Book Review: Invisible Things by Mat Johnson

Cover of the book Invisible Things by Mat Johnson
Invisible Things
by Mat Johnson
One World, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on May 15, 2022.

A science mission to explore Jupiter discovers something unexpected on the moon Europa and disappears. A chauffeur in Arizona who believes his wife was abducted by aliens gets wrapped up in a covert rescue mission. This sounds like a setup for a standard alien-encounter story; instead, Johnson (Pym, 2011) uses the premise to examine many of the immediate problems facing our society today: intolerance, unearned privilege, religious fundamentalism, corrupt politics, and mass obliviousness. There’s nothing subtle about this work, and some might find it too on the nose, but there is power in addressing these issues so unflinchingly. His writing style is fairly cerebral, which mutes some of the emotional impact, and that’s the point: Johnson has an argument to make, and the story humanizes it enough for it to really hit home. His characters are vivid and compelling, and even the villains retain their full measure of humanity, with motivations that make sense. The ending veers unexpectedly into the fantastical while offering a welcome measure of hope.

Book Review: Mercury Rising by R. W. W. Greene

Cover of the book Mercury Rising by R. W. W. Greene
Mercury Rising
by R. W. W. Greene
Angry Robot, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on April 15, 2022.

Greene’s latest is set in an alternate time line where the U.S. and Soviet Union made it to space in the 1950s and fended off an alien attack in the 1960s. Brooklyn Lamontagne, a petty crook who just wants to take care of his mother, joins the Earth Orbital Forces to avoid a prison sentence. Soon he’s swept up in a series of events that uncover a deep secret which could save humankind. Mercury Rising is a rollicking, funny, picaresque adventure novel. It doesn’t follow any predictable path and requires a willingness to go along and see where it takes you. The hero isn’t a typical good guy, but he’s likable and compelling. The secondary characters are all people you want to spend more time with. Most of all, this is a stellar example of effective world building. Greene provides enough detail to make the alternate reality believable and immersive, but he’s not concerned with showing it off. Recommended for fans of old sf-adventure serials and Ernest Cline’s Armada (2015).

Book Review: Afterglow by Tim Jordan

Cover of the book Afterglow by Tim Jordan
Afterglow
by Tim Jordan
Angry Robot, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on March 25, 2022.

Rex hoped he was safe. But of course, the Sisters have other plans, and Del’s consciousness is still inside his mind, seeking a way out. Elsewhere, a Burn seeks atonement for past crimes, a cyborg woman and her engineer boyfriend are caught up in a conflict they don’t understand, Hmech’s Alliance continues its conquest of Earth, the Convolver Sect machinates for the salvation of mankind, and we haven’t seen the last of Ursurper Gale. There are a lot of moving pieces in Jordan’s sequel to Glow (2021). The story zips along at a frenetic pace, keeping the reader just a little off balance along with the characters, bouncing between different plot threads before he brings it all together for an explosive climax. Jordan expands this world in more dimensions, revealing intricacies of the political landscape and some surprises about certain characters and diving deeper into the workings of the Glow network. At times, the world building threatens to spin out of control, but overall Jordan manages to wrangle his many story threads into a satisfying whole.

Book Review: Memory’s Legion by James S. A. Corey

Cover of the book Memory's Legion by James S. A. Corey
Memory’s Legion
by James S. A. Corey
Orbit, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on March 15, 2022.

**STARRED REVIEW** From the invention of the Epstein drive, to Amos’ backstory, to the fate of Naomi’s son, these eight stories and novellas fill in details of the world of the Expanse (beginning with Leviathan Wakes, 2011), telling tales that didn’t fit into the main novels but which deepen readers’ relationship to this world and its characters. Much like the longer books, each story has its own tone, atmosphere, and pace, and Corey uses the freedom of the short form to experiment with different narrative styles. The stories are creative and inventive, packing the same character-driven emotional power of the novels. It’s remarkable how well Corey adapts their writing style to craft short-form tales that are the equal of the lauded long-form works. Each story is accompanied by an author’s note explaining how it came to be, along with nuggets of trivia about the writing and publishing process. These pieces were written over the course of the series and originally published in a variety of sources, so they weren’t always easy for fans to track down. This collection is a welcome capstone to mark the conclusion of arguably the best space-opera series written in the past few decades.

Book Review: The Observer Effect by Nick Jones

Cover of the book The Observer Effect by Nick Jones
The Observer Effect
by Nick Jones
Blackstone, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on February 25, 2022.

After the events in London, Joseph Bridgeman is beginning to feel more comfortable in his new life, but there are still unanswered questions: What is the Continuum? Who is Scarlett? And how does his sister fit into all this? When Bridgeman is contacted by the Continuum, it sends him to Paris in 1873, alongside a partner who’s not happy to be saddled with him, to save the life of a missing agent. This entry is the series’ most exciting and well-paced yet, pulling the reader along at just the right speed without making them feel jumbled. Jones formalizes the time travel mechanics he created in The Shadows of London (2021) while introducing more complexity and unknowns. He reveals more about the Continuum and Scarlett while leaving enough unanswered questions for subsequent novels. Jones has found his stride: his writing style is more assured now and he renders his characters more fully and naturally. He’s gotten better at integrating exposition without slowing down the plot. This third entry sets up a strong premise to sustain the series long term.

2021: My Year in Reading

I read 57 books in 2021, which is surprising, given that I didn’t want to read all that much this year and went weeks at a time without cracking open a book.

I also started watching more TV this year. My TV watching has been abnormally low for the past few years—partly due to being distracted by the internet and partly due to self-consciousness and a reluctance to watch stuff by myself. I’ve always been this way: I don’t like using the TV to watch stuff no one else in the house is interested in. I love watching with other people, I’m just not comfortable using a shared TV to watch things only for me.

So this year, we set up a second TV in our back room where I can go watch by myself without worrying about it. It’s also a smart TV, so I can stream YouTube full screen and Bluetooth connect my noise cancelling headphones to it. (First world solutions for first world problems.) I spent a good amount of time catching up on some of the shows I’ve missed, which is nice.

Continue reading “2021: My Year in Reading”

Book Review: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather

Cover of the book Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather
Sisters of the Forsaken Stars
by Lina Rather
Tor.com, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2022.

The Sisters of the Order of St. Rita are on the run in a new ship, hiding from the Earth Central Governance after the tragic events at Phoyongsa III. Their new Mother Superior is wilting under her new responsibilities, everyone is on edge, and no one knows what to do next. Then a new postulant requests to join the order, a sister’s past catches up to her, and the seed of anti-Earth revolution begins to blossom as rumors of the sisters’ actions spread through the outer systems. The sisters must decide their next move or have it forced on them. At the core of this story lies the struggle to maintain faith in the face of betrayal and disillusionment. People hide secrets, which change who they seem to be. The call to welcome strangers with open arms can present grave dangers. The desire for safety opposes the responsibility to act. Finding a path through the morass, a way to do the right thing, is complicated and messy. Rather’s follow-up to Sisters of the Vast Black (2019) is a deeply honest and empathic parable for our times.

Book Review: The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham

Cover of the book The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham
The Shattered Skies
by John Birmingham
Del Rey, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2022.

Commander Hardy, Admiral McClennan, Seph, Princess Alessia, and their crews struck a decisive blow against the Sturm, but the war is just beginning. Humanity in the Greater Volume has been decimated, and the group is left searching for survivors to build an army to stand against an overwhelming enemy. But the Sturm may not be the most dangerous foe they face, as human greed and shortsightedness threaten to scuttle alliances before they can even start. The second entry in Birmingham’s Cruel Stars series (after The Cruel Stars, 2019) boasts all the best elements of its predecessor: absorbing conflicts with high stakes and believable antagonists, complex characters with rich relationships and effective emotional depth, and Birmingham’s magnificent world building. Whereas the first book was slightly marred by its overreliance on coincidence to set up the climax, that’s not the case this time, which makes it the stronger tale—and readers will be left craving the next one. This is a delightful military space adventure that runs at full tilt.

Book Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton

Cover of the book Mickey7 by Edward Ashton
Mickey7
by Edward Ashton
St. Martin’s, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2022.

Expendables die. A lot. They’re people whose bodies and minds are stored and replicated as often as necessary. They do the deadly jobs that no one else can do. Mickey Barnes, an amateur historian and layabout, signed up to be an Expendable on a new colony ship to get away from some problems on his home planet. Now on his seventh incarnation, he’s left for dead on a mission on his new planet, but he survives—and now there are two of him. Duplicates aren’t allowed, though, so they need to hide their dual existence. And Mickey7 is the only one who knows that the local life-forms are sentient, and only he can avert an all-out war. Mickey7 is a fast-paced, character-driven, amusing romp of a tale. The concept is compelling and well developed, along with the backstory of how humanity spread out among the stars. Ashton crafts interesting characters and lets their relationships take center stage, and his world building is solid. This is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys smart and funny science fiction.

Book Review: Leviathan Falls by James S. A. Corey

Cover of the book Leviathan Falls by James S. A. Corey
Leviathan Falls
by James S. A. Corey
Orbit, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on November 1, 2021.

**STARRED REVIEW** Leviathan Falls picks up where Tiamat’s Wrath (2019) left off: the Laconian Empire defeated, Teresa Duarte onboard the Rocinante with Holden and crew, and the ancient enemy of the gate builders seeking ways to destroy reality itself. The final installment of Corey’s Expanse series is its strongest yet. It’s a thrill ride of a tale, boasting the same kinetic momentum of the first book, with the highest possible stakes and profound emotional resonance. The story is masterfully paced and structured, filled to bursting with some of the genre’s best world building. One of the central themes is how individual selfishness sabotages the greater good. It’s easy to read this as a commentary on current real-world circumstances, but it is elevated into an exploration of universal truths. This book illustrates the greatest strength of speculative fiction: to imagine unique circumstances as strange mirrors to help us see ourselves more truly. Corey maintains an impressive balance between unflinching realism and hope, with no illusions about the myriad faults of humanity, but still holds a fundamental belief in the essential worthiness of people. This is a deeply satisfying and fitting conclusion to one of the best space opera series in many years.