Synopsis: This is an exploration of the backstory of yet another of the supernaturally-affected members of the Home for Wayward Children – involving a quest to yet another magical portal world, where the protagonist’s very existence hangs in the balance.
What I thought: I really liked the first two in this series, Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones. This did not “wow” me quite as much as the first one, but it’s still very good. It’s a quest story which provides a showcase for the author’s vivid visual imagery of her imaginary worlds. As with the previous works, it touches on issues of societal expectations and biases, and the way that we internalize these, whether we’re on the sending side or the receiving end. Reading the first two in advance of this one is not strictly required, but is really recommended.
Arifel: [This] removed the socks from my feet and placed them in an orbit somewhere around Saturn. Seriously, if not for a random insult towards dogs at the end, I’d assume she’d been harvesting my thoughts to find the ultimate combination of things I personally relate to. Ocean worlds! Fat-but-athletic girl rep! Baking philosophy! YES. And it’s packaged in a way that’s probably still enjoyable even if you’re not me.
Xtifr: Literally just finished it yesterday, and yes, it’s a lot of fun. Good series. Not as relentlessly dark as the October Daye books, but not as silly as the InCryptid series. It’s a good balance. And it takes balls (ovaries?) to write a book about candyland for grownups.
Xtifr: [This one] relied more heavily on previous events than Down Among the Sticks and Bones – the main plot was driven by the fallout of the events in Every Heart a Doorway – and even it I would still count as standalone. The plot-relevant parts of the earlier books were explained well enough that you didn’t have to reference them to avoid confusion.
Lace: Every Heart a Doorway is still my favorite, but I’m glad we’ll get more stories in this multiverse.
recommended by Greg Hullender
Peer: [This] was right up my alley! Its the third book of the Wayward Children and while I got much enjoyment out of the first two, Both where not Quite “There” for me: I thought the first was to short for the murder mistery and the second had the disadvantage of being a prequel, where the ending was known. Now the third one finally lived up its potential (for me)! It being a road movie / quest it gives all the characters something to do and while you may say its not the most original take, it perfectly fits the world and tone of the [series]. I really enjoyed this!
Matt Y.: was fun but I didn’t get into it as much as the prior entry Down Among The Sticks And Bones.
Kyra: I was less impressed by [this one].
Arifel: my favourite of the Wayward Children books so far, though I have personal bias at play.
Contrarius: I liked [this] better than the previous stories in the series. I still don’t think they’re brilliant, but I enjoyed it more. It probably helped that they finally got a really good narrator for this one in the audio version.
Lfex: My novella Hugo list at this point [includes this story].
Lurkertype: I thought it was better than the others, and that’s literally all I remember.
Bonnie McDaniel: I liked [this], but not as much as Down Among the Sticks and Bones. It’s an edge case at best.
Lorien Gray: I also liked [this] better than Down Among the Sticks and Bones (I’m so tired of vampires).
Goobergunch: To me this was the best one so far, mostly because I found the Down Among the Sticks and Bones narrator to be painfully didactic and distracting from an otherwise enjoyable story. Didacticism is not completely absent here but I didn’t find it particularly intrusive, and the narrative was strong and coherent. I think this would probably work fine on its own storywise but you’d lose a lot of emotional resonance without having read Every Heart a Doorway first.
Synopsis: This novella follows directly on the events of Night and Silence, so to avoid spoilers I’ll just say that it adds insight into the life and personality of a previously little-seen character.
What I thought: One of the things that keeps me reading this series is the way that the author keeps expanding the world and the cast of characters, in a way that keeps it from getting stale while making it easy for me to remember what has happened in past books without the need for re-reading. It’s about making a place for yourself in a hostile world, and finding your “family” to share that place with you. The main characters are flawed. but nevertheless doing their damnedest to keep their loved ones safe and make the world a better place for both humans and fae. Both novel and novella are recommended to fans of the series; anyone else will be hopelessly lost, and should start with the early novels.
Cassy B.: ARGH! I just finished Seanan McGuire’s Night And Silence, and the novella included at the end had the most execrable pun, that McGuire must have been planning ever since the very first book in the series! It can’t possibly be a coincidence that [spoiler!] Tvyyvna’f ynfg anzr vf abg Qnlr, be Znex, ohg Qnlr-Znex. N qnlznex vf na hayvg znevgvzr anivtngvbany nvq, ivfvoyr va qnlyvtug, gung znex unmneqf gb anivtngvba, yvxr ebpxf be errsf. Hfhnyyl n gnyy cbyr jvgu n ynetr ivfvoyr gevnatyr be fdhner fvta ba gbc, ohg uvfgbevpnyyl gurl unir orra zhpu snapvre. Nyfb, gur cnggrea ba n yvtugubhfr vf n qnlznex; vg vqragvsvrf juvpu yvtugubhfr lbh’er ybbxvat ng jura lbh frr vg sebz gur frn (gung’f jul gurl unir fgevcrf naq qvnzbaqf naq fcvenyf naq fb sbegu; fb lbh pna gryy gurz ncneg rnfvyl). Naq abj fur’f n Fryxvr. She’s taken twelve books to set this up…
Synopsis: Stephen Leeds, aka “Legion,” is a polymath whose unique mental condition generates a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. But now, one of those personas has worryingly disappeared, and as if that’s not bad enough, a former lover who mysteriously disappeared years ago has sent a message begging for help.
What I thought: I loved the first two novellas in this series, Legion and Skin Deep, so it was an effortless pleasure to re-read them in my library’s omnibus edition (Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds) before taking in the concluding story. This series engages with themes of determining the difference between coping mechanisms and cop-outs, and how they can be sustaining or self-destructive. The author does a great job of wrapping up the series, in a way that I did not expect.
3-Adica by Greg Egan, Asimov’s, September-October (full text PDF)
Synopsis: In a future where videogame characters are sentient composites of real people, one character decides they’ve had enough of being used for worldbuilding scenery, and makes plans to escape from the game.
What I thought: While not an original plot, I thought that this was a well-done, unique, and enjoyable version of it. I suspect that gamers will enjoy it even more than I did. Though there are some higher-math concepts involved in the story, which may or may not be understandable to the reader, I think it’s possible to get the gist of the concepts and how they relate to the story without actually needing to fully understand them.
Synopsis: In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters, when the remaining populace, most of whom still live underground, gets sidetracked from recovery projects by the invention of a limited form of time travel. An ecologist jumps at the chance to travel back in time for her project’s research – but another team member has a hidden agenda which threatens them all.
What I thought: I really wasn’t sure from the synopsis whether this would be my “thing”, but was surprised to find myself becoming more deeply absorbed as I read. A post-apocalyptic time-travel story of the survivors whose bodies have been damaged in various ways, coexisting with the subsequent generations who grew up healthy, it poses some interesting questions about what constitutes physical disability, the effects of inter-generational legacies and resentments, and questions about humans’ moral obligations to sentient beings. However, be warned: it seems pretty apparent that this is an excerpt from a larger novel, because it ends so abruptly that my tablet damn near met the wall in frustration. (And yes, when that novel comes out, I will be reading it.)
Mark Hepworth: I ordered this on the strength of Robson’s shorter work like Waters of Versailles or “We Who Live in the Heart”. I wonder if this is meant to connect to “We Who Live in the Heart” in some way – maybe set earlier in the same history – because it shares a few mentions of a post-apocalyptic setting where humanity have mostly retreated below ground to avoid climatic disaster, with a few people working aboveground on new ways to live, and mentions of an economy now working on “billable hours” of work… The most interesting strand here is a set of quick switches to the perspective of the local king, who has to deal with weird strangers appearing and a priest using the situation as a power play. My problem is that I’m not sure the leisurely first half left enough time and space to deal with such a big idea in the second, and the very end feels quite rushed, and there’s a whole strand about the motives of their corporate employers that doesn’t get much examination.
Mark Hepworth: The Kelly Robson interview was good, thanks. It also confirmed something I’d been wondering about – “We Who Live in the Heart” is set in the future of Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.
Arifel: really grabbed me when I read it, although a few months later I’m struggling to remember what I liked best? I think it was a combination of worldbuilding and the interesting dual narrative structure.
Lurkertype: [This] had some lovely worldbuilding and then not only failed to stick the ending, it didn’t have an ending. It just quit. I literally turned the page, then turned back to see if I’d missed anything, and checked to see if I had a bad download. Nope. It just stopped. And the stopping place sucked.
Mark Hepworth: I think I’ve cooled on this a bit. I came away loving the ideas, but the story was a bit of a mess and came to an abrupt halt.
Paul Weimer: [This] will almost certainly be on my nominating ballot. I was lucky on the Great October Expedition to be able to meet Kelly in Toronto and talk to her about it.
fun fact: An Assyrian exhibition that was at the ROM some years ago was an inspiration for her to come up with the story.
Goobergunch: I really enjoyed the first half of this but share other Filers’ frustration with the second half. I’m not sure I agree that it doesn’t have an ending, but what we got wasn’t very satisfying. More broadly, I thought the second half generally was trying to do too much thematically in not enough space; the bit about the younger generation’s attitude towards the older in particular felt underdeveloped. Upon reflection I think the pacing issue is exacerbated because much of the first half is process and worldbuilding and there’s not that much room for surprises until the second half.
Synopsis: As a solution for overpopulation and resource scarcity, hundreds of years ago, the bulk of humanity retreated to hibernation chambers deep in the earth. Every 30 years, they wake up for one month of wild revelry, after which they are forced to return to their capsules. In the interim, the earth is maintained by The Million: one million people whose duty is to maintain the ecology and health of the planet, in exchange for which they lead lives of wealth and privilege, handed down to their descendents.
What I thought: I thought that this was an interesting premise and it makes for a pretty good mystery/adventure – but I was hard-pressed to find anyone except the main character to care about, because pretty much everyone from both sides is less-than-admirable, and I’m pretty sure that the author’s goal was not to have me hoping that the entire lot of them would become extinct. I did really enjoy the worldbuilding-as-thought-experiment of how to preserve the Earth’s resources with a small group of custodians, without engaging in mass homicide of the populace.
Mark Hepworth: [This] turns out in the end notes to be set in the same universe as his novel Lockstep, and I’m a bit confused why they wouldn’t make that clear at the start. The Big Idea is that many civilisations in the universe are heading into the future via coldsleep, waking themselves up briefly at regular intervals in lockstep with each other to see what’s going on. Of course, they need some people to stick to regular time to look after them, and so the Earth has been inherited by The Million – they have all the world’s resources to share a mere million ways between them, just so long as they don’t muck the place up or overpopulate it. So the Million come over as like the gauchest possibly version of today’s billionaires, taking entire cities for one family, and they themselves need keeping under control by The Auditors in case the billions of sleepers wake up very angry with the state of the place. It’s a pretty good Big Idea but the actual plot – several young people joining Auditor academy with ulterior motives, who Audits the Auditors eh? – wasn’t the best way to explore it. I was convinced it was going to run out of space to finish the plot, but instead it rushes to some sort of conclusion that probably needed a full novel to explore instead. Again, rather frustrating, and no doubt the exploration of that Big Idea actually comes in the novel I wouldn’t have known existed until I finished this novella.
The Persistence of Blood by Juliette Wade, Clarkesworld, March (full story)
Synopsis: In a society where technology has fallen and a strict caste system has developed, the dominant caste/race has reacted to severely-declining birth rates by making their women cherished prisoners who are required to keep producing children until they become infertile or (as most often happens) they die in childbirth. One woman is loved and valued so much by her husband, the ranking ruler, that he takes steps to limit the way women are literally being used to death. But he faces great opposition from other rulers, and even from the women – and when he suddenly dies, his attempt at reform may die with him.
What I thought: Set in the underground of what appears to be a post-apocalyptic planet, this is really a story of different kinds of slavery: the ruling-caste women are essentially breeding stock valued only for their ability to reproduce, whose own desires and personhood are considered irrelevant, and the lower-caste species is groomed from birth to serve as slaves for their rulers, rather than having lives of their own. It’s also a story of how people can be psychologically programmed into working for their own oppression. While the worldbuilding is intriguing, there’s not a lot of explanation of how things got to be the way they are; I’m presuming that this is part of a larger work, which we will hopefully eventually get to see.
recommended by Greg Hullender
Mark Hepworth: I’m not sure if it’s a plus or minus if I finish a novella and wish it had been a novel. This has some elements of a dying earth story, except that it seems to only be the nobility who are dying here – slowly diminishing due to hereditary illnesses and low birth rate. A lot of the world building is quite opaque, but there’s a feudal society with some advanced technology but quite primitive in others, apparently living below ground. It’s the right sort of opaque though, that makes you want to learn more. Inevitably for this sort of hierarchical society they’ve compensated with social pressure to have as many children as their wives can bear – and Selemei is one of the wives suffering from this, left with a limp from her last birth, terrified she wouldn’t survive another. The story dives into the politics of the society and their reproductive control – perhaps a bit too quickly as the opening gets rather confused – but once it finds its feet and Selemei starts taking on her society the story really sparkles. The end point is a reasonable one but could also have been the end of act 1. A fascinating story in a rich world.
Bonnie McDaniel: +1 for “The Persistence of Blood”. Thanks for the pointer to this. That was really good.
Compost Traumatic Stress by Brian Koukol, GigaNotoSaurus December 1, 2018 (full text)
Synopsis: The lone survivor of a combat unit annihilated on an alien planet does penance after the end of the war by cleaning up leftover cartridge brass and clearing the alien vegetation, supplanting it with flora which is compatible with humans. As he weeds and plants, he flashes back to scenes from the war and how his own actions, or lack thereof, may have influenced the outcome.
What I thought: This is a really different, interesting story with some unusual and intriguing worldbuilding. The different ways in which PTSD can manifest, and the challenges faced by disabled people, are authentically portrayed by the author, who has spent a lifetime dealing with these conditions. This is a grim story, but it is also a hopeful one, and it is well worth reading.
Synopsis: Vaccination and treatment for many diseases have been widely available for years – so much so that the populace has come to take their immunity for granted, and complacency sets in. Then a new pandemic appears, from which even the survivors suffer irrevocable damage.
What I thought: This is a standalone novella; however, the text hints that there is going to be a sequel. The author has done extensive research in virology, and this shows in the veracity of the details. This is a cautionary tale about not just the dangers of non-vaccination, but of the difficulties in defining an answer to the question: when is it okay, and not okay, for the government to tell people what they can do with their own bodies? There are no easy answers here, and this is not easy reading – but there is plenty of food for thought. And the characters are developed enough to make the story feel personal. I’ll be interested to see how a sequel develops this story further.
Bonnie McDaniel: I suspect this will prove to be a marmite of a book: people will love it or hate it. I definitely don’t hate it, but I’m not quite sure I love it either. This is not the fault of the author. This book is typical Mira Grant–well researched, thought out, and written. The POV here is omniscient, an unusual choice for this kind of book (previous Grant books have been first- or tight third-person narratives), but the reason why becomes apparent at the end. What’s also apparent from the get-go is the author’s dislike (to put it mildly) of the anti-vaxx crowd, and the reader soon realizes this is a thought experiment of what could happen if they get their way. I don’t think it’s one of her best, but YMMV.
Bubble and Squeak by David Gerrold and Ctein, Asimov’s, May-June (full text PDF)
Synopsis: With a tsunami on the way, a couple in LA makes a desperate run to safety, but keeps lessening their own chances to survive as they try to help a few other people along the way.
What I thought: This is an interesting and well-done story, though it engages in a lot of see-how-much-you-know-of-Los Angeles-geography callouts like those which I felt made New York 2140 so tedious (though people familiar with LA will probably enjoy that aspect). It’s a study on human compassion and striving, and while it’s well worth reading, it’s clear at the “end” that this is another one of those “let’s publish an excerpt from a novel and call it a novella” novellas. That, and an awkward, cringeworthy attempt at comedy which fell woefully flat, were things which lessened my enthusiasm a bit.
jayn: I just finished “Bubble and Squeak” in Asimov’s – I loved it.
Harold Osler: I’ve read it and intend to read it again but need to give it some space. I agree with the description of “The thrust of the story is a near-desperate adventure. It’s hard.” There were times I had to stop for a minute just to regroup but it kept pulling me along. Read that it was to be part of a novel, looking forward to reading it. Considering some of the heartbreak during the story, I’m fine with an ending like it has.
Synopsis: In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air – in particular, by earning a the Captain’s trust and a spot onboard the airship Midnight Robber with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums. But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations. Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the ship’s crew are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.
What I thought: It says a lot for this story that, despite me not caring much for occult fantasy, I still found it absorbing and interesting. The two main characters are surprisingly well-developed given the short length, and I’d like to read more adventures with them.
Mark Hepworth: I picked this up on the strength of the author’s shorter work “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” and I’m very glad I did. The setting is the star here – a lush, evocative alternative New Orleans in a magical steampunk world where the US fractured from the civil war and New Orleans is a free city acting as a neutral zone for the various powers, including a Haiti which gained independence by calling up the power of its gods with a weapon called The Black God’s Drums. The writing really does justice to the setting. The lead is a young girl with the disconcerting nickname of Creeper, who survives on the New Orleans streets seemingly as much by preference as by poverty – she has friends who would look after her, it seems, but she doesn’t want to be tied down, she wants to be away to adventure! To avoid spoilers I’ll simply say that she falls into a definite Adventure and then Shenanigans occur. The plot is fairly straightforward as you’d expect from a shortish novella but rattles along nicely. It’s self contained but leaves room for some more steampunk airship adventures, and I really hope it does well enough that we get them.
Arifel: strong worldbuilding as well as an enjoyable main character.
Kevin Hogan: +1 on [this]. I agree with everything Mark said about it (including the strength of the shorter “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”).
Greg Hullender: I also loved [this]… not only does it have a very well-thought-out (and very interesting) setting, it has several memorable characters, and plenty of action and tension. Definitely one of the best of the year so far.
Bonnie McDaniel: My [Hugo nomination longlist] novellas so far: This has definitely grown on me. I’d also love to get the story of General Harriet Tubman, mentioned in a throwaway line.
We Ragged Few by Kate Alice Marshall, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, September 27 (full story)
Synopsis: Reyna’s people settled here generations ago, fleeing the evil creatures who had besieged them on the other side of the mountains. But their lives have been a downhill struggle since then; to compensate for their infertility, they have made slaves of the mutelings who can still bear the children forced upon them, and hold off the grayling creatures with their spears and warding spells. Before her death two years ago, Reyna’s sister prophesied that they would need to move on – and soon – to escape the coming evil. But their leader believes that their wards and spears will keep them safe, and her people are reluctant to uproot themselves and make their hard lives even harder.
What I thought: I had no idea what to expect from this story. I found it interesting and absorbing, touching on themes of how we lessen and damage ourselves when we dehumanize and oppress others – and how resistance to change, and willfully blinding ourselves to an unpleasant reality we don’t want to face, can doom us to an even worse fate.
Mark Hepworth: [This] is a grim fantasy, with a people driven from their homeland and stricken with mass infertility trying to reestablish something like civilisation – but instead they’re sinking deeper into the mire with how they treat anyone they consider Other. It’s a morality tale, but also an action-filled heroic fantasy, as Reyna – whose dead sister left behind a grim prophecy – tries to persuade a small band to flee the coming doom. It’s not grimdark just for style points though, and there’s a glimmer of hope in there.
The Emotionless, in Love by Jason Sanford [Blood Grains #2], Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 1 (full story)
Synopsis: Twenty thousand years ago, a now-extinct technologically-advanced society decided to deploy massive quantities of nanomachines to protect the planet from deforestation, extinctions, and other environmental damage caused by humans. Programmed to act in a symbiotic relationship with human stewards of the land called “anchors”, these nanobots enforce rules about how much harvesting and manufacturing is permitted, and punish violators. The rest of the humans are consigned to an ever-wandering existence in caravans which are never permitted to stay in one place too long or to use too many resources. A young anchor who was severed from his land by his angry mother struggles to regain the emotions which he has lost, while attempting to prove his loyalty and worth to his adoptive caravan.
What I thought: Although this is a sequel to Blood Grains Speak Through Memories, it can be read on its own (but I do think having read the first story enhances appreciation of this one). The characters, while not necessarily sympathetic, are complex and have their own agendas, and the worldbuilding and the planet’s history as they are slowly revealed become terrifyingly plausible.
recommended by Jeff
recommended by Greg Hullender
Mark Hepworth: A sequel to Blood Grains Speak Through Memories although I think it would stand alone fine. It continues the story of a strange world where humanity is highly restricted by the nanobot “grains” which permeate the environment and prevent them using destructive technologies – unless you are a grain-controlled “anchor” in which case you get spectacular powers in their service. This story delves more into the lives of the nomadic caravans of “daywalkers” who the grains will not allow to settle down lest civilisation damages the environment, and does a good job of exploring a bit more of the backstory in a quite action-filled story. Like Blood Grains, I think that the worldbuilding is the star here.
Goobergunch: I liked this a lot and didn’t know it was a sequel until after I had finished it. (And immediately added the prequel to my TBR.)
Synopsis: The Mountain on the planet of Icefall holds the mystery to a lost colony and an irresistible, fatal allure to the climbers of the universe – every one of whom has mysteriously died in the attempt to reach the summit – but Maggie is determined to be the first to reach the top. Aisha, once seriously injured in a climbing incident herself, has always supported her wife, trusting that Maggie would always return from her adventures. But no one ever returns from the Mountain.
What I Thought: This finalist for the Aurealis Award for Best SF Novella is a story of obsession and how it can lead people to make choices which destroy them – but it’s also a story of strange mysteries, and learning to cope with traumatic physical and psychological injury. Although this story takes place hundreds, if not thousands, of years from now, when planets all over the galaxy have been terraformed and colonized and the geography of the Earth has long been destroyed, it contains numerous references to 20th-century people, countries, ethnicities, and geographical features, which is incongruous enough to impair suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting story steeped in mountain-climbing lore and technical details, with some intriguing futuristic technology.
Synopsis: Something strange is happening on the shores of New England. Something stranger still is happening to the world itself, chaos unleashed, rational explanation slipped loose from the moorings of the known. Two rival agencies stare across the Void at one another. Two sisters, the deadly, sickened products of experiments going back decades, desperately evade their hunters.
What I thought: This can be read on its own, but is very loosely a sequel to Agents of Dreamland, which I enjoyed more (but I’m not a huge Lovecraft fan). While I was unenthusiastic about this one, fans of works which are in conversation with Lovecraftiana will probably really enjoy it.
Synopsis: Shortly after her marriage to Miles Vorkosigan, Ekaterin works with a scientist to help heal and reclaim the deadly radioactive wasteland left after the invasion of Barrayar.
What I thought: This is an interesting side story, and I always enjoy new stories in the world of Barrayar, but it doesn’t really delve into the details in the way I’d hoped, and it’s really disappointing how it drops the ball on what might have been a good commentary on the practice of well-off majority people stealing the children of minority poor people to give them what is perceived to be a better life. It will likely be enjoyable only to those who are familiar with the Vorkosigan universe.
Mark Hepworth: [This] is a nice enough treat for die hard fans but is far too entrenched in the details of the series to work for a casual reader. (And I’m with you on how the casual exercise of wealth and privilege to solve the problem needed examining).
Kyra: I was less impressed by [this one].
Contrarius: I thought it leaned too heavily on the themes of The Mountains of Mourning. And what in the world were all those skulls about? Fher, gur xvqf qvrq, ohg jul va gur jbeyq jbhyq nalbar qrpncvgngr gurz orsber ohevny??
Lurkertype: A pleasant diversion, but does NOT stand alone.
Lorien Gray: [This] was enjoyable but it’s hovering further down on the list.
Synopsis: This is a further adventure of Karen Memory in the Wild West, whose peaceful retirement with her partner to their new ranch is disrupted by an assortment of charlatans including spiritualists, magicians, and con-men – and something else entirely unexpected.
What I thought: There is much to like about this series, but this installment contains the same things I didn’t care for in the first one – extended internal monologues about the main character’s romantic relationship, and a really annoying, inconsistent “uneddicated” patois. It does have some really cool steampunky devices, and interestingly, introduces a supernatural element which was not present in the first book. If you like works which feature relationships that are set in SFFnal worlds, and/or enjoyed the first book, you will likely enjoy this.
Mark Hepworth: It picks up not long after the novel finished, with Karen and Priya having settled down together and enjoying a celebratory night out at the fanciest hotel in town. Inevitably this won’t go smoothly, and we quickly get mysterious – and then violent – manifestations apparently centering around a couple of spiritualists and a stage illusionist. In the middle of this Karen and Priya are trying to jostle their way into a better sense of their relationship with mixed results. I was a bit surprised by the direction this took, with the steampunk elements of the novel being joined by [spoilers], but it replicated the fun of the first book and threw in some intense character work. If I was going to criticise I’d say that it didn’t meld the two elements quite as well as it should, and as a consequence the ending was a bit jumpy. I wouldn’t be shocked if this was testing the water for The Further Adventures of Karen and Priya and The Sewing Machine, and if so I can sign up for that.
Harold Osler: Not very long but very enjoyable. I’d like to see more of [Karen Memory].
Mark Hepworth: I’m afraid I quite liked Stone Mad – but it’s not up to the first installment.
Kyra: I was less impressed by [this one].
Lurkertype: I liked but it wasn’t as good as the previous novel.
Bonnie McDaniel: I also liked [this], but it worked better as a romance and a character study than SFF.
Synopsis: After returning to her home planet, Binti discovers that factions are attempting to destroy the tenuous peace with a violent race of aliens, and must act quickly to prevent an all-out war.
What I thought: This is very clearly part 3 of a novel rather than a novella, and since it’s been a year and a half since I read part 2, it became quickly apparent that it was going to be incomprehensible to me without going back for a re-read of the first two. The cultural details in these stories are intensely interesting (and the new covers by Greg Ruth on the reissued editions are stunning!), but I was less enamored of the way that the first two each relied on a different, previously-unforeshadowed deus ex machina to wrap up the story. I opted not to do a re-read or continue with the series. If you enjoyed the first two, you’ll likely enjoy this one.
Arifel: [This is] about Binti, a girl from the Himba tribe (who are a real people, living in Namibia) with a gift for mathematics and for “harmonizing” which takes her across the stars to Oomza University, and plunges her into an interspecies conflict… In [this one], we are still on earth immediately after the events of the second book. Conflict between the Meduse and the Khoush seems inevitable, but may still be prevented if the Himba choose to intervene – a solution which, we expect, will require both Binti’s unique talents and her perseverance to pull off. From what seems like a standard conclusion to the series’ themes, however, Okorafor takes her story somewhere completely different, subverting Binti’s “chosen one” feel while simultaneously adding yet more complexity to her identity. While I wasn’t sure how to feel about this during the book itself, I was left very happy with the conclusion – and it still remains true to the themes of each book, which are themselves a refreshing and much-needed change from classic space opera.
Mark Hepworth: I can see it’s good but since the oddness of the plotting in the first one I can’t get into it.
Contrarius: I thought it was kind of a mess. Would have benefitted from just making the whole thing a novel, as you noted, and expanding on all the kitchen-sink elements being thrown in. As it stands, there wasn’t nearly enough time to deal with everything that got dumped into the pile.
Lurkertype: None of these are a complete story. And I kinda hate the main character.
Goobergunch: I am hesitant to call deus ex machina without a reread but that’s how Ovagv’f erfheerpgvba felt to me in this volume.
Synopsis: Mars Xi is a living weapon, a genetically-manipulated psychic supersoldier with a body count in the thousands, and all she wanted was to be left alone. People who get involved with her get hurt, whether by the sinister shadow agency MEPHISTO, by her psychic backlash, or by her acid tongue. It’s not smart to get involved with Mars, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying. The last time MEPHISTO came for Mars they took one of her friends with them. That was a mistake. A force hasn’t been invented that can stop a voidwitch on a rampage, and Mars won’t rest until she’s settled her debts.
What I thought: While the first in the series, Killing Gravity, was at least readable, this second one just reads like the transcript of someone’s videogame, where there’s almost no character development, and the MPC, who is ridiculously overpowered, spends the entire time just trying various attacks – many of them really stupid – and committing massive slaughters of thousands of people, instead of thinking and planning, and actually having a real plot. However, if you’re really into combat videogames, what was a minus for me might be a plus for you. Though I did really like the SJW credential, and the Tommy Arnold covers for all three novellas are fantastic, I declined to continue with the series.
Static Ruin by Corey J. White [Voidwitch Saga #3], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: Mars Xi is on the run, a bounty on her head and a kill count on her conscience. All she has left are her mutant cat Ocho and her fellow human weapon Pale, a young boy wracked by seizures who can kill with a thought. She needs him treated, and she needs to escape, and the only thread left to pull is her frayed connection to her father, Marius Teo. That thread will take her to the outskirts of the galaxy, to grapple with witch-cults and privately-owned planets, and into the hands of the man who engineered her birth.
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