SPSFC Round 1, Part 4: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

Above the Sky by J.W. Lynne

First of all, J.W. Lynne shares a great name with yours truly, who has gone by J.W. his whole life. Lynne is a woman, and her writing rocks. More on that now! Second of all, this book’s description makes it sound possibly derivative–shades of The Hunger Games and Divergent and we’ve already gotten about a million of these copycat books, right? Yes, we do, but Above the Sky grabbed me at the beginning with some great characterization and, more importantly, an intriguing overhanging threat that is alluded to from the beginning of the story–something that is above the sky. As the teens deal with Ender’s Game like scenarios, that lingering threat looms in the reader’s head. What exactly is “Above the Sky”? I don’t know, but I can tell you right now I’ll have this on my yes list because I want to find out.

Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees by Rob Kent

Other readers in my group noted that this one seems aimed towards a younger age group. That is a disqualification based on our rules, but we in the group were also interested enough to investigate by reading to see if that was the case. I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of juvenile fiction as an adult, and Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees does read like an enjoyable romp. It’s on the “no” list because of the contest rules, but readers who enjoy (intentionally) silly robot stories and juvenile fiction should check it out.

World of Difference by WJ Donovan

So close to having two people with the same initials as myself in one book contest! That would have been awesome. WJ was a nickname I had in grade school, though. Anyway, I am guessing readers are more interested in the contents of the book than my musings about people’s names, so here goes. At 11% in, I’m not sure what to make of this novel. There are a lot of character threads being introduced and it’s a bit hard to get my legs under myself as it goes. On the flip side, there’s enough action and intrigue here–and weird technology combined with today’s technology–to make a mashup of interesting that makes me want to keep going. I’m going to push my read of it to 20% and make a decision then, but I’m thinking this is a firm maybe right now.

Round 1 Status

I’ve now dipped my toes into 12 out of 31 books. I’m now at 3 yes, 5 no, and 4 maybes. That “maybes” list is going to have to get cut down for me at some point, but I don’t want to think about that right now. Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer seasons 3 and 4

It turns out that there are a lot of shows I’ve wanted to watch for a while but never got around to. I’ve been catching up, though! I recently finished my first-ever watch-through of Babylon 5 (check out my posts on the series) and I’m 4 seasons (well, at the beginning of season 5) in Buffy. This show is… phenomenal. My discussion of the seasons 3 and 4 follows, and will have SPOILERS for those seasons. Please do not spoil later seasons for me!

Season 3

“Anne” was a good episode to set up the rest of the season–seeing Buffy so distraught while watching her group of friends attempt to make up for her not being around was a solid thread. Having Angel return is a huge lead on the whole time, and I kinda wish I didn’t know a separate show for Angel exists. That made me fairly confident going in that he was going to leave. And of course he does pull what I call the “Spiderman.” The Spiderman is when someone decides they can’t be with the person they love for some allegedly honorable or noble reason but it’s really just annoying because their decision doesn’t resolve the alleged problem to begin with. Anyway, Angel gives Buffy the Spiderman, and a bit of it goes in the other direction. I am sure there’s all kinds of fan fic dedicated to having them end up together forever (and I guess it is theoretically possible they get back together in-universe at some later point–there’s a lot of the show to go).

There are other threads, of course. Willow’s own burgeoning power(s) is a fun one. Faith is an exciting character, and I didn’t really expect them to take her in the direction they did. It’s pretty awesome to see more of the Council and the interactions they have with Buffy.

At this point I’m totally into the show. I love its lore, I love the characters, and I think it has built an exceptional amount of story to build upon. I’m glad to see there are comics and novels that explore more of the series. If you have any (spoiler-free!) recommendations, please let me know!

Season 4

Season 4 started off a bit rough, in my opinion. The new setting, a group of new characters, and having a bunch of other characters get introduced and then killed off right away made it start feeling a bit like a monster-of-the-week scenario. But then the storylines that continued to draw threads through the season really got their feet under them and the season just became a series of high point after high point. Honestly, it’s my favorite season so far.

One obvious high point is the episode “Hush.” I don’t like horror movies. I just don’t like thinking about all the grossness that goes into the awful ways people devise to kill people in horror movies. Here, the established characters and extremely creepy makeup and music combined with eerie silence of everyone involved make it a haunting and amazing experience. It’s honestly one of the best episodes I’ve seen of anything.

Oz? Oz came back as a one-off!? What the heck? I honestly didn’t expect them to bring him back and then tie him off as a character all at once. It makes me wonder if something was happening behind the scenes because he was such a fun character, and I loved having werewolves around. I guess it did get tedious having to have episodes where he was stuck in werewolf prison off and on, but I also thought they could have taken him as leader of a werewolf pack around town and run with it. I wonder if we’ll see more of him someday.

Faith’s resolution (for now? who knows) is another great twist. She was a good villain, and the hints at the end of this season about the “darkness” inside Slayers is interesting.

“Superstar” was one of the most fun episodes of television… ever. It was surreal in a way that was never horrifying or frightening (looking at you, “Hush”), but delivered the goods on plot, fun, and character development. I hope Jonathan shows up again. Adam and all the secret agents I haven’t really discussed at all to this point, but I thought they did a fabulous job. Like I said–the threads that started early in this season truly give great payoffs later. It’s a delight all the way through. I can’t wait to watch more.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 3: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest Reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

Things They Buried by Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson

Kids are disappearing, and only a few people are paying attention. Things They Buried sucked me in with it’s intriguing world-building but left me a little confused about its direction and tone. I read 23% of this one so far, and I am enjoying it. It’s got a sense of lost-ness and bewilderment at times that is almost as unsettling as some of the horror-ish elements. I’m not really sure how to categorize this one, either. Science fantasy seems accurate, but how much of the fantasy elements are really science? I don’t know. I’m interested enough to read more, though this remains a maybe for me.

Zenith: The Interscission Project Book One by Arshad Ahsanuddin

I’m not really sure what to make of this one. The cover had me thinking far future, but the story itself seems like it could be happening today. The premise is some kind of group of corporations is working together to try to get technology to travel between stars. The problem is finding a crew willing to risk their lives on an unproven technology. At 20%, not much has happened, and I don’t think it’s making the cut for me.

The Jagged Edge by AJ Frazer

Frazer’s book reads like a thriller more than sci-fi, but it’s got traces there, too. I am not sure what to make of it at 20% in. Shadowy insinuations about eco-terrorism and the possibility of changing the ecology as well as environment are starting to appear, but the bulk of the story so far is some rich guy having fun climbing mountains and having sex. It seems like the story is just about to take off, which has me interested, but also at 1/5 into the book, I lean towards thinking I should be more invested. This one sits firmly in the “maybe” category for me.

Round 1 Status

I’ve at least sampled 9 out of 31 books. I need to eliminate 2/3 books every time, and this part of round 1 has me with one maybe and one yes. So far, that means I have 2 yes, 4 no, and 3 maybes. See my previous posts in this series to read my other sample thoughts. Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: Warren G. Harding #29

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Warren G. Harding, the twenty-ninth President of the United States. My normal selection process for finding a biography (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) was made difficult by the dearth of biographies written about Harding. You’d think being President would give you a surefire path to having biographies churned out about you every so often, but you’d be wrong. Anyway, I chose The Harding Era by Robert K. Murray. 

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

Warren G. Harding- The Harding Era by Robert K. Murray

Warren Gamaliel [how’s that for a biblical middle name?] Harding was clearly one of the more corrupt Presidents that our country has ever had. Murray’s biography focuses almost exclusively on his Presidency, so I was left to other sources to research Harding’s early life. Harding ran his town’s newspaper before he got fully into politics, and one almost wonders if this impacted his later life as he almost begged to have sordid headlines written about him later on. 

As President, Harding faced many challenges, both home and abroad. The end of World War I still loomed over the world and many questions raised by the armistice were unresolved by the time Harding was sworn in. Demobilization of the military, social and economic readjustments thereof, Congress was largely floundering with no clear leadership, lack of postwar planning in general, and massive labor issues were among the several challenges Harding faced immediately.

The League of Nations was one of the largest foreign policy challenges, and Harding ran, in part, on a kind of opposition ticket. Oddly, he favored something very similar but wouldn’t name it as a “League of Nations,” opting for looser terms. That’s not all that different from many politicians today who fail to acknowledge by name the policies or policy-makers who make popular decisions, but it doesn’t make it any more frustrating. Harding ultimately managed to convene a naval conference that led to limits on the building of navies worldwide and managed to maintain some semblance of peace for a decade until nations flagrantly violated the treaty. One may fairly ask whether Harding’s own opposition to a stronger League may be to blame for the massive military buildups that then occurred. 

Demobilization had to happen swiftly for Americans to be satisfied. The War was won, so the general consensus was there was no reason to keep soldiers in place. But because of a total lack of planning for what should happen after the war–something the biography Murray blames almost entirely upon Woodrow Wilson–this rapid demobilization led to economic turmoil and collapse. Harding thus tried to navigate these economic problems by supporting farmers and then attempting to give some concessions to labor.

But even as he did this, Harding installed benefactors and friends in important positions in government, resulting in numerous scandals as these people proved to be incompetent or blatantly in violation of U.S. laws. Harding botched his handling of many of these affairs, and may have been involved in scandalous affairs himself. 

Harding also strongly supported the notion and wording of “America First,” a policy that many probably don’t know can be traced back to Harding and beyond. Harding’s notion of America First was quite popular and involved strong anti-immigration sentiment. This was backed by anti-Catholic sentiment as well and notions that people from certain European countries were more to be favored as citizens than those from others. This ethnically charged concept of what it means to be “American” persists to this day, and we can thank the legacy of unfortunately popular policies like those of Harding, in part, for this persistence. 

Overall, Harding’s Presidency did help bring peace back to the world, though, as is unfortunately the case with so many of our Presidents, this peace and attempt to bring forward prosperity was largely directed towards select white elites. 

Warren G. Harding’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Warren Harding (29th President – Original Ranking #25)- Harding tackled some of the major problems that the Wilson administration left behind, and did so with some success at points. His navigation of international waters (in some cases, literally) helped bring peace through mutual agreement over naval treaties and other efforts to maintain lasting peace. Though these ultimately failed, it is hard to lay much of the blame for the failure at Harding’s feet. However, we can blame much ongoing racial tension and white supremacy at Harding’s feet and his promotion of the quite popular (now and then) “America First” policies he favored. Moreover, his Presidency was wracked with scandal and corruption on a scale that impacted domestic policy and wide ranges of people. It seems clear more evaluation of Harding is warranted, and it would be interesting to see more modern takes on his time in office.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 2: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest Reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot

Ever read a book that is well-written and even engrossing but also turns you off based on the world? That’s kind of how I felt through the first 20% of this one. The world is honestly depressing. I enjoy my share of grimdark–I’m a huge fan of Warhammer 40K, for example–but this just felt relentless in a feeling of hopelessness and even anger. The main character is like wandering around in a future Earth that was literally turned upside down by apocalyptic war. He’s traveling with his mom, who hates him and they talk about how they want him dead a bunch. It’s relentlessly dark almost to the level of being a caricature. I honestly am guessing some of the other reviewers may vote for this one to be one we finish because it reads as some quality writing, and I’ll read it if it comes to that. For now my vote is against it. It’s too sad.

Dragon’s Baby by Miranda Martin

I’ll be honest up front: romance is just not my genre. Don’t get me long, I enjoy romantic connections between characters and enjoy many classics that might be called “romance,” in a sense, but the genre that is largely considered “romance” now is just not my cup of tea. I decided to give Dragon’s Baby a fair go, and read 30% of it instead of the 10-20% we’re committed to for each book before moving on. I was surprised because it didn’t really seem like anything happened… at all. Like, there’s some space dragon guy with multiple man-parts who is sad or something, and there’s some women over in this other part of the universe who are joking about guys and that’s… really about it. I almost want to keep going just to see if anything at all happens, but this just isn’t my style.

This Blue Ball by Wayne V. Miller

The award for the most minimalistic cover goes to… this book! I don’t dislike minimalism, though. As of my look at this book, it has no reviews on either Amazon or Goodreads. That certainly makes it feel like among the most indie of the indie titles we have in this contest. The story is told through a series of “weblog” entries as a kind of found story. The main character of these weblogs is… not a very good person as far as I can tell. There’s some subtle racist and sexist tones here, but I can’t tell if the author is critiquing them or not. The guy writing the weblog isn’t the most likable, but the story is intriguing to me. I can’t decide if it’s a yes or no yet so I’m putting it on my maybe stack.

Round 1 Status

I’ve now dipped my toes into 6 out of 31 books, with tons more to go. I need to eliminate 2/3 books every time, and this part of round 1 has me with one maybe out of 3. So far, that means I have 2 yes, 3 no, and a maybe! Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time- “A Call to Arms”

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Now I’ve finished the series, but am working my way through the movies, related works, comics, and books. Please don’t spoil anything from other works here! 

A Call to Arms

The story of this movie is fairly straightforward: Sheridan is sent to stop a threat from the Drakh against Earth, even while he and others experience baffling visions to do so. Ultimately, they manage to stop the Drakh planet-killer only to have some Drakh escape and release a plague on Earth.

I think this is the most off-feeling of any of the major Babylon 5 things I’ve experienced so far. The movie just doesn’t feel like Babylon 5 as much as many of the others do. But even that might be a testament to good writing. As viewers, we are almost forced to question the narrative of the movie as we experience insights through what seem to be compromised narrative perspectives. do we trust Sheridan’s visions or are they misleading? What of the other characters who show up with similar visions? Are the Drakh really the primary threat, or is something bigger happening?

Ultimately, these questions are answered, but only after quite a bit of second-guessing on the part of the viewer. The conclusion of the movie also leaves the story very open-ended, leaving me to wonder what happens next. I think what I struggled with most, though, was the kind of off-feeling I had the whole time, as described above. It was hard to get fully invested in the film when I wasn’t entirely sure I trusted it.

Throughout this whole movie, the music is overwhelming. The music is full of major drum beats, repetitions, and a volume that sometimes threatens to drown out the dialogue. It was the first time in watching anything from Babylon 5 that I thought the music was too much. It’s not bad–though it verges on silly at times–it’s just a combination of factors that starts to make it a distraction from the on-screen action.

The end is clearly a setup for the follow-up series, “Crusade.” As a whole, the movie is worth watching for more Babylon 5 but has an open-ended feel I wasn’t expecting. It does at least provide a direction for an answer to what happens with the Drakh, the infamous allies of the Shadows. I’m curious to dive into Crusade, now, and see what happens next.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.)

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Wherever Seeds May Fall” by Peter Cawdron

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is well underway, and I’m bringing you reviews as I finish books.

There will be some minor spoilers in my reviews.

Wherever Seeds May Fall by Peter Cawdron

There’s an object in space, but it’s behaving in a way suggests more than it just being an asteroid. As the evidence becomes more and clear that there’s more than meets the eye, people on Earth race to do the math, figure out what’s happening, and manage the political consequences of whatever news they come up with.

It’s a pretty fantastic premise, though it’s been done before. What makes Cawdron’s work stand out is a combination of great characterization, contemporary issues, and adept use of science and action to keep the plot moving.

Cawdron introduces a number of very contemporary issues in the novel. One character is a full-on conspiracy theorist with a huge platform for spreading misinformation. But Cawdron gives even this character development, so that even what could turn into a caricature has more dimensions than may initially seem. Other characters get development throughout the book, but largely are there to help push the plot along. That said, they all have clear personalities and are well-written.

There’s science in this book–and as far as I can tell as a lay person, it’s pretty accurate. There are even a few illustrations throughout the novel showing how the object might be impacted by various bodies in our solar system. I’m a huge fan of hard sci-fi, and so I ate this all up. It’s quite well done.

Wherever Seeds May Fall was the first book I started reading for the SPSFC and I gotta say that for me it’s a frontrunner to win the contest. Have you read it, and if so, what do you think?

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Hugo Award for Best Series: 2021 Reviews

Reading the nominations for the Hugo Awards for Best Series takes dedication. I have read at least the first three books of every single one of the series and given the series a grade and review based upon that reading. If I have not read the entire series, I have noted it in my review of the series. I would love to talk about these series with you, dear readers, and want to know what you think about them. Which is your favorite? Have you read them all? This year’s nominations are a pile of excellent books, so it’s worth diving in.

S. A. Chakraborty: The Daevabad Trilogy- Grade: A (The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, The Empire of Gold)
There’s an allure about this whole series that stays with the reader all the way through. Chakraborty does such a fabulous job of building the world that the sights, smells, and sounds of the trilogy stick with the reader long after the books are closed. The different tribes of the Djinn make for some surprising conflicts and even protagonists and antagonists. The shifting nature of allegiance throughout the series means readers have to pay close attention even as they admire the prose and movement of the stories. It’s somewhat rare to see the final volume of a trilogy be the strongest, but I personally thought that was the case here, with The Empire of Gold providing a truly wonderful conclusion to the trilogy that had been building throughout. Chakraborty will most certainly be on my list of authors to read more

John Scalzi: The Interdependency– Grade: B+ (The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, and The Last Emperox)
Scalzi is endlessly entertaining. Every one of the books in this trilogy made me grin and even laugh out loud at times. Reading his novels can sometimes feel like reading an entertaining blog post that happens to go on for hundreds of pages. It’s not the strongest prose, but it’s captivating and always fun. All of that said, the story of this space opera felt alternatively epic and rushed. The premise is that there’s a way of travel that connects an entire empire together, and that way of travel is collapsing. The powers that be must then figure out what to do to secure their power or run into the night before the inevitable doomsday for all society. It’s a great premise, and it, along with the entertainment factor of Scalzi’s writing, carries the series on its back. The characters here aren’t as strong as some of the other works on this list, and the plot of the last book, The Last Emperox, feels extremely rushed. It’s unfortunate, because the series does have that sense of the epic at times, but as the events spiral too quickly, it loses it. Scalzi walks that fine line space operas must so often walk between being so huge they get overdone and rushing events too quickly, and he leans over to the “rushing” side with some frequency. All of that said, the series is immensely enjoyable top to bottom simply because of his writing. It also features one of my all-time favorite book dedications with The Last Emperox: “To the women who are done with other people’s shit.”

Mary Robinette Kowal: The Lady Astronaut Series- Grade: A+ (The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky, The Relentless Moon, and several short stories)
Kowal is a master of characterization, and this series demonstrates that beyond measure. An alternate history in which an asteroid strike smashed off the east coast of the United States and forced humanity to look to the stars for hope in colonization sounds like a pitch that would play out somewhat differently than it does. The thrust of these novels is much less about the impact of this asteroid strike on civilization than it is about following a few characters caught up in the work to become (lady) astronauts and explore space for the sake of all humanity. I have not read any of the shorter stories in this series, but did read all the novels, including the first one twice. Anyway, the first book, The Calculating Stars, won the Hugo Award for best novel a few years back. It touches on issues of racism, sexism, and more, all while couching it in familiar 1950s-60s vibes and culture. Kowal did her research and historical notes at the end of each book gives some fascinating insights into the novels. The second book, The Fated Sky, gives surprising insight into the characters we grew to love (and hate) in the first book, and it has launched itself in among my favorite science fiction novels. The third novel, The Relentless Moon, is also a nominee for best novel this year, and it follows one of our lady astronauts on the home front as others are on the way to Mars in the second book. Each novel is fantastic, and the series as a whole is as well. Fans of science fiction and/or period pieces will eat this up, and the series is a clear frontrunner for best series.

Martha Wells: The Murderbot Diaries- Grade: A- (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy, and Network Effect)
The star of this series is the titular Murderbot, a security robot whose busted its programming and sometimes fantasizes about the murder it could carry out but mostly spends its time instead on protecting those close to it and binging TV shows. It’s a solid setup that allows for Wells to bounce from one-off to one-off while developing longer character arcs here and there. The first four works are novellas, and they move with the intensity and action of their format. Network Effect is the first novel in the series, and it has gotten a Hugo nomination (and a Nebula Win) under its belt already. The hugely popular series is popular for good reason: they’re just plain fun to sit down and read. Time and pages fly past when you read these largely escapist books. Wells weaves a few hints at our own political and societal concerns into the series as well for readers looking something deeper. The series is also continuing, as Wells signed a contract for several more works in the series with Tor Books.

Seanan McGuire: The October Daye Series- Grade: A (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, and many more novels and stories)
A huge series with 15 (and counting) novels and a host of shorter works to go with it, the October Daye series follows our half-fae character, October (Toby) Daye and her adventures intersecting the realms of fairy and our own. Whether she’s solving a murder, getting involved in kidnappings, or fighting demonic fae, the series brings action and whimsy together in delightful story after delightful story. These are quick reads, but they are more robust than you might think based on that description. McGuire has a way of worldbuilding that continues to work on itself, block after block, in ways that surprise and delight. The wild thing about this is that this isn’t even my favorite series from McGuire, but her writing is just so good that I keep coming back regardless of what she’s writing. I recommend you give it a try, too, because it’s worth finding out if you, too, can have another author that you plan to read everything from at the earliest possible moment. I love it. I read the first 5 novels before writing this, and plan to read the rest forthwith.

R. F. Kuang: The Poppy War- Grade: B- (The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic, The Burning God)
Kuang’s first book, The Poppy War, contains some of the absolute most gruesome and horrific descriptions of violence I have ever read in any book, whether fiction or nonfiction. I believe that is on purpose. However, I found the extreme amount and brutal details of gory violence to genuinely eat away at my enjoyment of that novel. It was especially surprising because early on, the book feels a bit like a Young Adult novel. I am not at all critical of something being YA. I love YA. I think rejecting something just because it’s YA is the height of stupidity regarding reading habits. I’m only saying it felt YA because it read like a “hey we’re going to school to learn how to fight” story that dominates a lot of YA fantasy at times. Then, it got so supremely dark that I almost felt sick to my stomach reading it. Such extreme violent could be pointless–and it almost feels like it here–but it’s also true that Kuang seems to be emulating some real life events, whether it’s an examination of Japan’s atrocities on China’s mainland in the second World War or more modern events (like the casual violence of running someone over to ensure you don’t have to pay for disabilities after an accident). These are themes worth exploring, but the extreme nature of the violence is so intense that I found it taking away from my enjoyment of the novels. Maybe, on some higher literary plain, there’s a sense that novels aren’t for enjoyment and that they can be for instruction or activism. I don’t disagree, but I also wonder whether the level of description was necessary. Regardless, I did read the whole series and I think the central plot is good, and sometimes surprising. I admit I started to skip over whole sections of text when I discovered more violence coming, though.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi – A canonical launch

I have very little patience for gatekeeping in fandom, because people can like what they like, but for myself, I was a bit upset that Disney didn’t at least allow the Expanded Universe of Star Wars novels to get a final wrap up on some of the most important stories. Yeah, I went ahead and read fanfic that wrapped up the stories of Luke, Jacen, Jaina, et al. in a satisfactory way, but I still wanted more official novels that I didn’t have to go through a redo in my headcanon to figure out. Along comes The High Republic, and I was excited to dive in. I read Light of the Jedi the moment my library got it in, but then forgot to review it. With the second batch of High Republic stuff coming, I revisited the novel.

Light of the Jedi does a great job introducing a “new”-ish time period to Star Wars readers. A large number of new characters are thrown at the reader pretty quickly, so while we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them to get to know them better, we also get a feel that this world is pretty big. One of the most valid complaints with Star Wars in general, in my opinion, is that the universe is so big but feels small because a group of about 10 characters is responsible for basically everything in-universe of any import. With the large number of characters introduced in Light of the Jedi, I’m hoping this won’t be as much of an issue for this series.

SPOILER-ish stuff after this

The central thrust of the plot is a looming disaster of some kind of asteroid-things coming in and shattering a bunch of inhabited planets. But, plot twist, those “asteroids” are actually broken up pieces of an inhabited ship itself so the Jedi and others involved in trying to stop them from smashing all these planets can’t just blast them out of the sky! It’s got all the tension and big impact that some of the best space opera has, but also some of the campy silliness that is part of Star Wars. I was a fan of the main plot, even though I had to enormously suspend my disbelief at points. For example, the speed at which this debris is coming in seems to vary as necessary at the speed of plot. At one point, it’s said to be traveling at or near hyperspace speeds or lightspeed, but then it somehow takes minutes or hours to cross the space between a few objects. Light from the sun takes about five and a half hours to get to Pluto, so some of this timing is just… off.

The stakes felt pretty high in the book, though, because literally any character could die or be put in mortal peril. As a reader, I had no idea who might make it out or why. That’s because we don’t have the notion that any of these characters have to be immortal for the plot to continue. It certainly feels like a new page in the era of Star Wars novels, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Light of the Jedi is a solid introduction to The High Republic. I’ll be reading more of these novels as they come out, and I’m hopeful we’ll get that Star Wars-y feel with a bigger universe than ever. Let me know what you thought of the book in the comments!

Links

Star Wars Hub– Read all my posts about Star Wars here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

First off, this book has a great cover, with hints of anime/manga mecha combat. I figured this one would be right up my alley. The author graciously provided an audio copy of the book, so I dove in to listening as I folded an embarassing amount of laundry on my day off.

So far, the book definitely seems like it’s in my wheelhouse. It’s the story of a kid with an uncertain background working his way through a cutthroat fighting (martial arts) school in a future (maybe?) in which the fights settle wars or conflicts before they break out… or something. There’s a lot of worldbuilding to happen yet, but it thrust me as a reader right into the action while also giving an intriguing glimpse of a bigger world. I’ll be listening to this whole thing, most likely before we even give it the rubber stamp to continue to the next round.

I should note, too, because this matters: I think the reader does a fantastic job. Fair warning: I always listen to books at 2x speed, so my judgment is based on that.

Wherever Seeds May Fall by Peter Cawdron

I was grabbed by this one the moment I started reading it. It’s got elements of hard sci-fi and first contact, and those are two of my favorite sub-genres. The opening is a good scene, in my opinion, too: it’s a domestic scene as two couples start to chat during dinner, a NASA transmission that one of them is desperately trying to watch on in the background. As they finally settle in and watch, the unexpected nature of the way the comet/asteroid bounces leads to more questions, and those set the stage for the rest of the novel.

I was sucked into this one from the get-go, and I’m now 24% into this book, despite round 1 being “read 10-20%”! Cawdron threw some extremely relevant present day stuff into this novel, and that has me wanting to see where he’s going to take it.

Turnabout by Carmen Webster Buxton

I’m going to file this under “not my type of book.” It uses the term “harem” in one description and the first 20% feels like intense teen-ish drama with a bit of forced action mixed in. Not my style, though I suspect it is for some–if that’s what you enjoy, check it out!

Round 1 Status

I’ve now dipped my toes into 3 out of 31 books, with tons more to go. With two of these three on my “yes” list, I am hoping I won’t have to get too crazy and circle back and uncheck any yes boxes later. Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.