A summary of some of my leisure reading, mostly science fiction and fantasy. Star ratings are based on my personal enjoyment of the book, not necessarily of its literary quality… which is to say sometimes I have terrible taste.
Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennet
It’s been a little while since I’ve been excited about a new high fantasy series: as a genre, it’s hard for me to get excited when many authors repeat the same tropes with new names and slightly redrawn maps. Foundryside brings a familiar-yet-different magic system to the table, and has very Brandon Sanderson-esque vibes throughout: strong female characters, solid plotting, and a self-consistent world where the magic is as much a science as it is a plot device. Definitely a series to keep an eye on.
The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt
While The Wrong Stars doesn’t bring anything super novel to the table, I’m a sucker for “rag-tag band of explorers discovers a secret that could change evertying”. The book is well-written and enjoyable, and (despite some awkward prose) does a good job at immersing the reader in the characters and the world they live in. Extra props for keeping a semi-positive tone despite almost nothing going well, and for minimizing the body horror and squickiness that often comes with books of this subgenre.
Warm Up, V. E. Schwab
As a short prequel to Vicious, I enjoyed the context that Warm Up provides to the latter half of the first book in the Villains series. Otherwise, as a short story, not too much remarkable here.
Vicious, V. E. Schwab
From the premise of the series, I would have expected a book or series similar to the webserial Worm, focusing on the story of a good-at-heart villain in a setting where comic-book heroism was alive and well. That might make for a fun story, but it’s definitely not the one in Vicious. Instead, we see the obsessions of two sociopaths who happen to have powers… and the effects they have on the people around them. Victor, the protagonist, is decidedly not good. And yet, you can’t help but root for the motley band he’s put together to accomplish his quest. Recommend if you’re looking for a bit of a darker read.
The Smartest Guys In The Room, Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind —
Unlike most of the books in this list, this book is a non-fictional account of the downfall of Enron in the early 2000s. It’s interesting to see the parallels between the high-risk commodities trading within Enron’s deregulated energy markets and the housing crisis of 2008, especially since it doesn’t look like the financial services industry has slowed down the rate at which they are willing to securitize new assets and develop complex, high-risk strategies for higher return.
Stars Uncharted, S. K. Dunstall —
Stars Uncharted is a fun, light-hearted book with a satisfying ending. It’s pretty different from the Linesman series, both in the cast of characters and in the premise of the book’s setting. It’s interesting to see how the prevalence of “body-modding” technology can affect how society works, and how people perceive themselves and others. The science here isn’t particularly hard (it is still space opera), but there’s plenty of thought put into the consequences of each aspect of the universe that the Dunstall sisters have created. Worth a read!
I blew through all three of the Linesman books after seeing that S. K. Dunstall had written something new coming out later in August (Stars Uncharted) which had a fair bit of positive feedback on GoodReads. The Linesman series is some pretty fun space opera, set in a world where ships travel between the stars with the help of “lines”, biomechanical components which need skilled “linesman” to repair them. The story follows Ean Lambert, a skilled Linesman from a poor background, as he becomes a major force in an interstellar conflict. The series has a good mix of politics and action, and I had a lot of fun reading it.
- Confluence, S. K. Dunstall —
- Alliance, S. K. Dunstall —
- Linesman, S. K. Dunstall —
Thrawn: Alliances, Timothy Zahn —
Okay, let’s be real. It’s a Star Wars book by Timothy Zahn, who wrote the original Thrawn trilogy that got me into the (old) Star Wars Extended Universe in the first place! Of course I was going to read it. Thankfully, this story lives up to Zahn’s standard, providing a perspective into Thrawn and his relationship with Anakin (“The Jedi”) and Darth Vader as they work together on the Outer Rim.
Machineries of Empire
This series is amazing. Full stop. You should just read it. It’s written by a trans Korean-American mathematician, with all of the little details and complex exposition that you might expect from such a background. This story follows Cheris, who joined the military branch of the Hexarchate (the Kel) to find her place in society, as she learns the true underpinnings of the High Calendar. Unlike many of the other Kel, she’s also a top-tier mathematician in a world where math and belief in mathematical patterns can warp reality.
Getting into this series does require some effort – it’s not an easy read. Despite the fact that Lee does correctly use mathematical terms throughout, it’s probably best approached more like a work of Fantasy: the reader doesn’t need to know how the calendar produces “exotic effects” to enjoy the books and to understand the characters.
Besides the prevalence of multiracial characters and the clever use of non-gendered pronouns, one of the things I really appreciated about Machineries of Empire is that pretty much every character is presented as an intelligent person who makes rational decisions within the circumstances they find themselves in – and the circumstances themselves don’t feel overly contrived, either.
- Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee —
- Raven Strategem, Yoon Ha Lee —
- Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee —
Artemis, Andy Weir —
This was honestly just kind of a disappointing second work after Weir’s earlier book The Martian, which manages to create a much more sympathetic and interesting character in Mark Watney. Read it because it’s one of the better-known books to come out this year, but don’t expect too much.
Book of the Ancestor
- Grey Sister, Mark Lawrence —
The Murderbot Diaries
This series of novellas follows a newly-independent security robot (which calls itself “Murderbot”) as it explores the wider world. A surprisingly light-hearted tale, these are short reads that make you smile.
- Artificial Condition, Martha Wells —
- All Systems Red, Martha Wells —
- Embers of War, Gareth L. Powell —
I have to say – I really liked Trouble Dog’s story. Maybe I’m just a big fan of sentient spaceships, but even though this work is pretty obviously inspired by Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Iain Banks’ Culture series, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am looking forward to the next book.
- The Autumn Republic, Brian McClellan —
- The Crimson Campaign, Brian McClellan —
- Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan —
The Lost Stars
- Shattered Spear, Jack Campbell —
- Imperfect Sword, Jack Campbell —
- Perilous Shield, Jack Campbell —
- Tarnished Knight, Jack Campbell —
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier
- Leviathan, Jack Campbell —
- Steadfast, Jack Campbell —
- Invicible, Jack Campbell —
- Dreadnaught, Jack Campbell —
The Lost Fleet
- Victorious, Jack Campbell —
- Relentless, Jack Campbell —
- Valiant, Jack Campbell —
- Fearless, Jack Campbell —
- Dauntless, Jack Campbell —
- Into the Fire, Elizabeth Moon —
- Cold Welcome, Elizabeth Moon —
- Victory Conditions, Elizabeth Moon —
- Command Decision, Elizabeth Moon —
- Engaging the Enemy, Elizabeth Moon —
- Marque and Reprisal, Elizabeth Moon —
- Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon —
- A Call to Vengeance, David Weber —
- Autonomous, Annalee Newitz —
Read this because it’s well written, and read it also because it hits a little too close to home. Autonomous is as much about its own plot (action! piracy! government gone rogue!) as it is about the world we see outside (action! piracy! government gone rogue!). There’s some really interesting concepts in here, like the quasi-dystopian intellectual property rights to the quasi-utopian “free labs” in which the characters conduct their largely illegal reseach. But of course, it’s all for a good cause: drug piracy in Autonomous is much better intentioned than software and movie/music piracy in the wider world…
- The Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley —
This book loses a half-star because I couldn’t get over the squick factor, which is entirely my fault. Most of the time, science fiction has this problem where all of the characters are men (even the women), with a certain baseline level of machisimo and a certain kind of interaction. The Stars Are Legion turns that completely on its head with a cast of entirely female characters, and a detailed look into a world in which motherhood is a little more complicated than raising a child.
Book of the Ancestor
- Red Sister, Mark Lawrence —
- Uncompromising Honor, David Weber —