nibiru—a water planet composed of a few small archipelagos—represents an opportunity, though no two siblings seem to agree on just what that opportunity is.

Scorpia will do anything to fly again. A former criminal that just can’t bring herself to go straight, she longs for space even more than for Shey, the long-haired political exile she fell for years prior. But while neither of these seems that likely at first, it seems both may be in the cards, should she play them right.

Corvus cares little for his sister’s plans. Working as a fisherman, he attempts to leave his violent past behind all the while haunted by the nightmares from his time on Titan. The quiet, lonely days on the ocean help drown out the voices, but he remains skeptical that they will ever really fade.

When fate conspires to fling them back into space—on a mission from the Nibiru Council to explore some anomalies on the recently evacuated Gaia—the family’s opinions are divided. But when they stumble upon the truth of the destruction of Titan and Gaia, one question eclipses all others. Do they trust Nibiru’s Council with this information, or is it just something that they take to their graves?

The entire system of Nova Vita hinges on their decision.

The dueling 1st person POVs from Fortuna return in Book #2, with alternating chapters from Scorpia and Corvus. While it’s something that worked after a fashion in Book #1, Kristyn Merbeth admitted that it was something she did on the advice of her editor after the story was completed. Here in Memoria it fits together and flows much better, though if it’s the kinda thing that bothers you you still might notice some issues with it. But while I had issues differentiating the two POVs in the first installment, the siblings’ personalities and approaches are so much different in this sequel that it’s hard to confuse them; Scorpia remains hot-headed and impulsive, while Corvus is much more thoughtful and stoic.

The love-triangle isn’t very believable, particularly after the way things pan out in the first book, you can start to see something similar coming in the second. Still, it creates a believable tension that actually affects the plot in interesting ways, even after the romance is resolved.

I say “romance”, but Memoria isn’t anything approaching a romantic book. Yeah, there is some romance in it, even hints at something more in future installments, but it always plays second fiddle to the story itself. Speaking of the relationships between characters, it’s very interesting how they play out and alter the way the story wends. The love-triangle—again, if you’d call it that—has very obvious connotations for the later stages of the book, even the future of the series itself. But it’s more the subtle, non-romantic relationships that dominate the text. The familial bond between the Kaisers is one of the selling points in Fortuna, and continues throughout its sequel, with very realistic bonds being tested, explored, and strained. The Kaisers are far from the perfect family; they fight a lot—often physically, sometimes violently—but always move past it when one of their own is threatened. They have drastically different notions of what is best for the family, something that they usually don’t discuss but often work towards independently, often in direct opposition to their siblings desires. It was very interesting to see how each member is still dealing with their mother’s betrayal, and how it affects their interfamilial relationships here in Memoria.

While I was admittedly on the fence about the plot of Memoria, I have to admit it works quite well, despite a few stumbles approaching the end. There are some obvious holes in the plot—mostly after the 3/4 mark—story devices that were a bit glaring to my eye, but none of them are particularly relevant in the end. But while it took me a little to get into the story, I got quite invested before the halfway mark, to the point that these devices (an alarm that should’ve been triggered much earlier coming late and at a very opportune time, reasoning that really didn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny) really didn’t bother me too much. At the end of it all, I was enjoying the tale too much to care.

“These political fuckers are up to some political fuckery.”

There’s definitely some “political fuckery” in Memoria. I don’t really remember this coming up at all in Fortuna. While the Book #1’s style was a lot more in-your-face, Memoria seems to have gone for a more subtle approach; more politicking, dropped hints and clues that I caught only when reading them for the second time. It’s an interesting transition that actually works quite well since the overall content doesn’t change that much, just how it’s relayed does. There’s still a heavy does of action, tension and a thorough focus on character interaction, especially the familial bonds.

TL;DR

An overall improvement on its predecessor, Memoria is a very different adventure from the science fiction thriller that came before, instead focusing on character interactions, familial relationships, and political fuckery. While there’s still more than enough action and excitement and thrill to go around, it sets a much more subtle, tense tone than Fortuna. Possessed of a much slower build than the original, Memoria took some getting used to, took me longer to buy in to the story. But once I did, wow was it good! The plot and setting and interactions sucked me in so much that not even the few missteps towards the end could slow it. I’d definitely recommend this one, and look forward to the conclusion of the Nova Vita Protocol—Discordia—coming next week, December 7th, 2021!

Note: I picked up Memoria used in paperback after failing to find it at my local library. Paid $7 (including shipping) and save $3 on the ebook edition, plus whatever credit I’ll get following it’s return to the used book exchange (unless I just donate it to the library—or keep it myself).

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (Review)

Revelation Space Universe
Inhibitor Sequence #4

Scifi, Space Opera

Orbit; October 12, 2021 (US)
Gollancz; August 26, 2021 (UK)

454 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Gollancz and many, many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a lovely, physical ARC! This in no way affects my partiality, or my cynicism. All opinions are my own.

Please Beware Minor Spoilers for the Revelation Space Universe.

224 years after the reappearance of the Inhibitors, humanity has become an endangered species, hiding in the galaxy’s darkest corners. Miguel de Ruyter lives on the airless world of Michaelmas—a godforsaken, pockmarked world at the edge of known space. Here, hidden in caves deep below the surface, humanity ekes out an existence. Three thousand people call Sun Hollow home, making it the largest known human settlement in space. Though for de Ruyter, it’s the only known human settlement.

But things are about to change.

When de Ruyter heads topside to destroy a colony ship—worried that the Wolves (the Inhibitors) will detect the presence of so many humans, the people of Sun Holloware prepared to destroy the newcomers before the they bring the Wolves down on Michaelmas—he comes away from the ship with a startling discovery. A lone sleeper casket, fortunate to survive the explosion. More fortunate still, the occupant, a woman known only as Glass, seems in good health if rattled by the experience. But when de Ruyter returns her to Sun Hollow all that changes.

It appears that Glass was not the desperate refugee that de Ruyter had taken her for. Within days of landing on Michaelmas, she has the colony on its knees, defenseless before her. They can refuse her nothing, but Glass only wants one thing from Sun Hollow: Miguel de Ruyter.

One man in exchange for the colony. And if de Ruyter agrees to go quietly, they’ll undertake the mystery that Glass came to Michaelmas to solve. The enigma of the Knights of Cydonia, a way to defeat the Inhibitors, a lost world known only as Charybdis, and the long-dead Nevil Clavain.

“Why’d you shoot it?”
I glared at him. “Would you rather I
hadn’t shot it?”
“I’d rather those other ones weren’t suddenly taking an interest in us.”

On the whole, Inhibitor Phase was an excellent read, just what I was hoping for for my return to the Revelation Space universe. I’ve only read the opening novel, Revelation Space, which only just hints at the wolves’ existence—but I still found this a satisfying continuation of the universe. Additionally, I think that new readers won’t have to hard of time of things. Inhibitor Phase doesn’t throw you in the deep end; instead building the universe from the ground up from the safety of an isolated haven before introducing the universe and history at large. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll probably know all these things already, but shouldn’t be too put off by the amount of hand-holding it does in the opening Part One.

Inhibitor Phase is written in first-person POV, and told over seven distinct Parts, which take place over a total of about 60 years. There’s a helpful glossary and timeline at the end, as well as a list of key characters and note on chronology. I used these all the time to square what I remembered with what I was being told—and it’s an incredibly helpful detail to have along. The events within are set after most of what happens in Absolution Gap (which I’ve heard is depressing), and while the tone isn’t completely positive, it’s certainly more so than not at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Inhibitor Phase! The story flows along really nicely after it departs Sun Hollow, and I had absolutely no problem getting along with the story. It reads quick and to the point, with a bit of flair, a bit of drama, and a bit of pace. In all honesty, I think it could get away with being 50% longer. I actually kinda felt that it glossed over some things in the interest of time; things that could’ve really become an adventure all in their own right instead of a footnote in another. But I know why it was done this way, and it’s really quite a good read the way it was written. But the best stories always leave you wanting more, and that’s what Reynolds does here. The plot flows quite nicely, with barely an issue—until the events of Part 6 (which will remain nameless in anticipation of spoilers). Then it takes some interesting license. And the story loses some of its cohesion. And don’t get me started on the ending. So… I know what they were trying to do. It all makes sense, in general, generally, on the whole. But explicitly… I have no idea what was going on. Everything just starts leaping all over the place.

While Inhibitor Phase is somewhat of a serious book—I mean, it has to do with the possible extinction or survival of humanity—it’s not without its fair share of humor. Which I found… good, I guess? Funny. Entertaining. Reynolds doesn’t do humor like Andy Weir. Or like Peter F. Hamilton. Or like Becky Chambers. Like so many other authors out there, he has his own peculiar brand of humor which you’ll either like or hate, either have to get used to or won’t.

“It isn’t as bad as it sounds.”
“You’re not stupid, and I’m reasonably sure you’re not suicidal. Explain how this helps us.”
“Good—at least you’re being open-minded. The fact is, we’re only considering a brief dip into the photosphere of the star: barely different to skimming the atmosphere of a planet.”
“Except it’s a star.”
“Don’t get too hung up on that. The photosphere is merely a transitional zone where the mean free paths for photon collisions undergo a large change. From
Scythe’s point of view, it will be no different to moving from plasma environment to a somewhat denser, more excited environment containing the same plasma.”
“Except it’s a
star,” I repeated.

TL;DR

Inhibitor Phase continues the Revelation Space Universe and Inhibitor Sequence Arcs in a very different way than the previous de facto concluding Absolution Gap (which, to be fair, I haven’t read but I’ve heard many things about—mostly that it’s depressing). Inhibitor Phase is a serious book, but there’s humor in it too. In fact, if the survival of humanity wasn’t at stake, I’d class it as a story about adventure, or a mystery to to solved. And solve it it does—to a quite satisfying degree over the course of its 7 separate Parts, 34 chapters and 450-odd pages. While a little artistic and scientific license is taken at the end, on the whole this is an immensely entertaining, satisfying read that I have no issue recommending to both old-timers and those new to Revelation Space. And I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here!

The Wayfaring Covers – Beautiful World of Books

We’re deep into Scifi Month by now (something I keep forgetting exists when I schedule these things)—so I figured it’s time for an actual science fiction series to make the covers round here. And what better series to feature than the new master of the genre, Becky Chambers?

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

My Review of To Be Taught, If Fortunate

While this isn’t a Wayfarers’ book, I decided that it was close enough, taking place in a totally new solar system and dealing with some hard issues not often addressed in space opera. Also it serves as a good warm-up to the main event as while these two covers do show their differences up front, they’re much more similar than the other UK and US versions below.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Here we have three covers: the UK edition published by Hodder & Stoughton, the US edition courtesy of Harper Voyager, and the self-published original from CreateSpace. It’s clear how much the US covers take after the Selfpub one—a theme that will continue—while the UK edition goes in a much different direction, simply featuring a lone humanoid beneath the night sky.

A Closed and Common Orbit

These two are much closer, but still retain the original style of those before them, particularly where the title and colors are concerned. Think I prefer the UK one here, but it’s really a tough call.

Record of a Spaceborn Few

The third entry once again showcases two radically different styles, each of which are vibrant and noticeable in their own right. I don’t even have a favorite here. Even though I own the US edition, I’d happily have paid for the UK one instead!

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

My Review of The Galaxy and the Ground Within

Again, both eye-catching and noticeable despite the different styles. Where the US version once again goes with a variety of would-be spaceships, the UK sticks to what it does best—photos of the universe at night. Think again I prefer the UK version, but they’re both quite good. Unlike the story, which was the weakest by far…

And those are the covers for this week! Have a favorite? Don’t care? Have you read any or all of them? I’d mostly recommend this series (with the possible exception of #4).

Every Star a Song – by Jay Posey (Review)

The Ascendance #2

Scifi, Space Opera

Skybound Books; October 19, 2021

448 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.3 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Please beware minor spoilers for Every Sky a Grave—Ascendance Book #1

Every Sky a Grave Review

Elyth was once of the House of Ascendance—but that was a long time ago. She now lives her life as an Exile, constantly on the run from the Ascendance and Hezra agents trying to capture her—or worse.

For a while, she is able to keep one step ahead, but those times are over. Cornered on a backwater planet at the galaxy’s edge, Elyth is taken, but not as a prisoner. Instead, the Empire offers her a choice.

A planet has appeared out of nowhere, following Qel like a shadow. This planet has no mass, follows no orbit, and one day simply popped into existence with no warning. In short, it shouldn’t exist. But it’s very much real. This has been verified by a prior Ascendance team sent to the world to investigate. A team which never returned.

And herein lies Elyth’s bargain: help the Hezra explore the new planet and unravel its mystery and all her past sins will be forgiven. She can rejoin the Ascendancy, or return to her quiet life, but with no more fear of capture. The Empire will leave her alone, for good or ill. Or… she can refuse the mission and will be given a day’s head start.

Reluctantly Elyth agrees to accompany the team, but the mission appears doomed from the start. Upon touching down on planet at the scene of the last mission’s disappearance, they are confronted with… nothing. No sign anyone has ever set foot on the planet, let alone a spacecraft has landed there. Shortly after, the noises begin. Strange knocking from all around. Then the creatures appear; creatures that have never been seen before. And then expedition begins to lose members—in the most horrific ways possible.

It soon becomes clear that the planet knows they’re there, and it means to kill them.

This book takes place three years removed from the events of Every Sky a Grave, but as if those years had passed in the blink of an eye. Other than an offhand comment that she has spent the years on the run from the Ascendancy, there’s nothing about how Elyth has spent the time. Indeed, after the first few chapters, everyone seems to forget that it’s been three years at all. It could’ve been yesterday for all that the story is concerned. I would’ve like to see a flashback of her on the run, a memory, a lesson, a thought—something. But we don’t. Every Star a Song begins a new adventure and—while we continually come back to the events on Qel that brought us to this point—isn’t interested in revisiting the past. Not any more of it, at least.

There are some holes; some flowery writing that serves no purpose other than to fill space; not to mention a few contradictions. Mostly though, Every Star a Song tells an immersive, thrilling story that just drags the reader along for the ride kicking and screaming. I spent more than a few nights planning to cap my reading at the end of a certain chapter, only to carry on through it when something exciting or mysterious or unforeseen occurred at the conclusion of the one prior. Then I’d end up staying up way too late and be bleary-eyed in the morning. And do it all over again the next night. This story is not a hard one to read—nor fall in love with—despite my gripes with how it started.

The mystery is well explained in the end, and thoroughly mysterious and exciting every moment on the way through. Up to the final pages it still kept me guessing, and even delivered a final twist at the very end (not a cliffhanger, just a surprise). It’s a bit reminiscent of the first in the series, yet Every Star a Song blows that away in terms of pace, action, and excitement. Where Every Sky a Grave had some trouble deciding what it wanted to be, this knew the whole time. It’s an excellent read, despite its flaws. I’ve no problem recommending it!

August 2021

To say we have a busy month is an understatement. This month is so packed with releases that I forgot about a few of the ARCs I’d received. I mean, there is NO WAY I’m finishing them all this month. Heck, I might not get to them all before the end of the year. So there will be some picking and choosing which to read—which is something I really like to avoid. But, oh well. Can’t avoid it sometimes.

ARC

The Godstone – by Violette Malan (8/03)

Untitled Series #1 / Standalone

Goodreads

Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin’s Practitioner’s vault. Arlyn can’t ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can’t allow it to be freed.

Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.

Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.

Shards of Earth – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (8/03 US)

Final Architects #1

Goodreads

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared—and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects—but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Devil’s Fjord – by David Hewson (8/05)

Faroe Islands Mystery #1

Goodreads

If the new District Sheriff, Tristan Haraldsen, thought moving to a remote village on the island of Vagar would be the chance for a peaceful life with his wife Elsebeth, his first few weeks in office swiftly correct him of that notion.

Provoked into taking part in the village’s whale hunt against his will, Haraldsen blunders badly, and in the ensuing chaos two local boys go missing. Blaming himself, Haraldsen dives into the investigation and soon learns that the boys are not the first to have gone missing on Vagar.

As Tristan and Elsebeth become increasingly ensnared by the island’s past, they realise its wild beauty hides an altogether uglier and sinister truth.

Paper & Blood – by Kevin Hearne (8/10)

Ink & Sigil #2

Goodreads

There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

Bloodless – by Preston & Child (8/17)

Agent Pendergast #20

Goodreads

A fabulous heist:
On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.

A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.

A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.

The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan (8/24)

Covenant of Steel #1

Goodreads

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

Twenty-Five to Life – by R.W.W. Greene (8/24)

Standalone

Goodreads

Julie Riley is two years too young to get out from under her mother’s thumb, and what does it matter? She’s over-educated, under-employed, and kept mostly numb by her pharma emplant. Her best friend, who she’s mostly been interacting with via virtual reality for the past decade, is part of the colony mission to Proxima Centauri. Plus, the world is coming to an end. So, there’s that.

When Julie’s mother decides it’s time to let go of the family home in a failing suburb and move to the city to be closer to work and her new beau, Julie decides to take matters into her own hands. She runs, illegally, hoping to find and hide with the Volksgeist, a loose-knit culture of tramps, hoboes, senior citizens, artists, and never-do-wells who have elected to ride out the end of the world in their campers and converted vans, constantly on the move over the back roads of America.

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (8/26 EU)

Revelation Space Universe

Goodreads

Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past.

Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything … utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong.

There’s a lone survivor.

And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

Ranging from the depths of space to the deeps of Pattern Juggler waters, from nervous, isolated communities to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera from an author at the top of his game.

Other Releases

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (8/03)

Rise and Fall #1

Goodreads

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Music

Not aware of any interesting releases this month, but I don’t follow music like I obsess about books—often I don’t pay attention to what’s happening until they’re already out. So here are a couple songs that came out last week. The first is by German alt-rock band Flash Forward, the second by Italian EDM-Celtic-Folk outfit The Sidh. While Syl is a good song and all, if you’ve never thought “what would happen if I added bagpipes to EDM” then Utopia is a must-listen!

btw I’ve noooo idea what’s going on in this video, so don’t ask me, eh?

Gaming

Still working on Disco Elysium as I had a system crash which wiped out all my saves from all my games and I had to start over from scratch. Which… not ideal. It’s taken me some time to get back into it. So four days into my first impression of Disco Elysium I had to restart it. “Disappointment” is an understatement. And not just for this game, but about 90% of my library on the PS4. I have a few online backups but for the most part it’s all gone.

Anyway, I’ve taken to some other Indie games to distract me—a number of which I’m working on posting something about, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been playing through Islanders, This War of Mine, Northgard, Fez and Hyper Light Drifter based entirely on what I feel like at any given time. Hopefully more to come on these later!

Currently Reading

The Godstone – by Violette Malan

So far this has been a good read—I’ve some issues with it, I must admit, but I’ll probably still recommend it (at least, judging by how it’s going right now I would). I’m at ~70% mark so probably no review out by the 3rd, though hopefully it won’t be too long a wait.

A Gathering of Ravens – by Scott Oden

This month’s audiobook is sure an uplifting one. A well reviewed grimdark fantasy, it’s something I’ve been after for a while now. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is the right time for it. The world over here is looking slightly bleak, and this isn’t exactly going to cheer me up. But then, who says that’s what I’m after?

Life

Pretty apocalyptic out west. I’ll have to remember to include a photo later this week. There’s a major drought going on, and recently we’ve been plagued with the fires that have been running rampant in California since last year. The only reason it isn’t worst is that winter is a thing here. But as fire season rolls around in 2021 we find that fire season actually started a month earlier than usual and likely won’t be over any time soon. Maybe not even after the first snow—which I genuinely pray happens in August this year. Last year first snow waited til September 5th, but this year we need it more.

The smoke has been awful. In the unhealthy range straight for the last two weeks, it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon either. Not a great time to work outside. But with half our staff leaving on August 1st, it’s just going to get busier. And I’m behind on reading as it is. With the nine releases this month I’m anticipating—all of which I have copies for—…well, it’s going to be a challenge for me to finish probably around three. At the moment I’d guess the Godstone, the Pariah and… maybe Paper & Blood? I’ve no idea. I guess we’ll see.

And I didn’t even mention COVID yet. Actually, I’m going to skip it. It ain’t looking good—enough said.

Any of these or other releases you’re excited about? Books, games, music, whatever really. How’s the smoke where you live? Anything else new—let me know!

Outpost – W. Michael Gear (Review)

Donovan #1

Scifi, Space Opera, Aliens

DAW Books; February 20, 2018

442 pages (Paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.3 / 5 ✪

Welcome to Donovan.

One of the farthest worlds from Earth, Donovan is as far as one can get from civilization. A beautiful world of forest, it is truly a breathtaking planet, one that the locals adore and fear in equal measure. For while Donovan is gorgeous—paradise it is not. A truly hostile, alien world, everything is trying to kill them. From the quetzals and bems and other apex predators that camouflage themselves to hunt; to the sentient plants that wrap their roots or vines around someone and then garrote or engulf them in flame; to the slugs that burrow their way into people and eat them from the inside-out; to the disease, heavy-metal poisoning, and morale and attrition that affects every colony on the fringes—death lurks around every corner.

While the locals love it, the future immigrants aboard the colony ship Turalon might not agree. After two years crammed in a tin can, they are about to get their first peek at Donovan—and the world does not greet them with open arms. Even neglecting the flora and fauna, the existing pioneers are cold and untrusting of their Corporate counterparts. Even before the ship touches down, tensions arise, only to flare as the colonists get the first glimpse of their new home.

Kalico Aguila is an ambitious and cutthroat executive, sent to determine whether Donovan is worth salvaging. Though it is a world of bounty and treasure, the hostile nature of the place, along with its remoteness makes it a risky investment. That’s even before considering that the last seven resupply ships have gone missing around Donovan, never to be seen again. And so the Corporation have sent Supervisor Aguila—along with her Marine Sergeant Cap Taggart—to investigate and report back. That is, if they can make it back.

Talina Perez represents the hope of Donovan. One of the de facto leaders on planet, it’s up to her and her people to keep the colonists safe from the encroaching wildlife. A task that challenges them constantly. Shortly after the story begins, Talina and her understudy Trish Monagan have an encounter with a quetzal that has gotten inside the colony—an event that will change Talina forever. And when the change starts to manifest itself within her, it could save, or doom her world forever.

Would-be colonists like Dan Wirth just can’t wait to get planetside to start their new lives. But when the planet is Donovan… they might not want to stay very long. Not that Dan is worried. Not that Dan is his real name. A psychopath, “Dan Wirth” is ready to forge a new legacy on Donovan—one he means to pay for in blood.

But when the ship touches down, tensions explode, leaving the two sides at each other’s throats. And that’s even before the lost Freelander mysteriously appears in orbit—a ship that wreaks of blood and death and is stocked with little but bones.

You know the stories that take place on an alien world, or a colony on the edge of civilization, or a town in the middle of nowhere, or any other combination of mysterious, exotic, alien, strangeness and/or the unknown? I really dig those. The unknown—and more specifically what secrets and mysteries are lurking within it—has always fascinated me. It’s why I love science fiction and fantasy so much in the first place.

Enter Outpost, which combines so many of these and adds danger, murderous aliens, psychopaths and a death cult into the mix. And Donovan is such a great setting! I mean, actually Donovan is kinda a terrible setting—for the colonists, at least. But for the reader (and I guess the author), it’s a wonderland, a paradise of new and original ideas, each more wild (and terrifying) than the last. And with the existing colonists, the new would-be colonists AND the existing planetary inhabitants all together vying for control of the planet… well, it’s just a recipe for success. One that Gear delivers on with a fascinating tale of mystery and discovery! There’s even a group of former colonists that just took to the bush and somehow live in peace with all the dangers of Donovan. They’re not around much in Outpost, but look for them in the future, as they’re such an untapped potential.

In general, I loved Outpost! The characters are a great blend of authoritative, renegade, ordered, desperate, experienced vs. inexperienced that it’s great to compare their multiple POVs even when they’re not interacting. And add a wild card to the mix for Dan Wirth, the resident psychopath whose agenda essentially can change at the drop of a hat? It’s really well thought-out, well executed; a great read all around. The chapters are short but immersive. They all weave together quite nicely to form a tale of deceit and lies and mystery and love and adventure. I got major Edge of Tomorrow vibes—particularly with the indigenous life (especially the quetzals), and the struggle against a wholly alien enemy that isn’t well understood. Though I’m not entirely taken with it, it’s a pretty close thing.

Talina or Trish were probably my favorite POVs, with Iji or Tip thrown in as my favorite bit character. But there’s really no going wrong with any of them. Kalico Aguila was also quite strong. Dan Wirth I hated, but in all the good ways. Cap was a bit shallow, if I’m honest, for a POV—but he’s really my one complaint.

I do hate it when characters are killed off just to further the plot, however. Now, when a character dies or has to die over the course of the story, that’s fine. But when they die specifically to set up some kinda plot device—like a whodunnit scenario—it gets to me. Now I’m not saying who dies (and you really shouldn’t be surprised that SOMEONE DIES in this book—Donovan is a scary place, be prepared for everyone to die in this) in case of spoilers. Sufficient to say that someone does JUST to further/create a plot device which is just frustrating.

TL;DR

Outpost is a 450 page gambol (I love that word—it’s like a frolic) that goes by in a blink once it gets moving. I mean, there’s some action, yes. And maybe one or two alien species intent on tearing the humans to shreds. Also something about a death cult. A mystery of disappearing ships. Two factions—no, THREE factions—at one another’s throats. A dwindling crowd of people forced to work together or die divided on a world that seeks to expel them or drink them dry. So… pretty much just a nice frolic. I mean, if you’re into that.

The Alien Stars: And Other Novellas – by Tim Pratt (Review)

Axiom Universe

Scifi, Novellas

Watkins Publishing; April 27, 2021

238 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Angry Robot and Watkins Media for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Fresh off my first Pratt novel Doors of Sleep, I decided to give his Axiom universe a go. This omnibus collects three novellas all set in said universe, and presents a debatably good intro to the series itself. Or does it?

The Augmented Stars

Delilah Mears joins the crew of the Golden Spider, a scout vessel on a hush-hush mission out onto the fringes of known space. To her, the Axiom are nothing more than a myth: a race of pseudo-Reapers that haunt the galaxy, laying waste to any civilization they come across. So when it turns out that the mission itself is to investigate a cosmic anomaly—one that may or may not be an Axiom death trap—she’s caught a bit off guard. But upon setting out, the mission parameters aren’t the only surprise in store for Mears. Space pirates, rogue A.I.s, and myths come to life feature in this action-packed novella.

…which was generally interesting—and served as a good intro to the Axiom universe, even though I’m told it contains spoilers for the books. The novella starts off on the right foot; an adventure to the edge of space, a mysterious captain with quite a sense of humor, an interesting new galaxy to explore. From here, we go to the equally mysterious anomaly, get boarded by space pirates—enough to tie off any adventure nicely. The ending was a bit of a letdown, and I do think Pratt could’ve drawn out the suspense (and length of the novella) a bit more, but all in all it was an enjoyable adventure told in a bite-size portion.

3.5 / 5 ✪

The Artificial Stars

A.I. and Trans-Neptunian Alliance President Shall receives a strange message from a past version of himself that he thought had been re-absorbed into his consciousness and destroyed. The request: come to the edge of the universe to see something important—if he doesn’t, the universe will be destroyed. So Shall convenes his cabinet to decide how to handle the threat before ultimately setting out to meet it.

I just could never take this one seriously. From the outset, it runs like a cheesy scifi series one-off. An AI splits his personality and it eventually gets away from him and decides that it is the real consciousness and he the copy, so we get the gang together and set out on a harebrained adventure to stop it. But first, the presidential cabinet rehashes some of their past adventures together, like a full-on knockoff of the A-Team. From there everything carries on predictably. This is something that fans of the series will ultimately probably enjoy, but I found it ridiculous, cheesy, and stupid.

1.0 / 5 ✪

The Alien Stars

Lantern, an important figure among the aliens known as “the Free” or “the Liars”, recounts a harrowing personal journey she undertook to confront her ghosts from her past, nightmares from the present, and specters that only the future could hold. The story is told via a number of letters sent to her star-crossed love and human friend, as she goes up against a threat to the galaxy—one that she is uniquely designed to fight, one that she fully expects to claim her life.

It’s actually quite touching, this one. Again, I felt like Pratt could’ve really drawn it out a bit more: heightened the tension, atmosphere, mystery—and that the story would’ve been better for it. As it is, the Alien Stars reads reasonably well, and ends much better than either of the others before it, but not before tugging a bit on the heartstrings on the way out. This one I found had the slowest build, but ultimately the best conclusion.

4.25 / 5 ✪

TL;DR

All in all, I would like to reassess my previous statement that this omnibus would be a good jumping-off point for the Axiom universe. The novellas all contain spoilers for the main series, so it’s probably not a good place to start if you think you’d like to read the Axiom trilogy. Also, while there’s a bit of hand-holding, this is more the type of thing that existing fans will enjoy more than newcomers. But for a newcomer like myself: one decent read, one good read, and one dud. I suppose it’d not bad, but if you’re really interested you should probably start with the Wrong Stars.