Mini-review: ‘Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body’ by Simon Petrie

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan’s lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman’s worst enemies may be those around her.

‘Matters Arising’ won the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella or Novelette, and was shortlisted in the analogous category in both the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.

A mini review for a miniature book. ūüôā

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a great short read for those who like their sci-fi hard and their investigators dogged. I could relate to the fact that Guerline is a single mum and that she just wants to do her job — you go, girl! She‚Äôs awesome, and I want to read more about her.

There’s no romance in this novella (if that affects your decision to pick it up one way or the other). I can take romance or leave it, so it worked for me. I mostly guessed the whodunnit angle and the why of it, but the journey was worth it anyway.

I’ll definitely pick up more books by Petrie.

 

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Review: ‘Gemina’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

gemina_cover

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station‚Äôs wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren‚Äôt just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia‚ÄĒand possibly the known universe‚ÄĒis in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Gemina is over 600 pages. I devoured it in two sessions, despite being a single mother who works full time. That should demonstrate that you should read it.

*waits*

Okay, you want more? Well, first off, know that this is the sequel to the magnificent Illuminae,¬†which was one of my favourite 2015 reads — if not my favourite. I gave it five stars on a one to five scale.

Gemina is better.

The genre is, broadly, a young adult, fast-paced, alternate-format sci-fi series. The key¬†adjective there is “alternate format” — both books are presented in a “found footage” way: instant message and radio transcripts, emails¬†and security camera footage (transcribed by a character known only by his analyst code, and also — in this book — by my favourite crazy-ass computer). There’s another difference in Gemina, in that Hanna, our leading lady, has a journal and is an artist. This means we get character sketches, a rough map of the space station, and a creeping sense of dread at the¬†bloodstain slowly spreading in each new page we see.

If Illuminae is space zombies meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gemina is a mash-up of space terrorists and space, um,¬†aliens. Like, aliens from the movie Aliens. (This isn’t a spoiler if you’ve read the blurb, btw.)¬†While the latter combination is definitely creepy, Illuminae gave me more chills — although that has a lot to do with my near-phobia of invisible killers such as plagues, I suspect.

I’d find it hard to choose between the leading ladies of Illuminae and Gemina — both are kick-butt in their own ways, though Hanna is in the literal sense that she’s a black-belt with military training, courtesy of ol’ Dad. Definitely a handy lady to have on your side in a terrorist-alien situation.

As for the blokes, I was fond of Ezra but would pick Nik any day of of the week. (Sorry, Ezra.)

We do get to see a handful of characters from the previous book — those that survived, at any rate. There’s a third book to come in the series, where hopefully Kady and Hanna (and the others, I guess, but mainly Kady and Hanna!) will team up and kick BeiTech face first through a black hole. I’ll be cheering for them from over here!

I hear the audiobook is amazing, but I read the paperback. Whichever way you do it, get this series. Love it. Name your children after it.

gemina_balls_sml

Five stars


Review: ‘Life Debt’ by Chuck Wendig

life-debt_cover

“It is a dark time for the Empire. . . .”

The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee s homeworld of Kashyyyk.

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire’s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie s capture and Han s disappearance.

Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the “Millennium Falcon” s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

Life Debt is the second book in the Star Wars: Aftermath series, set between Return of the Jedi and the new movie franchise. I reviewed the first book here.

You don’t have to be a huge Star Wars fan to enjoy these books — it’s been years since I saw any of the original six movies, and I think the only¬†thing I really missed as a result is that I didn’t always have that ingrained¬†knowledge of what a particular alien race looks¬†like. Also, if you’re an audiobook fan, I strongly recommend listening to them as Marc Thompson, the voice actor, did an amazing job!

One of the beefs some people had with Aftermath was that there wasn’t enough of the primary Star Wars characters — we catch a glimpse of Han and Chewie, and that’s about it.¬†Almost all of the story focuses on the events around former rebel pilot Norra and¬†what eventually turns into her crew.¬†Life Debt definitely makes up for the absence of main characters, as the crew from the first book are contracted by Leia to find the missing Han Solo.

Since I loved Norra, ex-Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir and bounty hunter Jas, I was¬†really happy to catch back up with them. I even found Temmin, Norra’s son, less bratty in Life Debt (with one notable exception that he got over fairly fast). Sinjir is so delightfully sarcastic that he’s my stand-out favourite, though Jas is a close second.¬†I’m also a big fan of Rae Sloan, despite her being the¬†bad guy (at least, as far as Norra and co are concerned). Sure, she’s¬†well and truly onboard with the whole “Empire” thing, but I could see the appeal of order over chaos.

There’s some lovely, tantalising foreshadowing of events in¬†The Force Awakens, as well as the promise of backstory — I for one am keen to know Kylo Ren went so badly wrong. (That hair. Seriously?)

The main reason this is four stars for me, rather than five, is that it sometimes¬†felt a bit like I’d dropped into the middle of a TV episode —¬†for example, I felt the resistance effort on¬†Kashyyyk could¬†have sustained a novel all of its own, and I¬†left¬†wondering if I’d missed a bit at one stage. Still, I love Wendig’s frenetic, visceral writing style and will definitely read the third book.

Four stars


Review: ‘Their Fractured Light’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Their Fractured Light

A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness for their planet, and protect them from destruction. Some say Flynn‚Äôs a madman, others whisper about conspiracies. Nobody knows the truth. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were rescued from a terrible shipwreck‚ÄĒnow, they live a public life in front of the cameras, and a secret life away from the world‚Äôs gaze.

Now, in the center of the universe on the planet of Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players, who will bring the fight against LaRoux Industries to a head. Gideon Marchant is an eighteen-year-old computer hacker‚ÄĒa whiz kid and an urban warrior. He‚Äôll climb, abseil and worm his way past the best security measures to pull off onsite hacks that others don‚Äôt dare touch.

Sofia Quinn has a killer smile, and by the time you’re done noticing it, she’s got you offering up your wallet, your car, and anything else she desires. She holds LaRoux Industries responsible for the mysterious death of her father and is out for revenge at any cost.

When a LaRoux Industries security breach interrupts Gideon and Sofia’s separate attempts to infiltrate their headquarters, they’re forced to work together to escape. Each of them has their own reason for wanting to take down LaRoux Industries, and neither trusts the other. But working together might be the best chance they have to expose the secrets LRI is so desperate to hide.

I only recently reviewed book two in this series, This Shattered World, so I feel like I’m repeating myself a bit here. However, unlike This Shattered World, which more-or-less stood alone, I think Their Fractured Light is one that would strongly benefit from the backstory in the first two books. That’s because it continues with the meta-plot that was introduced in These Broken Stars and continued in¬†This Shattered World, and brings it to a (imo) satisfying¬†conclusion.¬†Also, the pre-chapter snippets that are a hallmark of this series relate in this book’s case to events in all three.

So, do yourself a favour and read the first two books. I’ll wait. ūüôā

Not convinced yet? Ok, I’ll try and keep the rest of this spoiler-light!

In this story we get to¬†see more of two minor characters from the second book, Sofia (Flynn’s friend) and the hacker known as the Knave of Hearts.¬†Again, they are bizarrely young for their skill sets, though I found them both more believable than Tarver and Jubilee, the super-soldiers. I’m not sure why that is, except that I guess social manipulation and hacking are things more easily picked up from a younger age than military combat. (Maybe I’m just being naive?)

I really liked how the two of them¬†complemented one another, despite their huge (and somewhat warranted) mutual¬†distrust. Both¬†are driven by their hatred of Monsieur LaRoux, Lilac’s father and the series¬†villain, and both are very good at¬†manipulating the world around them: people in Sofia’s case and data/computers¬†in Gideon’s. As a couple, I thought they had more chemistry¬†than Flynn and Jubilee did (but possibly not as much as Lilac and Tarver, though it’s been a while since I read the first book now).

Once the other four characters are introduced, the story takes quite a different turn. I found the scenes where all six of them were together a little chaotic — I’d often have to pause and consider which character was doing the talking. That wasn’t a fault of the writing, mind you, just the fact that huge ensemble casts of characters are trickier — especially when they are all so homogeneous in many ways. (Because this is a young adult series, all of the characters are young; I think the oldest, Tarver, would be 20 by this point. Both Tarver and Jubilee are soldiers, and Lilac,¬†Sofia and Flynn are all¬†socially adept — though they apply their skills differently, as a socialite, con artist and diplomat respectively.)

On the subject of con artists, I liked that side of Sofia, and Gideon’s illegal hacking. The fact they weren’t squeaky clean but are still on the side of good (in the sense that they are fighting the¬†greater evil) gave them more depth.

Finally, without going into spoilery details, I can¬†say that I mentioned on my review of the previous book that it didn’t have the same sort of epic, soul-shattering plot twist that These Broken Stars did. Let’s just say that Their Fractured Light makes up for it. In spades.

TheirFracturedLight

Four-and-a-half stars


Review: ‘This Shattered World’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

ThisShatteredWorld

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

This Shattered World is the¬†second book in the Starbound trilogy (I reviewed the first book, These Broken Stars, here.) You don’t strictly need to read the¬†first book to understand this one, though it provides useful backstory and introduces you to the delightful Tarver and Lilac. That pair make a brief appearance here, and if you don’t know who they are¬†then that won’t be as squee-worthy as it otherwise would be. Which obviously would be a shame.

Although the meta-plot from the first book continues, This Shattered World is quite a different story. It’s set maybe a year later and is a lot more action packed, with a bigger cast of characters, but a lot less of a survival story. (I adored¬†the survival aspects of the first book, but YMMV.) For some reason I found it a little slow to get into, though I suspect that was me and not the book — and once I got engrossed, it zipped along despite the length.

Romance-wise, I didn’t ship¬†Jubilee and Flynn to the same extent I did Lilac and Tarver, but there are some extremely sweet lines and naww moments that gave me many¬†feels. They are¬†a bit of a Romeo and Juliet couple, in terms of their warring “families” —¬†Jubilee even calls him Romeo to start with, until she learns his name. And I liked that they weren’t professing undying love right from the get-go. (Unlike Romeo and Juliet, now that I think about it.)

As far as the story goes, I personally didn’t find any of the plot-twists earth-shattering or anything, and there certainly wasn’t the OMGWTF moment I had with These Broken Stars, but it was enjoyable enough. Likewise, I liked the little disjointed fragments of Jubilee’s missing dreams at the start of each chapter, though they weren’t as tantilising as Tarver’s post-rescue interview.

I feel like I’m being unfair to This Shattered World, in a way, by constantly comparing it to the first book, which was — to me — very slightly better across the board.

Actually, make that almost across the¬†board.¬†The one place where¬†This Shattered World shines is in having a much wider array of¬†character backgrounds — Jubilee’s mother was Chinese and her father “had dark skin” (though I don’t think his ethnicity is ever revealed¬†… or maybe I missed it?). One of her good friends on the base, Molly, is a Chinese-heritage man who is trying to reconnect with his roots.¬†Avon, the planet the story takes place on, has been colonised by Irish-heritage settlers, so there are elements of their culture too. It’s a shame that the multicultural, especially Chinese, elements aren’t hugely strong, maybe because¬†both Molly and Jubilee weren’t steeped in that culture as children, but it’s still good to see a book with a kick-butt biracial model on the cover.

Finally,¬†the comment I made on These Broken Stars¬†about the characters’ ages stands here too. They are weirdly young for their level of experience.¬†Jubilee is only 18 and is some sort of super-soldier (exactly like¬†Tarver was in the first book). I’m not clear on how old Flynn¬†is, but¬†I expect he’s about the same age. I know that this universe¬†ages characters¬†young, with military enlistment at 16, but I constantly imagined Jubilee and Flynn as being in¬†their mid-twenties, and by now Tarver and Lilac are surely in their late twenties (not 19 and 17)!

Still, I’ve already bought the third book in the series and I can’t wait to see how¬†the meta-plot resolves itself.

These Broken Stars

Four stars


Review: ‘Winter’ by Marissa Meyer

Winter

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won‚Äôt approve of her feelings for her childhood friend‚ÄĒthe handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn‚Äôt as weak as Levana believes her to be and she‚Äôs been undermining her stepmother‚Äôs wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that‚Äôs been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

This series is the queen of fairy tale retellings. But not the evil queen.

Okay, maybe slightly evil.

If you haven’t read¬†the rest of the series,¬†then don’t start with Winter, which is¬†the fourth and final (as far as I know) book in the Lunar Chronicles. Instead you want to start with Cinder, which I¬†reviewed here. The entire series is a five-star read for me, so you should do it. Do it now!

Winter is a huge book, at over 800 pages. I noticed because¬†after an afternoon of binge-reading I had a sore wrist, and — despite my best efforts — my copy was the worse for wear by the time I was done. Some of the pages even fell out! Aaah! I didn’t notice how big it was because of the pacing, though; the story ticked along nicely.

As always, the fairy tale references to Snow White were there but didn’t dictate the story.¬†Most of those references related to the titular character, Winter, but occasionally they were used in reference to her cousin Cinder¬†— for example, Levana’s order¬†that¬†someone bring her Cinder’s heart. The seven dwarfs are incredibly subtle, so subtle I missed it at first, but I think they refer to the number of¬†other main characters (excluding Jaicin, who is the “prince”): Cinder, Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Thorne and Iko.

As far as the characters go, my favourite relationship is Cinder and Kai’s, far and away. ‚̧ My other favourite characters are Scarlet, for her sheer, brash defiance of everything and Iko,¬†because Iko! Levana is suitably¬†evil,¬†although doesn’t really muster as much of a defence as I might have liked. But then, in a book with such a big ensemble cast, I’m okay with a little more tragedy-related feels than Winter has. (I’m a fan of Joss Whedon. Enough said.)

Still, if you¬†want a sci-fi series with a fairy¬†tale feel, some kissing and an actual, honest to goodness “they all lived happily ever after” (because it’s a fairy tale retelling and that’s obligatory), I highly recommend this entire series!

Lunar Chronicles

Five stars

 


Review: ‘Fairest’ by Marissa Meyer

Fairest

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her ‚Äúglamour‚ÄĚ to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story ‚Äď a story that has never been told . . . until now.

There aren’t too many authors who are so popular that even their novellas get a traditional paperback release (most ¬†bridging novellas are released as ebook only, or maybe POD). Marissa Meyer’s Fairest is one of these rare books and, having devoured it in an evening, I can see why.

Fairest is book 3.5 of the Lunar Chronicles. If you’re not familiar with the premise of this series, it’s basically an alternate Earth sci-fi where each book in the series is inspired by a fairytale. But the books don’t really stand alone; there is an overarching storyline, with the¬†stories of Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and now Levana intertwining. (Winter’s story comes next.)

Levana is the queen of Luna, the moon colony; think the wicked queen from Snow White and you have her basic character concept. Pretty one-dimensional, right? Nope.¬†The beauty of Fairest is that we get to find out how untrue that characterisation is.¬†The story begins¬†when Levana is fifteen and her parents are assassinated, and follows her sister’s coronation, Levana’s¬†“romance” with the guard Evret and¬†pseudo-adoption of Winter, the birth of Selene, and all the horrible things that follow.¬†We get to see through¬†both current events and flashbacks just why Levana¬†starts out a little bit damaged¬†… and why by the end she’s as broken as the the mirror on the wall.

The thing is, despite all the awful things Levana does and who she turns into, you can’t help but feel bad for her.¬†She’s a product of a terrible environment, and one part of her just wants to be loved.¬†Of course, that in no way excuses her behaviour — from murder to what amounts to rape and psychological torture¬†— but you can’t help but think that if someone had taken her away from her family when she was a small child, she could have been a wonderful person. Certainly she’s not as inherently evil as her older sister, Channary, not at first … although that’s setting the bar pretty low.

I mentioned rape and torture. Levana is a Lunar and has the gift to influence others’ minds and control their bodies¬†… and Evret doesn’t want to be anything more than her friend. It’s fair to say there is no romance in this book. There were times I felt physically ill at the things she did to that poor, poor man. Still,¬†what sex there is fades to black — it is a young adult series.

All of this amounts to an amazing five-star read, because you have to admire¬†the talent of a writer who can make you pity and loathe a character all at once.¬†If you’ve read the other books in the series and are wondering whether to dip into the novella: DO. You won’t regret it. And if you haven’t read any of the series, start with Cinder.

Five stars