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.

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, 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
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.

Book Review: Sordaneon by L. L. Stephens

Cover of the book Sordaneon by L. L. Stephens
by L. L. Stephens
Forest Path, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on October 15, 2021.

In a fractured and violent world living in the aftermath of the long-ago downfall of a scientifically advanced civilization, the line between magic and technology, history and myth, is unclear; kingdoms vie for control of the Rill and the Wall; and ancient, world-spanning artifacts shape society. Dorilian Sordaneon, Highborn and bound to the Rill, comes of age in a dangerous time of knotty political intrigue and social unrest, where it’s hard to tell friend from enemy, and his destiny makes him a target for powerful forces. Two elements elevate this work above standard fare. First, it’s a character study at its heart, driven by the growth and evolving relationships of complex people, vibrant and varied, without any reduced to stereotypes of good or bad. Second, the mysteries of the Rill and the Wall are compelling and drive readers to explore this world more deeply. Stephens serves up a terrific first entry to a fascinating new series. Recommended for fans of politically complex epic fantasy in the vein of Game of Thrones or Joe Abercrombie.

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Cover of the book Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir
Ballantine Books, 2021

I’m disappointed by Project Hail Mary.

I noticed when it first came out that it disappeared from the pop-culture zeitgeist pretty quickly. There was plenty of anticipation for it, then a blip of hoopla when it was published, and then everyone stopped talking about it. I didn’t expect it to be the phenomenon that was The Martian, but even Artemis was discussed more than this. I found it curious.

I understand now. It’s not a great book. It’s far less compelling than The Martian and not as polarizing as Artemis. Weir plays it too safe this time around, tries too hard to deliver what he thinks his fans expect from him. It’s not a bad book but it falls short.

He’s writing to fulfill the Weir Formula, and it shows. Artemis was such a departure from The Martian, I was hoping he wouldn’t fall back into something this formulaic for his third book. He’s trying too hard to create The Martian redux. He’s trying too hard to win back his fans after the blowback he got for Artemis.

Continue reading “Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir”

Book Review: Hold Fast through the Fire by K. B. Wagers

Cover of the book Hold Fast through the Fire by K. B. Wagers
Hold Fast through the Fire
by K. B. Wagers
Harper Voyager, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on July 21, 2021.

The Near-Earth Orbital Guard Interceptor ship, Zuma’s Ghost, has a new commander: Nika Vagin, Jenks’ brother, returning from his stint with Intel, and a new ensign, Chae Ho-ki, from the Trappist colonies. The only problem: both of them have something to hide and it’s messing up the dynamics of the team. When Zuma’s Ghost is sent to the Trappist system, it becomes a target of a deep conspiracy to disrupt trade and reignite a war with Mars. Loyalties and relationships are tested in ways they might not survive, and a shocking tragedy strikes deep. This second entry in the NeoG series (after A Pale Light in the Black, 2020) packs an emotional gut punch. What makes Wagers’ work stand out in the field of military science fiction is how characters rely on forgiveness, kindness, and trust to solve challenges. They’re vulnerable, share their emotions, and rely on each other, and Wagers shows how this can be people’s greatest strength—a bracing contrast to the typical braggadocio of the genre. Their talent for creating characters readers care about is on full display.

Book Review: Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman

Cover of the book Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman
Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars
by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman
St. Martin’s, 2021

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

Gross and Altman continue their series of deep-dive oral histories with their latest entry, which is on the beloved and influential Star Wars universe. They present interviews with cast members, creative staff, production crews, and executives from all three film trilogies and the television shows, detailing back stories about the development of the franchise: script writing, production design, filming, scoring, promotion, and merchandising. Lucas didn’t just create beloved movies, he used his success to invent new technologies that revolutionized the film industry more than once. Also featured is analysis of the cultural context and impact of Star Wars, along with critical perspectives. While the bulk of the content focuses on the movies and television shows, the books, comics, and games of the Expanded Universe are also covered. By presenting quotes in the format of a group interview, the authors juxtapose different perspectives. The work is comprehensive, although occasionally repetitive. It doesn’t break any new ground; rather, the value lies in gathering so much information in one place. It’s sure to be in demand with Star Wars fans.

Book Review: Titan Song by Dan Stout

Cover of the book Titan Song by Dan Stout
Titan Song
by Dan Stout
DAW, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on May 14, 2021.

Titanshade is wracked by a series of brutal murders, but the weird thing is, the perpetrators all confess and claim they were overtaken by inexplicable rage. The Barekusu, eldest of the Eight Families and originators of the Path, are in town for mysterious reasons. The biggest disco star on the planet is headlining a music festival out on the ice plains, financed by someone who has a grudge against Carter, whose mysterious new manna abilities continue to complicate things and whose personal life is still a mess. When a sinkhole in the middle of town unearths old mysteries, it leads down into the heat vents, where a shocking and dangerous truth lies at the heart of the city. Stout (Titan’s Day, 2020) continues to expand his world of the Carter Archives in fascinating directions, this time teasing a deep and unexpected history, hinting that not all is as it seems, leaving readers eager to know more. The conflict is less personal in this entry and the tone is more cerebral, but there’s still plenty of action and snark to satisfy fans.