Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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April Buddyread Reveal

Our next buddyread book has arrived, and it is Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley. Just look at that gorgeous cover!

The blurb and the line “This is a place where we can be alone, together” on the cover give you a kind of peaceful, found family vibe. After the year we’ve had, this seems like something we all need – although a past war between Earth and Qita also seems to play a major role in the story and resulting conflicts may disrupt the peace.

The space inn setting alone seems like a nice palate cleanser after our last buddyread, and I’m very much looking forward to start reading it.

All we need is a little Grace

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, publishing day 04 May 2021.

The story is about scientist Ryland Grace who wakes up aboard a spacecraft. He’d been in a coma, he has amnesia. All he knows is that he is a scientist on a suicide mission to save Earth, and by that, mankind from the next ice age brought on by strange microorganisms feeding off the suns in our galaxy. Yet, out there in space, about thirteen light years from Earth, there is a star that is not affected by these microorganisms. Why?

As the story unfolds and our hero regains some of his memories, we learn that Grace is a junior-high science teacher. And that is basically why the science in the book is easy to understand, the science teacher explains it very well. We also learn that the microorganisms feeding on our sun dim the energy output of the sun and that Earth has about three decades before the effects cause an ice age. All nations have to work together and strangely enough they do.

Earth needs Grace’s scientific expertise, but also relies on the fact that he is willing to plough on although he is on a suicide mission. A fact that Grace struggles with throughout the story. But he also knows he’s the only hope Earth has. Again, Weir writes the story of a hero alone fighting for survival, this time survival of all the life on Earth.

I enjoyed the book, apart from a bit of a lull period between 40% and 60%. Nothing much happened other than science and playing Robinson Crusoe in space, in the Arrival version. AKA, the hero meets an alien and they need to understand each other to work together.

[Mini-Rant about one plot point. SPOILER ALERT!]

When in Arrival we have a linguistics specialist who tries to communicate with the aliens, here we have a high-school science teacher encountering an alien species. An alien species he then works together with to find a solution to the microorganism problem. Working together means having to communicate. So, over a few days they learn each other’s language?! No big deal?!

It seems our hero has perfect pitch and a knack for languages. Some people have this knack, here though it feels not exactly forced but false. For example, there’s the scene where Grace meets another scientist for the first time and after a few words exchanged he knows the scientist is from Norway. Wow! Quite the feat. Anyone else might have said they are from Scandinavia, and then followed that up with a question as to which part of Scandinavia. Add the alien language, made up of melodies/strung together single musical notes rather than actual words and you have the by far most unbelievable part of the whole book. Why? Well, I used to teach English as a Second Language to scientists. A lot of my students kept telling me that learning languages had never been easy for them and that that was why they went into sciences. To make it more believable, I would have liked to see Grace struggle more with grasping the alien language. It would have made this learning process a bit more natural.

Tideline – by Elizabeth Bear, read by LeVar Burton

I’ve always enjoyed reading Elizabeth Bear, and recently, I’ve been slowly reading through her short fiction, compiled in The Best of Elizabeth Bear. Tideline, specifically, won the Hugo and the Theodore Sturgeon Award in 2008.

I don’t want to give too much away about the story of Tideline, I think it is best experienced without much information. But I will quote the introduction by C. L. Polk in The Best of Elizabeth Bear:

“Tideline” is a heartbreaking, beautiful story about family and remembrance that pairs up a warmachine and the boy who found her…

C. L. Polk, The Best of elizabeth bear

When reading short fiction, I always check LeVar Burtons Podcast for the story. And there it was, read in 2020. Hearing this story was one of the most intense audiobook experiences in my life. The story is not only read, through subtle sound effects and the different voices LeVar Burton gives the characters and the narration, it feels like so much more. And all that in 45 minutes. I cried at the end. And after that, a little bit more.

If you have some time, or want to give short fiction a try, I cannot recommend this enough.

A bunch of quick reviews

Without further ado…

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, publishing date 27 April 2021.

Murderbot being Murderbot, it is not easy for it to interact with humans. But it has to find out about the dead human. A dead human it did not kill, thank you for asking. So, it’s playing Sherlock on a space station. Making new friends along the way, of course.

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes, published 02 March 2021.

This collection of fantasy and contemporary fiction short stories was a bit ‘yeah and meh’. Some of the Jewish ‘own voices’ stories were really really good. Yet reading some of the more speculative fiction stories, I felt a bit lost. Strong stories nonetheless even if they might make you feel uncomfortable.

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme, published 02 March 2021.

This was surprisingly good for a rather generic YA fantasy romance. Boehme managed to make her characters and their love story believable by letting them both acknowledge that they had known each other only for a short time. A further plus: it’s a standalone that delivers a solid story in less than 350 pages.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, published 02 March 2021.

A historical fiction using the split timeline trope. I liked the storyline about the apothecary set in the late 18th century. Nella has a secret apothecary shop, she’s helping women who find themselves in ‘tricky’ situations. Until a chance encounter with 12 y/o Eliza sets the wheels of fate in motion, which lead to Caroline from Ohio. On a trip to London she finds an apothecary bottle while mudlarking in the Thames. She starts researching about the bottle and the apothecary. The story would have been just as interesting without the contemporary storyline, which was rather ‘meh’ compared to the historical story.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark.

Both short stories are set in an alternate Cairo in the early 20th century. Otherworldly beings are just as normal as the Ministry of Alchemy. In A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi is trying to solve a murder disguised as suicide and finds herself digging so much deeper that she encounters clockwork angels and a plot that might implode time itself. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 brings us back to Cairo, this time “Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.” I enjoyed both short stories and I am looking forward to reading the full novel A Master of Djinn (expected pub date: 11 May 2021), which has been idling on my ARC shelf for some time.

I heart Murderbot

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.

Murderbot is a rogue sec unit. It hacked its governor module and could do anything it wants. Like, hide behind its opaque visor and watch endless hours of its favourite TV shows. It still works as a sec unit, tough. And soon Murderbot grows on you, just as it grows on the humans it protects.

I enjoyed this inhuman MC very much. It was wonderful seeing Murderbot interact with humans, basing its communication skills on the TV series it has been watching. Just as fun is seeing Murderbot ‘make friends’ with other bots, drones, and AIs. One of my favourite secondary characters is ART, by the way, the AI of a research transport. I do like its sense of humour.

Over the course of the five stories, Murderbot is evolving, of course. It is learning from its interactions with humans and machines alike. This is not necessarily making it seem more human, but definitely less of a machine designed to kill.

I can’t wait to see what its next adventure will be like. Fugitive Telemetry is going to be out 27 April 2021. I’m practically counting the seconds until the release. Not to mention that I applied for a review copy, which I was approved of only minutes after I wrote my first draft of this post.

As you can see, I’m not the only Sceptre who has a crush on Murderbot. TheLadyDuckOfDoom reviewed The Murderbot Diaries in September 2020.

U-Haul in space, and other catastrophes

Gallowglass by S. J. Morden was our January BuddyRead book.

Jack has it all. As the son of billionaires he has no worries other than his parents trying to force him to get treatments to become immortal. Who wouldn’t want to live an endless life full of riches?

Well, Jack doesn’t. So he comes up with a plan to flee from his parents’ home, from his country, from Earth. He has organised it all in secret. He even has a job ready. But when his parents cross his plans, he’s forced to join the crew of a ship that wants to haul a very large asteroid from the edge of the solar system to lunar orbit. He has the training, but no work experience, and this first job could easily become his last when obstacle upon obstacle unfolds.

The story has an underlying climate change agenda, but it’s so subtle, you need to really look for it. It basically gets swamped by all the trajectory calculations Jack has to perform. I liked the quotes about climate change at the beginning of each chapter though. Some of them were dating back as far as the 17th century, which indicate that the climate change we are facing now was predicted back then already.

What would you change?

Neal Shusterman’s latest YA novel, Game Changer, published 09 February, 2021, was a quick read. Yet, I find it hard to review.

Why? For two opposing reasons. One, I quite liked it, because this story includes topics like racism, drug dealing, homophobia, abuse, sexism, misogyny, etc. Two, I didn’t like it, because this story includes topics like racism, drug dealing, homophobia, abuse, sexism, misogyny, etc. from a privileged white male perspective.

Ash is 17 years old. While playing football he suffers a concussion, a concussion that throws him into an alternative universe. From then on, every time he hits his head hard he’s thrown into another alternate universe. The first version of reality Ash encounters isn’t so much different from what we all know, only that stop signs are no longer red but blue. The next alternate universe though makes Ash a very privileged rich kid selling drugs. Yet the next universe makes racial segregation legal. Then in the next… you get the idea.

Our white male hero has to save the universe from destruction. He’s explaining (*cough* mansplaining *cough*) all that goes wrong in today’s society from his personal experience, his walking a mile in his friends’ shoes, so to say. Ash, at last, notices the flaws of his initial universe and wants the ever increasingly flawed alternative universes to return to what he used to be used to. He stands up to the bad things, becomes a champion of people of colour, queer people and women. He’s the white male hero/saviour. He’s special.

As much as I liked seeing current societal problems being extrapolated in alternate universes, I wish the main character had had any other flaw than being named Ashley, after a fictional male character in a racist film.

January BuddyRead Reveal

The first BuddyRead of 2021 is Gallowglass by S.J. Morden, published 10 December 2020.

This book had been on my radar for a while, but since #MountARC has been very steep for a while, I didn’t request a review copy. Imagine my joy when I opened the BuddyRead package.

What interests me in the book? I’m sharing part of the blurb on the back:

Jack Van Der Veerden is on the run.

[…]

Seeking freedom out in space, he gets a job on a mining ship chasing down an asteroid. Crewed by mercenaries, misfits and failed revolutionaries, they all want a cut of the biggest payday in history. …

S.J. Morden, Gallowglass (blurb)

Yes, I also read the next part of the blurb, but that paragraph was enough information for me. I like stories with a crew of desperate members, each with their own goal.

Just imagine London was French

Natasha Pulley’s fourth novel The Kingdoms, publishing day 27 May 2021, is an alternate history/time travel story set between the French Revolution and the early 20th century [I’m being vague on purpose]. The French won the Napoleonic Wars and Britain is under French rule; that might need a moment to sink in, take your time.

Our MC Joe arrives in a London that is familiar to him and is not. He’s lost his memories. He’s certain though that his wife’s name is ‘Madeleine’ and he has dreamlike memories of a man standing by the sea waiting for him. Due to his amnesia, he spends a few days in hospital until his owner and his wife Alice take him home. To a home and a life he cannot remember. He slowly adjusts to this new-to-him life and starts a family with Alice. When, some years after his arrival in London, Joe’s being sent to stay at a lighthouse in the northwest of Scotland for a winter, Joe knows that not seeing his young daughter for several months will have an impact on both their lives. He could not fathom how big this impact might actually turn out to be.

Pulley’s writing is excellent. I highlighted quite a lot of very apt descriptions in my eARC. My favourite, which I’ve already shared on Twitter and hope will make it into the final version of the book, was when Joe watched sailors pulling up the anchor chain of a ship, where one tiny slip might cause a fatal accident:

… his [Joe’s] teeth itched with the sense of potential energy.

Natasha Pulley, The Kingdoms

The chapters are mainly told following Joe, but we also get flashbacks to other major character’s pasts. This might be a little confusing at first, but each “jump” in time is labelled at the beginning of the chapter. I thought it was handled very well and easy to follow, but I love a good time travel story with twists and turns [Tenet did not give me a headache at all].

The story’s based on the so-called grandfather paradox of time travel. You know, will you still be alive if you travel back in time and kill your own grandfather before your parent is even conceived? That is, will changes made by your being in the past have an influence on your present/future? [Should you like research rabbit holes as much as I do, here’s a nifty Wikipedia article for you: Grandfather Paradox.]

What’s left to say? I’m looking forward to holding a print copy of this book in my hands. I’m actually hoping I can pre-order a signed copy and re-read the story by the fireside at the next Gladstone’s Library reading retreat that was cancelled twice in 2020 due to ‘the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named’.

Bell, Blade and …

… a thunderhead cloud. I just couldn’t find an alliteration for that.

During the last months I read The Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman with my son. We both liked it very much.

It’s set in a future, where death has been erased from humankind. Any information on Earth is stored in a large cloud computer, the Thunderhead, who is not only a storage device, but also some sort of benevolent Big Brother watching out for you at all times.

Immortality comes with a caveat though. Overpopulation would be an issue if no one ever died, so Scythes -trained and ordained deathbringers- have to glean people (aka kill for good) to even out the numbers.

We follow a young woman, Citra, and a young man, Rowan, into their apprenticeship under Scythe Faraday. It’s tiresome and trying to learn all the ins and outs of the Scythedom, and only one of the two can become a Scythe at the end of their year of apprenticeship; the other has to be gleaned. Citra and Rowan make it through this first year, which is action packed with actual murder, discovering how crooked the Scythedom really is and trying to set everything to rights. Which will, of course, lead us into books two and three that I am not going to write anything about to avoid spoiling the story.

Let me just tell you, there are a few WTF moments, there are a few twists you might have seen coming, but the final resolution of the story is well-made. What I especially liked is that although it is a Young Adult novel we don’t see the usual tropes of love triangles and pining and every decision being judged through rose tinted glasses. It’s a story that is action packed, has it’s funny moments and definitely makes you think about immortality and what it might mean for humankind.


The Lady Duck of Doom totally agrees with this review. It was a really well crafted YA novel, avoiding the common pitfalls and cutting surprisingly deep into the abyss of humanity.

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