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The Grace of Kings and Wall of Storms(by Ken Liu)
First book: This starts slowly - the first time I started it, I got distracted and didn't get very far - but it builds up speed, and is seriously compelling by about a third of the way in. The book has more or less three stages - Stage one, rebel against the oppressive Empire. Stage two, the rebellion schisms. Stage three - change the world. Stage one is reasonably standard, other than being in an East-Asian-Pacific-ish fantasy setting instead of a European one, and is complete with destined heroes and loveable rogues. Stage two is well foreshadowed in stage one, and makes it more interesting. Stage three - stage three I was not expecting. There is a chapter, in the first stage, that kind of exemplifies the whole thing for me. The rebellion has begun, and the two rebel heroes (the destined scion and the charming trickster) are under siege in a walled city. They're well prepared for the siege, and their goal is to stall the besieging army long enough for the army two cities over to arrive, at which point they can combine forces and win. The besieging general knows that waiting is a losing tactic, so he starts having his kite riders drop leaflets in the city mocking the heroes for being womanly wusses and not coming out and fighting. There are pictures of them in dresses. The trickster sees this as proof that they're winning; the scion (kind of the Epic Honorable Fighter paradigm) is being provoked, and he's going to open the gates and charge out at the guys who impugned his honor. The trickster manages to think of a better plan, which is to turn it into single combat challenge of kite-fighters, and the EHF gets to heroically chop down any kite-fighters that engage him. Yay, the heroes win - and then the trickster gives an extra bonus speech at the end selling the idea that we are not going to let "they're women" be an insult any longer. Five stars.

Second book: The kingdom built at the end of the first book gets a painful amount of infighting before being invaded. The infighting hurt, more than it did in the first book. (That is, it was painful for me as a reader; the first book probably hurt the characters just as much. :) ). In the above review, I talked mostly about the politics plots - there are a lot of those in the second book, and they're just as well done. But what I didn't mention before, and what is even more so in the second book, is that they are relentlessly interested in science. The wars are driving an industrial revolution, as they do, and the book talks about all of it. When there's a new weapon, there is a twenty-minute digression about how the scientists/engineers first got the idea from observation, how they developed it and tested it, and what it finally does. It's the history of the scientific progress of an alternate civilization, and it's fascinating. Still five stars.


House of Blades and The Crimson Vault (by Will Wight)
I was describing this to mjperson as "Start with the Amber setting, decide that each shadow has its own magic genre and power tree, then hand it to Brandon Sanderson to build the underlying mechanics. Render that all down into a RPG system, and hand it to a mediocre gamemaster to run a game in. The part of the story that is devoted to figuring out how the system works is actually pretty neat. (The power tree for Valinhall might actually be part of a computer game instead of a sit-down, and it sounds fun to play.) The story is sadly a little dull, and is also seriously frustrating in terms of the moral dilemma at the heart of the civil war. It takes a while to explain what's going on, but essentially one side has permanently trapped the Horrible Monsters by virtue of planting evil trees on them. The evil trees require nine sacrifices a year. Okay, yes, bad. The other side is going to Free The People from this awful tyranny of sacrifices by burning down the trees... and then teleporting out before being killed by the monsters, leaving the horrible monsters to rampage around killing all the locals (you know, the locals who were being so oppressed by having nine of them killed). Way to lose the moral high ground, guys. Really, neither side comes off with any combination of morality and sense - given that the plot later involves having to put down the horrible monsters with concerted effort, it is clearly possible. But nobody wants to start out with that conversation - it's all either We Must Keep Them Trapped or Destroy The Evil Trees For Freedom.

Also, they're really bad at briefings - both giving them and listening to them. These two exchanges are within pages of each other:

But if the Eldest's involved, that means he thinks there's some way to increase Valinhall's power." Olissa looked unconvinced. "Is that bad?" "Depends on your definition of bad," Indirial responded. Simon waited for more, but the Overlord didn't seem inclined to say anything else.

"That kind of link can be dangerous," Indirial warned. "I know you're not familiar with..." Indirial kept talking, but Simon stopped listening. He had heard enough.

The Valinhall mechanic was pretty cool, though. Two and a half stars.


Poe (by J Lincoln Fenn)
One of several haunted-house books that went on my list near Halloween. This one was a Kindle Unlimited book, so it was definitely better than what I paid for it; it was basically okay. I liked the characters (and 'obituary writer' is a cute tie-in for a horror story); the plot was kind of iffy. The ghost-demon gets to win its plot if it can kill six people in a month. Given the power it has (including strength and invulnerability), the only reason it didn't win in the flashback sequence (and certainly the only reason it doesn't win in the main plot) is that it seems to be limited to murdering people when it is Dramatic to do so. Also, the main character has a really annoying tendency to refrain from telling other characters about dangerous things to avoid scaring them. He does own it as a flaw, but it is a VERY BAD flaw, when the scary things are quite so murderous.
"You're not dead?" she asks in a choked voice.
"Not the last time I checked." I put her hand to my neck. "Do I still have a pulse?"
She smiles hesitantly. "Then it was just a dream..."
"Hopefully. What was the dream about?"
"I don't know. I was having a nightmare, then I thought I opened my eyes, and I saw..."
"You saw what?"
"A face in the window." She holds out her arm, pointing. "There."
I look at the window. The stark, leafless branches of the maple tree sway slightly in the wind, and a scattering of new snow drifts lazily in the haze of a streetlight.
Lisa whispers, "You don't think..." "Course not," I say, giving her arm a squeeze. "But I'll go look just to make sure."
Slowly I stand, ignoring the pain in my feet, and step toward the window. I press my hand against the cold pane of glass and quickly scan the street below.
And my heart clenches. There's a cluster of bootprints at the base of the tree, identical to the ones outside Lisa's house. A lone, cracked branch dangles from the trunk, like a broken arm, like something or someone was too heavy for it.
"Do you see anything?
"No," I lie. I turn to her, try for a reassuring smile.
I can see her question me for a moment, the slight furrow in her brow, but then she presses the heel of her palm against her forehead. "Guess it was just part of my nightmare."
I think horror often has flawed characters making stupid decisions to humanize the people and make the scary stuff seem more approachable? The characters aren't heroes, they're just muddling through, like one does. It could be you, or me. Except when the muddling-through mistakes are so frustrating, it breaks the bond. There are many ways in which I would be stupid if I found myself in a horror plot. I would freeze. I would probably flinch and jump and fall down the stairs. I would be not very useful in a lot of ways. Maybe I would even lie to a kid to keep them from being scared. But not to my girlfriend. Three stars.


The Family Plot (by Cherie Priest)
This is the other haunted house book, and it's interesting to think about it just after my rant about Poe, because all the characters spend a lot of time in denial to each other about it being a haunted house. But it's also very different, and it's a denial that I find much more sympathetic. It's a salvage work crew before the (haunted) house is demolished, and they have a job to do (and the narrator knows that if they punt the very lucrative job, the struggling salvage company will go under). So the narrator does a lot of denying the ghosts - but it seems like they're startle/visual effects, like a jump scare of something being in the mirror behind you for a moment. They're not murderous and powerful the way the Poe villain is. So there's a lot of half-hearted denial of ghosts, and Not Talking about the ghosts, because if everyone sits around talking about the house being haunted they'll freak each other out and not be able to finish the job. Maybe that's the sort of lying I'd do. But also, they support each other without mentioning ghosts. They keep watch when someone is in the shower. They go around in pairs once the jump scares get more frequent. Anyway, it's nicely unsettling, and the characers are flawed and relateable (see my "not heroes" comment) without being annoyingly stupid. Four stars.


The Invisible Library (by Genevieve Cogman)
Kind of reminiscent of Thursday Next or Magic ex Libris or the Seanan McGuire Indexing series, we have here a dimension-spanning library that has researchers that go and gather plot-relevant books from various dimensions of varying fictionality. This book is about a particular recovery mission in a steampunk-with-elves-and-vampires dimension. An interesting magic system with a clever dimension-local Detective Inspector, and a fascinating sidekick. Fun without being groundbreaking; I find I don't have much to say other than that I enjoyed it. Three and a half stars.


Revenger (by Alistair Reynolds)
I had acquired this a while ago, but when I started reading it, I forgot it was Reynolds. I somehow had convinced myself it was a first YA novel by someone I didn't know - and some of the setting supports that, with technology-indistinguishable-from-magic like the giant skulls used for spooky difficult communication (relics of a long-ago race that communicated ship to ship telepathically), and pirate/archaeologists. Honestly, it seemed a lot like Firefly, complete with some horrific bits like the Reavers captain of the Nightjammer. But it was also polished in a way that I didn't expect from a first YA novel, so then when I went to check the author, I was surprised. The title puts the central plot front and center, and the main character really does embrace the darkness in order to get her revenge. The story is told with some mild future-space-opera dialect (again kind of like Firefly). I wasn't convinced by all of it - I'm not totally sure if "lungstuff" is oxygen or air, but I want my new words to either be for new concepts, or shorter versions of old words rather than longer versions. I was going to say that I don't think people switch to longer versions of words in languag evolution, but I realize that this is wrong - business-speak does that all the time ("use" -> "utilization"). On the other hand, "lungstuff" doesn't seem to be the same sort of word construction as "utilization". So who knows. I stayed up way too late several days reading this, and would love to see more adventures in this setting. Five stars. And, a quote about the spooky skull communication:
"It wasn't like a voice," she said, after thinking about it for a few seconds. "I know I said it was, but that was the best I could come up with. It was something different. If a voice is raised lettering, something that stands out, this was the opposite. Like a word pushed into silence, the way you can make a word into clay. Silence shouldn't be able to do that." She paused---I knew she was trying to do her best to put into language something not easily explicable in anything but its own alien terms. "There was a mind behind that word. A monkey mind, someone like you and me, in a bone room somewhere, plugged into an alien skull. But do you remember what Cazaray said about carrier signals---that all we're doing is imprinting our own messages on something else? There was another mind underneath the transmission. Something dead, cold and very, very alien. And yet still thinking, or still trying to think."

(by Fran Wilde)
A very very different setting - skyscrapers of slow-growing bone, above the clouds and never going below. Anyone who needs to travel has hanglider-ish wings. Kirit wants to be a trader between spires like her mother, but gets sucked into the plots of the secret-keeping political uberclass. I can't quite believe the setting/premise - but it's not fair to hold that against a fantasy book. Other than that, the politics and the oddly legalistic society is are interesting, and the main character is solidly stubborn-rebelliously likeable. Three and a half stars.


Infomocracy (by Malka Older)
This is in part about This Damned Election, and in part not at all American-focused ("Most of the population of the formerly United States continues to vote in automatic swathes of Democrat or Republican", and almost none of the action is set there), which is an interesting combination to believe. The setting is a near future, most of the world has bought into micro-democracy, in which centenals of 100,000 people vote for their preferred party/philosophy/government/legal system. Between your community picking what government it's part of and travel being moderately easy, you really get to pick what politics govern you, which is a concept I mostly only encounter in [personal profile] dpolicar's thought experiments. But there's the problem of "even if there's an organization that provides more information than you can possibly read, what if voters believe lies/propaganda instead of facts?" along with the fact-providers also having some biases, and a subplot of how you manage to surreptitiously dog-whistle to one population without another one noticing. It's cyberpunk without the dystopia, but it's not eutopia either. It's just us, with ten times as much Google. The story is a little slow to get into, with multiple viewpoints and no exposition, but once I understood the setting, it was compelling, especially after the election. Five stars.


Spiderlight (by Adrian Tchaikovsky)
Not one of the Shadows of the Apt insect books (I need to finish that series now that it's done...). It's described as a surprising subversion of fantasy quest stories, but that must be by people who haven't already encountered this particular subversion before: is the difference between the good guys killing bad guys and the bad guys killing good guys just which ones show up to Detect Evil? The Goblins webcomic lives in this (and has an answer), and I know I've read other stories that poke at it. Tchaikovsky pokes at it too, and does a good job, but it is perhaps not as surprising a story as many reviewers seem to have found. :) Three and a half stars - I might have given it four, but the tropes being subverted felt just a little over-the-top trope-ish (like "Dark Lord Darvezian" as the name of the villain) and for some reason it bugged me.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (by Ransom Riggs)
The previews for the movie looked like... well, it looked like another Epic YA Series Turned Into Movies. But as things go, those are often decent source material. (I seem to have seen a trailer and then missed the actual release of the movie, oh well). It's kind of like the X-Men, as far as "home/school for kids with weird (peculiar) powers", but the underpinnings of the premise are also seriously disturbing from a grown-up point of view. SPOILERS: You're trying to keep the Peculiar Children safe. Peculiars are kind of like Potterverse wizards - it's genetic-ish but not not wholly. What you do is stuff all the children in time loops. These keep them perpetually children, in a kind of light fluffy not-really-thinking-about-it-hard way (that is, the children are not really thinking hard about the fact that they're stuck in an infinite loop of one nice summer day. This is an in-game effect, not a "the author didn't think about it" thing.). Once they're in the time loop, when they come out of the loop, they are hit with all the elapsed time. This particular set of children has been in this time loop since World War 2. THIS IS AN AWFUL DEEPLY WRONG PLAN. This is keeping them safe only in the most narrow sense of the word "safe", in that they are technically not dead. Other than that - the structure of the villain/monsters are very odd. They start out as powerful monsters, but if they win their game goals (by eating enough peculiars), then they level up into non-powerful non-monsters who spend their time doing the monsters' bidding. (Hah, I guess there's a bit of a metaphor for parents raising children who turn into parents of their own...). The conceit of building the story around a bunch of ?found? photographs is an interesting writing exercise. The main character has an interestingly dysfunctional relationship with his father, but it does make both father and son seem kind of whiny. The book ends on a cliffhanger, but I was too offended by the time-loop "good guy" plan to get the next book. Two stars.


The Sudden Appearance of Hope (by Claire North)
I have interestingly mixed feelings about this book. I loved loved loved parts of it and stayed up way too late listening to it. And I was very frustrated by parts of it, and bored by parts of it. I think it has a very high variance compared to most books I read or listen to. The starting premise: people forget Hope. Nearly instantly upon leaving her presence, and completely. She becomes a thief, because a normal life or job is impossible, and she ends up entangled with and opposed to the company that makes a self-help app called Perfection that essentially shapes you into a bland media image of celebrity. It starts as a heist story, and midway through takes a startling left turn into something more like a psychological thriller, and then further through takes an abrupt right turn into something less easily categorized. There are a lot of thoughtful musings about identity and memory and connection and time. And there are a lot of powerful painful moments. There are some bits that charge straight into recent politics in a punched-in-the-stomach way that kind of made me wish for a trigger warning. There is a bit where Hope is trying to cure her condition, and there are a lot medical treatments, where I felt like they should have started with a lot more basic observational experiments (what is the range of the forgetting? Do the observers who forget have observable EEG effects? What about Hope when she's leaving? If she sticks her hand through a door and waves it, and then leaves, do you forget her hand, or does it have to be a full encounter? What if you tie a string to her when she leaves? But drilling into that much detail about an essentially magic effect would probably run up against the problem that it doesn't make a lot of sense, so the author doesn't do that. But avoiding that sort of question-asking makes an equal un-lot of sense, so that part of the plot didn't work as well for me. Also, there is a point of view espoused by one of the other characters, that being forgotten makes you free from societal/cultural/media pressure, which I think is completely nonsense. If you are only ever meeting people for the first time, then you are only ever making initial surface impressions, and those are the most shaped by cultural biases. I have absorbed a lot of stupid cultural biases over the years, and the idea I have that I am pathetic because I am fat has never come via direct communication from the people I care about who remember me. This is a thing I absorb from strangers, and from the media, and those are all Hope can know. Anyway. I digress. It's a book that sunk deeply into me, sometimes in ways that felt meaningful and right, and sometimes in ways that I wanted to argue with. And sometimes it was repeating points it had already made and I wanted to skip past. It's hard to make any one single statement about, which is I suppose why I made so many. Four stars.


Ninefox Gambit (by Yoon Ha Lee)
I have a really big blind spot in book-reading - if you give me a decent protagonist (that is, not just a well-crafted protagonist, but one who has a lot of decency (honor/niceness/integrity) as a character trait), and put them in honorable service to an evil system, it takes me a really long time to notice that the system is evil. It kind of goes along with how I approach fiction - that I'll roll whatever the system is up into my initial suspension of disbelief; if I'm not evaluating it for plausibility, I'm certainly not going to evaluate it for ethics. Often that's how it's supposed to be read - most stereotypical fantasy that have oppressed peasants aren't meant to be an argument for inventing democracy - but sometimes instead, that's the point of the fiction. It took me a long time to get on the right track in Ancillary Justice, and it took me a long time to get on track here. Underneath the trappings of space opera with semi-incomprehensible war methods, there's a lot of pondering about free will and the lack thereof. "The Kel virtue had been loyalty. Formation instinct deprived them of the chance to choose to be loyal." The book is beautifully written ("A book of profanities written in every futile shade of red the human body had ever devised, its pages upended over the battlefield from horizon to horizon."), and it makes me care about the characters who live, or die for stupid mistakes or because they're throwing themselves on grenades or being spent in carefully measured doses, or were never alive to begin with. Also, there are a series of letters from one of the "heretics", ranting about the democratically determined calendar (calendrical mechanics are very important to the plot), which are hilarious.
  • Year of the Fatted Cow, Month of the Chicken, Day of the Rooster. Why both chicken and rooster? Who knows. I'll ask during the next vote.
  • Year of the Fatted Cow, Month of the Partridge, Day of the Hedgehog, I need to program some macros, and fuck the hour.
  • Year of the Fatted Cow, Month of the Peahen, Day of the Onager, Hour of the Greenback Beetle. Dare I ask what agricultural role the beetle fulfills? Farming isn't my strong suit and the grid's article on the topic was stultifyingly boring.
Finally, this, oddly evocative about the difference between the map and the territory:
Cheris knew about the Fortress. She knew, in outline, the most prestigious low languages and the distribution of wealth among their classes. She knew how many citizens the Fortress sent to the academies and the breakdowns by individual academy as well. And she knew about the fabled shields that ran on invariant ice, but everyone knew that. She knew many things, and she knew nothing. She could feel the inadequacy of her neatly ordered facts confronted by the cacophony of living cultures. Once she had looked up the Kel summation of the City of Ravens Feasting. She had seen her home distilled into a sterile list of facts. Each was individually true, but the list conveyed nothing of what it sounded like when a flock of ravens wheeled into the sky, leaving oracle tracks in the unsettled dust.
Five stars, but it's the beginning of an arc and does not have a tidy ending.

Bound by Blood and Sand
(by Becky Allen)
A YA book, so maybe a little more oversimplified than I would like. Oppressed and enslaved young woman discovers her true power and starts in the direction of saving the world. It doesn't flinch away from the nastiness of the magical enslavement, but I'm not actually sure that whether or not "N generations ago, your ancestors were bad, thus justifying your current enslavement" is true or false, is really morally relevant? Three stars. (First half of a duology).


The Tiger and the Wolf (by Adrian Tchaikovsky)
This did not grab me as much as the Shadows of the Apt (which I really need to go back and finish) did. There is a lot of running around, and a lot of fighting. Then more running, and more fighting. It's in service of a perfectly good coming-of-age story; maybe I'm less interested in those than I used to be.

The Oversight
and The Paradox (by Charlie Fletcher)
Two books out of a trilogy; I listened to them as audiobooks. Simon Prebble is another narrator that I would be willing to listen to read the phone book. This is interesting - the world-building is nicely done, the characters sketch out with both dramatic flair and some nuance. The sluagh are well done and creepy; in the second book you learn more of their grievances, and I kind of liked them less as they became sympathetic, because they were so nice as malevolent and eerie. The plot is unusual, in that it's very defensive. THe secret conspiracy to protect the world from the supernatural (and vice versa) has fallen on hard times and there aren't many of them left. They still have enemies, though, and the enemies have plans. The conspiracy gets its feet kicked out from under it, and the plot is much more about trying to struggle back to surviving, rather than trying to Defeat Badness. It's not a bad plot, but it's an anomalous arc compared to a lot of fantasy. It normally goes, protagonists advance, battling steep odds. Then there is a reversal, and all seems lost. Then, finally, victory! Here, it starts at the reversal stage, and all seems lost. It's not what countertorque describes as one of those plots where everyone would have been better off if the protagonist stayed in bed, but it was oddly shaped. Four stars for the first, three and a half for the second.


Babylon's Ashes (by James S. A Corey)
I was kind of dreading this book after how the last one ended, but it was less bleak than I expected. This series still rocks, and at some point I need to go back and reread it, because I've forgotten a lot of the threads. There's not a lot of point in giving a long review for book N out of M in a series, but I do really respect how the world continues to change as the books go by. And, because these books continue to be so very quoteable:
"Captain Holden. I am Captain Christina Huang Samuels of the Free Navy. I will accept the terms of your surrender on the condition that you guarantee the safety and humane treatment of my people. We reserve the right to record and broadcast your boarding action to assure that all of humanity will bear witness to your behavior. I do this out of necessity and loyalty to my people. The Free Navy is the military arm of the people of the Belt, and I will not sacrifice the lives of my people or the unaffiliated civilians of Medina Station when there is no profit to be had from it. But I myself will stand now and forever against the tyranny of the inner planets and their exploitation and slow genocide of my people."
She saluted the camera and the message ended. Holden sighed, started up his broadcast again.
"Sounds good," he said. "We'll be right over." He killed the broadcast.
"Seriously?" Alex called from above. "'Sounds good, we'll be right over'?"
"I may kind of suck at this job," Holden called back


Chaos Choreography and Magic for Nothing (by Seanan McGuire)
I continue to enjoy this series, but both of these books had endings that puzzled me a little. I think there are two sorts of writers (well, there are all sorts of writers, but I'm just talking about one particular axis here). Joshilyn Jackson is the kind who starts with a set of interesting characters, and then sets them on fire to see what happens (I name-check her here because she is the one who came up with that particular phrasing, not because she appears anywhere else in this review). She's written in her blog about having to completely revise where she thought the plot was going to go because the characters insisted on doing something else. Potential failure modes here involve subplots abandoned halfway through because the characters insisted on going elsewhere. The other sort of writer has a meticulous outline and the characters follow the blazed trail - they may wander a little, but there are plot (or clue) tickyboxes that must be checked. Any story that has a big plot twist at the end is probably the second kind. I admire both sorts of writer, I'm not trying to sort them into good and bad here. But anyway, for both of these books, it felt like the characters were going in their own direction like a type 1 book, until there was a sharp course correction at the end to get back to the planned dramatic end scenes, so they didn't ring quite as true as the rest of the book. But I liked the beginnings and middles, and of course I always love Aeslin mice. Four stars.


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (by Grace Lin)
Recommended by Kate. It's a Chinese folktale story, with other stories embedded in it. Technically a children's book, but charming and sweet, as well as having a style I would like to mimic for Dragon but can't manage.


We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (by Dennis Taylor)
This is mjperson's favorite book of the year. I can see why it is his book, but it was not so much mine. In short, it is about the exploration/colonization of the nearby corner of the galaxy by an uploaded personality built into a self-replicating space probe. It's not a bad book, so it doesn't deserve a full-on rant, but I did notice the things that bugged me more than I noticed the things that were good. First, the challenges just aren't very challenging. If The Martian is playing "protagonist versus the environment" on the hardest difficulty level, We Are Legion is playing on easy and might have some cheat codes. But maybe it's not about the challenges - it's more about the best empire-building plot ever. Second, it has that peculiar flaw that you find particularly in old-school science fiction, where there are a bunch of characters plus a few women. A book written last year should do better. Two and a half stars.


The Old Man's War series (by John Scalzi)
I have no objections to these, but I think I'm glad he's mostly done. I like his work better when he's trying harder to grow, and these seem a little less deep. Though... the second half of the series really works on subverting the initial Starship Troopers-ish premise, so it's not that simple. Oh, also.... it seems like kind of bad form to telegraph "Hey, you're going to be our doomed colony" by naming it Roanoake.


Behind the Throne and After the Crown (by K. B. Wagers)
Fun, a little campy, a little implausible. A gunrunner and heir to the empire is dragged home after most everyone else in line to the throne is assassinated. She steers her little empire through the ensuing war and punches a lot of bad guys in the head, accompanied by her loyal (and prickly) bodyguards. It's good light space opera, and I shouldn't quibble too hard about the simple politics ("Be villainous" might be a game goal, but it's not a very good plan). The characters are strong and well delineated, and the interpersonal relationships build well. Four popcorn stars.


The Bear and the Nightingale (by Katherine Arden)
Part Russian fairy tale and part actual fantasy, haunting and poetic, winter-cold and ice-sharp. I highlighted "The years slipped by like leaves" which I still like. The familial dynamics are often painful (though I like all the sibling relationships) but seem real. The contrast between the old religion and the new is stark and terrible, but also seems real. Five stars.


A Closed and Common Orbit (by Becky Chambers)
The sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, just as lovely as the original, though quite different. One of the side characters from the first book goes off to build a life elsewhere - it's about learning to live with differences, and each other, and the families you build for yourself, and the sorts of troubles that arise from good faith but insufficient understanding. Four and three quarters stars.


All the Birds in the Sky (by Charlie Jane Anders)
The way Fight Club is three movies, this is three books. I very nearly gave up in book one, which is about tormented childhoods - like Roald Dahl but worse - and bullies and horrible parents and your best and only friend betraying you for stupid reasons. It was excruciating, in a somewhat over-the-top way, like if the first Harry Potter book was all about Harry's life with the Dursleys. But eventually the characters grow up and it stops being that book and turns into another book, about a witch and a mad scientist and the potential for the end of the world. The second book was pretty good. The third book was frustrating, though you could see the second book leading inexorably there. I did highlight this, not for any plot reason, but because yes, so much yes.
You know... no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you're not. But if you're clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were.


Six Wakes (by Mur Lafferty)
This is such a one-night assassin game. Six clones wake up from cryosleep on a long-haul colony ship. They are the crew. But their memories are from the original recordings, when the ship first launched. In the clone room are four dead bodies - some stabbed, some poisoned. The captain is comatose in medlab, and the sixth is hanging in the hydroponics garden. A good twenty years has passed - all the dead bodies reflect that. The rather appalled party of six starts trying to figure out what happened, reading all the signs on the walls and gathering clues. (The food printer can only print nightshade! The manual for the new printer has secret messages in the Japanese translation!) So it starts out like a high-tension murder mystery, but then it starts to segue into everyone getting flashbacks, and the investigating kind of stalls out into opening memory packets and finger pointing that you must be the murderer because your backstory was the worst! Except that it turns out that THE WHOLE CREW IS CONVICTED FELONS BECAUSE THEY WILL WORK FOR CHEAP. That was where my suspension of disbelief kind of crashed and burned (though there do turn out to be other Reasons later). Then it segues back into the last hour of game when everyone is shooting everyone else and I'm not longer entirely clear on why, and a final reveal that I.... do not really approve of, though it does explain a lot of things. Three stars.

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