Can I interest you in some angry women?

Can I interest you in an angry woman? One who wants power and has been kept on the sidelines her whole life? One who gains the ability to turn people into ash, and still can’t get the men in power to take her seriously?

How about a different angry woman – this one is quiet and uses her super-power to look like other people. You don’t really know what she looks like until the end of the book, and it’s not the point anyway. But she is out for herself, and slipping between the cracks to hide after she’s taken what’s hers and that’s another kind of power.

Or maybe an angry teenager, one who is growing up slower than normal because her power to bring things back from the dead also makes her cold and her body function slower than it should. I don’t think she wants to be normal, per se, but her life is definitely not even close. She might like at least one normal teenage experience in her life.

How about two angry men, one who can control pain and the other who can heal, who are so alike it’s ridiculous, each determined to end the other?

I read Vengeful right after the Dr Christine Blasey Ford hearings. It was perfect for my mood, and it might be VE Schwab’s best book yet. It was definitely better than Vicious, her earlier book in this series, which was nothing to sneeze at.

Recommended.

Noir, but science fiction

The City & The City is for the Venn diagram of people who like Raymond Chandler and science fiction. It’s a mystery, a police procedural, that involves two cities that exist in the same space but in different dimensions. Sort of. The bureaucracy that governs the two cities is Kafka-esque.

The mystery could stand on its own, but would be way less intriguing without the  odd Eastern European dual-citied setting. It allows for twists and turns and part of the intrigue is figuring out how the two cities coexist. Allow for some mind-twistiness with this one.

Good vs evil makes a fun read

I totally read Vicious because I liked the Shades of Magic series. I liked Vicious, too – the idea behind the book is that superheroes exist and two college students (one of whom is named Victor Vale – an ideal comic book name) figure out how to turn themselves into superheroes. But something goes wrong and instead of becoming heroes, they become supervillains instead.

And that’s really all you need to know going into it. They’re friends and then they become supervillains and it’s a good story. It’s not intellectual, but it is fun and it invites you to think about the nature of good and evil, but only if you really want to.

Love, charm, and optimism

Becky Chambers writes charming science fiction novels that are primarily about all of the forms that love and family take, and Record of a Spaceborn Few is no exception.

Humans have long since left Earth and been integrated into Galactic society, but there are people who still live on the ships they first set out on, constantly improving and working on and changing those ships so people can continue to live comfortably on them. (And in a great touch: those ships are built from dismantled skyscrapers and other buildings and city structures from Earth – the Golden Gate Bridge or the Chrysler Building could be part of any ship.)

The plot comes from the fact that humans are relatively poor and technologically backwards and the Fleet is essentially that small town every teenager wants to leave for the big, exciting city. But there is also at least one person looking to come back, looking for a place to belong.

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” – Tolstoy

(Not that the book is on par with Tolstoy, but the quote is relevant here.) Record of a Spaceborn Few is the story of the town and the people in it, full of warmth and love in many different forms. Definitely recommended.

Parenthood on Different Planets

Shortly after finishing The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I decided to see if Becky Chambers had any other books – A Closed and Common Orbit is the sequel (and there’s a third! coming out sometime next year! I’m excited!).

A Closed and Common Orbit has strong themes around parenthood, specifically motherhood, and about what it means to be human. There are two parallel storylines. First, in the past Pepper is one of many human girls who clean up trash for reuse and recycling, at least until she escapes; how she makes it off the world she lives on, who takes care of her, all of that. Second, in the present day, Pepper is doing something highly illegal: taking an AI who’s meant to be running a ship and put it into a human (robot) body. Her name is Sidra; how Sidra perceives the world and interacts with it and adjusts, that’s this story.

The chapters interweave, letting you see how both are forming who they are and how they react to their very different worlds. This is different form than the essentially short-story collection of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and it works.

This is a universe I love, and you so rarely get good science fiction that focuses on women. It’s all the more precious for that.

Recommended.

Magic v Technology: who will win?

All the birds in the sky

All the Birds in the Sky was, for me, a tightly written three-act near-future novel about the clash of technology and magic (read: nature). I really enjoyed it.

There are two middle school aged children, Patricia and Laurence, and they are both freaks in that special middle school way. They almost become friends before they go their separate ways. As adults, they meet up in near-future San Francisco. Laurence is part of a tech incubator whose goal is to reach other planets sooner rather than later. Patricia is helping her fellow people via healing magic. The world is falling apart, and that accelerates. Clearly, humanity needs saving; will it be technology that will get us to the other world(s) before this one is destroyed or will it be magic that fixes it all?

This book is very much A Good Thing and worth your entertainment time.

Time travel + Ancient Rome = this book is for me

New Pompeii

New Pompeii is a science fiction book whereby a quasi-evil corporation uses its newly found time travel abilities to pull forward a large group of Pompeiians right before Vesuvius’ eruption covers the city in ash. (Forget the fact that Pliny documents how the city’s inhabitants fled en masse – that’s waved away with a sentence or two.)

It’s a completely serviceable, readable book that was catnip to me because I love reading about both Ancient Rome and time travel. It is not a great book, but I found a number of little touches well done: the Pompeiians wondering why are the carrots orange; the modern folks noticing how disfigured all the ancients are (health care was a lot different); the Romans living up to their world-conquering reputation. (Ok, that last one’s not so little.)

I’m not sure the plot resolution holds together; but: time travel. It almost never makes sense. I found it to be a fine book, your milage may vary.

The definition of a summer read

Last call at the nightshade lounge

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a ridiculous book. Demon-fighting bartenders who get superpowers from perfectly mixed drinks? Ridiculous. A Long Island iced tea being the perfect drink the give you maximum superpowers (and possibly immortality)? Ridiculous. A young woman’s parents, after pushing her to get a “real job” after she graduates from college suddenly being ok with her decision to be a bartender (they don’t know about the demon fighting)? Ridiculous.

I loved it.

It doesn’t take itself seriously, it’s fun, it reads relatively fast. It’s a great summer poolside read.