Rosewater (4*) & Rosewater: Insurrection (5*)

Book: Rosewater and Rosewater: Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Here I was about to start writing my review for Rosewater: Insurrection when I realised that Rosewater was one of the books I read before I properly got going on my blog so I don’t actually have a review up for that so instead I am putting two reviews together into one post (not unlike what I did when I was catching up with my reviews of Emma Newman’s Planetfall series).

I will still be trying to keep spoilers hidden so anything like that should be hidden under a cut as normal. Hopefully this won’t be too fiddly to work out since I am doing it for two reviews, but I shall do my best to make sure that nothing is spoilered unless someone intends it to be.

Rosewater

RosewaterI first heard Tade talk about this book at SFXCon 2 in November last year I think it was and I was instantly fascinated and wanted to buy it. A science-fiction book set in Nigeria and dealing with a very unusual take on an alien invasion.

Though one of the things that peaked my interest was the answer Tade gave to a conversation about what the first things you know about a character are and he talked about how they dealt with bodily fluids. Not an answer I was expecting and made me fascinated to see what effect that way of thinking would have on character development and writing.

Anyway, to briefly explain the premise of the book, an entity known as Rosewater has come to Earth from somewhere else, first burying under England but after being driven away reappears in Nigeria. The entity create a biodome there and a city springs up around it, people drawn for all sorts of reasons including the healing powers of the dome.

The main character is a man called Kaaro who has psychic powers and uses them in the employ of a government department who deals with things connected to the alien in the dome. He has a shady past and we learn more about that past and how it connects to the events unfolding now and what they might mean for humanity as a whole.

The book is spendidly written and interweaves stories from the past and current timelines in an excellent fashion. The main character is kinda unlikeable in some ways, he’s a bit of a sexist douchebag at times, but the way he is shown also shows us those qualities as bad and he does have some good points too.

This is one of the most unique science-fiction books I have read in a while and the fact that it has been up for so many awards is well deserved in my opinion. I highly recommend it and honestly it very nearly made it to 5 stars for me, but Kaaro is such an ass that I couldn’t quite bring myself to do so.

Rosewater: Insurrection

rosewater insurrectionAfter how much I enjoyed the first one, I ended up pre-ordering the second one (no hardbacks makes me very happy I will admit, means I get to read things quicker!) I devoured this one just as quickly as the first and honestly I do think it is, on the whole, a better book.

I will admit part of the reason for that is that this book focuses more on the character of Aminat, who meet in the first book as she is involved with Kaaro. In the book she has to guard a woman whose wellbeing is tied to the future of Rosewater as the city comes under threat from things both without and within it.

The story is not told solely from Aminat’s perspective, we get to see how the events unfolding affect a number of people associated with Rosewater and it vastly increases our understanding of what is going on within the city.

Several of the point of view characters are women though and they are women done well, they all have their own motivations, personality and quirks that come through very strongly. They are not always the “strong female character” trope and have more depth than that and I honestly really liked them and how they were portrayed.

These books are fabulous pieces of work and I highly recommend people to read them, I hope that you will not be disappointed. This sort of a unique science-fiction story is one of the reasons I love the genre so much. Not just unique because of being set in Nigeria, but the way the characters and setting are done is not the normal way we might expect and that is honestly refreshing and excellent to read.

Now my friendly spoiler warning.

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Walking to Aldebaran (5*)

Book – Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

WtABrief disclaimer: I received a copy of this on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Well back reading something else by Adrian so given my love of everything else I have read by him it did seem quite likely that I would enjoy this too and I was certainly not disappointed.

It’s a novella but what it lacks in length it easily makes up in tone and character. Not only does it manage strong worldbuilding for the situation that you find yourself reading about, but the voice of the character is incredible and you cannot help but be gripped by his circumstances and what is going on around him.

The story follows Gary Rendell, an astronaut sent on a mission to investigate a strange alien artefact discovered out on the edges of our solar system. He is separated from the rest of his group and must try and survive on his own as he tries to find them in an environment which changes quite often.

It’s a thrilling read and you get caught up in his trials and tribulations as you slowly work out more about what is going on and how he got to this point. With an unreliable narrator whose mental health has likely taken a beating due to what is happening it means that the story twists and turns, leaving you with a lot of build up and suspense before a wonderfully done ending.

Honestly this was refreshingly original science-fiction, not that I generally expect much less from Adrian and well worth a read. I hope to see it up for some award nominations in the future.

Spoiler part of the review below:

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Our Child of the Stars (4*)

Book – Our Child of the Stars by Stephen Cox

Our Child of the StarsBrief disclaimer: Stephen is a member of my writing group, though I joined just before the book came out so I wasn’t involved in the actual process of giving him feedback on it as he went along.

As with the last review I am going to be breaking this into two parts, a spoiler free one and one with spoilers. The second part will be under a cut for those who wish to avoid it.

The book is the story of Molly and Gene Myers, who sadly have lost their own child. In the aftermath a meteor strikes their small town and changes their lives forever as hidden in that event is the crash of a spaceship. The sole survivor, Cory, is a young boy who the Myers end up adopting.

Cory has to be kept secret though for fear of the government taking him and that means not telling anyone in their lives, not friends or family, but can such a secret be kept forever? And can Cory help heal the Myers and can they help him deal with the trauma of his own loss?

The story is a beautiful tale of family and the love between one, no matter how the family comes to be constructed. As the relationships are central to the story I wouldn’t call this a high action book, though it does get more tense as it progresses. I would also say that it doesn’t need to be. Like Becky Chambers Wayward series, the focus is more on the characters so what it needs to carry it is strong voices and that is what you get.

Gene, Molly and Cory are all well developed people who jump off the page at you. None of them are perfect and that makes them more real. Likewise you get to see a number of people in the town, many with differing views on politics and other things, yet most with a strong sense of community in spite of those differences and that is really refreshing to see.

Overall the messages in the book are pretty positive. Not all of the people are nice and some make terrible choices, but they all have their own motivations and differing goals so the cast feels pretty solid. The nicer parts of human nature are shown more but that feels like a deliberate choice to be more positive and that works well.

I have been struggling to put words to why I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5, because it is a good book and I definitely enjoyed it. I think it’s likely that something just isn’t quite clicking with me in the way I require for it to be 5 stars, but it is also a debut novel so plenty of room to grow and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

Spoiler part below

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Love, Death and Robots

Love, Death and Robots

love death and robots

I was pretty excited when I saw this anthology pop up. I mean a collection of sci-fi stories that have been animated? Yes please! Then I saw that almost all the stories had been written by men and it was in fact a very male project and I deflated somewhat. There are still some good stories in here that are worth a look, but the fact that it’s not a massively diverse production shows and that was a shame. I hope if they do more in future they will look at that.

There are only two stories written by women as far as I can tell, it’s harder to be sure about other diversities without looking up the authors in more detail. One story is for sure written by a person of colour, unsure about any of the others though and certainly no idea about sexuality representation except to say that the stories don’t have much of that in them.

 

Sonnie’s Edge (4*)

Written by Peter F Hamilton

sonnie

The first short is about a feminine presenting person who pilots a fighting monster in an arena, the only woman to do so. She is asked to throw the next match by a rich man and refuses. It is suggested that the fact she was gang raped a year previously is what gives her the edge in fights and why she has had such a long-running streak in the arena.

Bad: Rape as a background for a female character is very, very tired and was only necessary as a misdirection.

Good: Above motivation does not turn out to be what gives her the edge she has in a fight, which I actually appreciated. Also liked the casually queer character, that was a nice touch.

Generally this is fine to watch, with the caveats regarding her backstory as mentioned above. The ending is quite satisfying.

 

Three Robots (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

three robots

Three robots are on holiday in a post-apocalyptic Earth. There’s a beautiful nod to Terminator a short while in where one of the robots steps on and breaks a human skull. It’s overall a very humorous look at them not really understanding human things and making a lot of wrong assumptions. The bit with the cat is absolutely perfect, especially the reference to Exploding Kittens.

Bad: There is use of pussy as an insult early on which always annoys me. No need for that really. I don’t mind genitalia-based insults, but where there is no equivalent male swear that means the same thing I dislike it.

Good: Overall one of the best ones in the anthology, well written, makes some interesting points about the fate of humans and manages to be really quite funny at the same time.

 

The Witness (2*)

Written by Alberto Mielgo

thewitness

A woman in a hotel room witnesses a man murder a woman in the hotel opposite her and runs. He starts pursuing her across time and she becomes more and more desperate to get away from him.

Bad: It’s extremely oversexualised, which for something with violence at the core of it was not a good look for me. There’s a particular scene in a private club which spends ages lingering over shots of naked women or people in BDSM gear and it adds very little to the whole thing other than to titillate and I definitely could have done without it.

There is a “twist” ending which is set up right from the start if you pay close attention and smacked to me of thinking it was way more clever than it actually managed to be.

Recommendation is to give this one a miss the premise isn’t good enough to make up for the way it treats violence against women and in fact women in general if I am honest.

 

Suits (4.5*)

Written by Steven Lewis

Love-Death-Robots-Suits

A group of farmers have some mech suits to help them defend against an incursion of massive bugs. A new wave of them is approaching and the farmers take to their suits to protect what they own. It has a very sci-fi frontier feel about it, helped along by the soundtrack. Mostly it’s a story about normal people working together in difficult circumstances.

Bad: Not much if I am honest. My main complaint would be that it’s the guys who pilot the mechs for the most part whilst the women do support systems, but none of them are useless and the older woman pilot is a badass. There is also a random mother-in-law joke, kinda tired of those.

Good: Pretty much everything else. It’s a good story, well told and it draws you in from start to finish. You find yourself rooting for these people very quickly which makes the events poignant and something you definitely care about.

One to watch, one of the best ones in the anthology.

 

Sucker of Souls (2*)

Written by Kirsten Cross

suckerof souls

The story starts with two men running away from some sort of monster. They appear to be underground. It then flashes back in time to when they uncovered the tomb of something called the sucker of souls.

Bad: The team involved in the expedition appears to be pretty much all men, not a woman in sight.

Good: For some reason I am deeply amused by random monster penis. Was it needed? No, but it was funny. Also, Dracula being afraid of cats which I did appreciate, though it did lead to a pussy joke that I definitely could have done without.

Please note this story does contain ridiculous anime levels of gore so if that is a problem for you then definitely skip this one. Other than that, it’s not bad. It’s not a great story, I didn’t find anything particularly new or interesting about it though.

 

When the Yoghurt Took Over (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

yoghurt

This is a bizarre little story about how humanity was taken over by sentient yoghurt. The narrator appears to the same voice actor who voiced Brain from Pinky and the Brain and that is distracting. Not sure what else to say about the plot, watch it and see how it unfolds is what I recommend.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a fun little story with an excellent point to it.

Good: It’s surreal, it’s weird and it’s well done. Definitely watch it.

 

Beyond the Aquila Drift (4*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

aquila

The crew of a ship execute a jump to their destination, but something goes wrong and they end up a long way from home and must deal with the consequences of what that means, with the help of someone else who is stranded out there.

Bad: Not much really, it’s a very human portrayal of what would be a pretty terrifying experience.

Good: It’s nice to see something that plays with perception and reality and also shows that compassion is by no means solely a human thing.

 

Good Hunting (4*)

Written by Ken Liu

good hunting

The son of a spirit hunter makes friends with a spirit and together they navigate a world changing from one of magic to one of technology, both being harmed by the influence of the British Empire on China.

Bad: Lots of sexualisation of women, there is a point to it but it’s still frustrating, especially when the motivations of the main female character are largely based on revenge for her treatment at the hands of her clients.

Good: It’s one of the few stories in this collection with diverse representation at the heart of it. It also does not shy away from being quite blunt about the effect of colonialism and racism on a people. I also enjoyed the Steampunk elements of it, as well as seeing how that sort of genre can be approached in a different way.

 

The Dump (2*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

dump

An old man who lives in a dump faces eviction and tells the guy a story about what happened with a friend of his not that long ago as a delaying tactic.

Bad: I really didn’t like this one, no female characters in it to have an issue with, but my main problem was just that I hated all of the characters and as a result found it impossible to care about their predicament or what was happening to them.

Generally I would say skip this one as well, not worth bothering with.

 

Shape-Shifters (3*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Love-Death-Robots-Shape-Shifters

A group of werewolves are part of US operations in the middle east and are not well liked by the rest of the soldier, derogatorily called dog soldiers, they run into some trouble with some local werewolves.

Bad: Another entirely male orientated story with the typical sorts of sexist jokes that is expected and taken for granted as being part of the military and whilst that may be true, perpetuating that it is OK does not help make the service comfortable for anyone not coded as your typical male.

Good: It’s overall not a bad story, I quite like the idea of how a military force would deal with deploying supernaturals. It also has a strong core of male friendship at the core of it and that’s definitely something I can get behind.

 

Helping Hand (5*)

Written by Claudine Griggs

Love-Death-Robots-Helping-Hand

A woman on a solo mission runs into trouble and has only herself to rely on to get her out of it. It’s a pretty harrowing tale of what can go wrong in space and the lengths people can go to in order to try and survive it.

Bad: Um, nothing really. It’s one of the few stories in this collection told from the perspective of a woman that isn’t sexualised or deals with sexualised violence.

Good: All of it really. Excellent characterisation, it shows well the dangers that someone might experience in space and the things people are capable of doing in the direst of circumstances to help themselves. She doesn’t need rescuing, she manages the whole thing herself and I loved it for all of that.

 

Fish Night (3*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

fish night

Two Salesmen get stuck in the desert when their car breaks down and they witness the ghosts of ancient seas flying around overhead.

Bad: It’s pretty predictable about what will happen in some ways, at least after the initial weirdness happens.

Good: The ghosts are an interesting concept and drawn very beautifully onscreen, I mostly wish more had been done with this concept than once but it’s enjoyable enough.

 

Lucky 13 (5*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Lucky-13-Love-Death-and-Robots

This story is about a female pilot recounting her time when she flew a ship called Lucky 13, which was assumed to be anything but.

Bad: Nothing really.

Good: Seriously I really loved this one, the main character is a black, female pilot and the story is told well and is a lovely look at the bond between a pilot and ship, especially in the midst of war. It’s also another one of the few stories where the motivation of the female character

 

Zima Blue (5*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

love-death-and-robots-zima-blue

An artist known as Zima Blue tells the story of his origins to a journalist before he unveils his last artwork and it is not quite what she expected to hear.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a lovely story and it’s portrayed very well on screen.

Good: It’s a beautiful story about the nature of art, being a person and what true fulfilment can look like. The ending is a bittersweet triumph and I really enjoyed this story.

 

Blindspot (3*)

Written by Vitaliy Shushko

blindspot

A group of cyborg thieves try and pull off a heist and things do not quite go quite as well as would be expected. Pretty gory and very anime in feel.

Bad: One female character who almost immediately has to defend herself from sexist jokes thrown her way, so very tired of that.

Good: It’s fun enough I guess, and the ending isn’t something I saw coming, though also annoyed me though I won’t explain why as that might ruin it. It may be pretty obvious when you see it though.

 

Ice Age (5*)

Written by Michael Swanwick

ice age

A couple find that they have an entire civilisation developing in their ancient fridge at a highly accelerated rate and watch it evolving in front of them.

Bad: It’s not a massively original premise, but it is done well so it’s not a big detriment.

Good: It’s well done, it’s amusing, though the very end shot does make my inner archaeologist twitch a bit.

 

Alternate Histories (4*)

Written by John Scalzi

alternate histories

Multiversity is an alternative history app which shows you a demo of what would happen if Adolf Hitler’s death had happened in different ways. The deaths get increasingly sillier and more amusing.

Bad: It does use sex as one of the deaths, which made me roll my eyes.

Good: It’s a very entertaining and pretty hilarious parody of alternate history as a genre, instead of the more usual what if questions, it does wilder and wilder until you can’t help but laugh at them and I definitely enjoyed that.

 

The Secret War (4*)

Written by David W. Amendola

the secret war

A group of Soviet soldiers hunt monsters that have been killing villagers and track them back to where they came from with the hopes of destroying them all and stopping the onslaught.

Bad: Mostly it’s very brutal and gory so may not be for all. Also all male, which whilst could be seen as accurate, I know that women fought in WW2 so did not have to be that way.

Good: It’s a compelling story and handles it all very well with an ending that is both poignant and pleasing.

Captain Marvel

“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

captain marvelI had fun reviewing The Umbrella Academy so I definitely think I am going to try and do more TV and film reviews when I am moved to do so. This time I wanted to talk about Captain Marvel. I may try and do so in two section, the first spoiler free for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, the second includes them. There will be some dead space inserted between the two.

But anyway, I have been looking forward to this film for a while. Definitely about time Marvel gave us a female-led superhero film and it shouldn’t have taken DC succeeding with Wonder Woman to bring it about. It is likely that there will be comparisons to Wonder Woman in the review, mostly because the only other films I can compare it to that are led by women are Catwoman and Elektra and I would rather not.

Please do note that I do not intend to do comparisons to put one against the other. It’s great that we can have more than one lead female superhero. I would like far more than two. In fact it would be lovely if I didn’t have such scant material to draw from, but here we are so I will just have to make do.

So brief overview of the story in case anyone doesn’t know. Vers is an amnesiac Kree warrior who ends up getting separated from her team and crashing on earth along with a number of Skrull shape-shifters who appear to be after a scientist. She ends up teaming up with Nick Fury to try and track down the Skrull, at the same time winds up finding out that she has memories that connect her to Earth.

Of course it ends up being more complicated than that and she finds out that she is a human called Carol Danvers, not only that but her Kree mentor Yon-Rogg killed her previous mentor, Dr Wendy Lawson (who was a Kree called Mar-Vell) and she in turn exploded the engine he was after and the energy from that fused with her being, giving her the powers she possesses. She also finds out that the Skrull are not the enemies, they have been systematically hunted by the Kree for not submitting to their rule and Dr Lawson/Mar-Vell was helping them hide and wanted to get them far away from the Kree.

In the end she defeats Yon-Rogg and the Kree sent to eliminate the Skrull, along with the help of her best friend, Maria Rambeau and a cat called Goose (who turns out to be a creature called a Flerken).

Firstly I want to say that overall I think I enjoyed this film more than I enjoyed Wonder Woman. Mostly because the love interest thing in Wonder Woman really annoyed me, as did the lack of any significant female interactions with Diana after she leaves her home fairly shortly into the film. I am not opposed to love interests in films, but that one felt pretty weak and too quickly formed and it bothered me. Whereas Captain Marvel features a lot of strong relationships between the women in the film and I was all there for that.

So to start with we see her meeting the Kree Supreme Intelligence, an AI being that appears to someone in the form of the person they most admire. In Vers case it is someone she doesn’t recognise, but we later find out is Dr Wendy Lawson. We then find out she designed the planes that Carol and her friend Maria fly. I do wish we had perhaps a few more flashback scenes to get even more of a connection between the two, but the fact that they gender flipped the character to give her an older female mentor was extremely well done.

Then we have the relationship between her and her best friend Maria. Again, similarly to her relationship with Lawson, I do wish that more was seen of this before, but the scenes we do get between the two show a strong bond which is only strengthened when the obvious love and care of Maria’s daughter, Monica. That Monica also looks up to both Carol and her Mum as heroes and inspirations is wonderful to see and I adored it.

My biggest gripe about any female character in the film is that they criminally underused Gemma Chan as Min-Erva and if she doesn’t make an appearance in future films with a bigger role I will be absolutely fuming.

In regards to relationships in the film, they did still centre a lot of it more around Carol’s interactions with Fury, Yon-Rogg and the leader of the Skrull, Talos, which was somewhat frustrating. Personally I would have preferred the film to be braver and take more of a step in the direction of representation of women than they did, but given how long it’s taken Marvel to actually make a female led super hero in the current MCU, I am guessing they were taking baby steps here.

It is frustrating though considering how well Black Panther showcased its excellent female characters, giving them their own stories and letting them show off their talents, even as supporting characters and honestly out of the two films I would generally say Black Panther’s portrayal of women is better, even though they are not the central character of the film. The part when T’Challa is thought dead and is unconscious means that they are actively driving the plot at that point and there is no way he could have managed half of what he did without their help.

The specific bits of acknowledging women’s issues were on the lighter end of the scale and not dealt with in much depth either. We have the comments about Maria and Carol not being allowed to be combat pilots in the 90’s and this being because they lacked the necessary equipment to be in the cockpit.

At one point she is told she should smile by a random biker, who she ignores at first but after he goes into a shop she steals his motorcycle and some clothes and rides off.

There is also a theme of comments from Yon-Rogg throughout the whole film about Carol being too emotional, about her letting her emotions get the better of her and that’s why she can’t beat him in a fight without using her powers. The weird thing there is that she isn’t particularly emotional at the start, somewhat jokey at times, but generally she’s calm and level-headed for a good chunk of the film. I did appreciate that her accepting her humanity and being more comfortable with her emotions did not make her weak and in fact helped her to unlock the powers they had tried to control in her.

Right at the end she fights Yon-Rogg (I also loved that she actually got to fight many men in this film and not in the overly sexualised sorts of fights we tend to get) and he taunts her to try and get her to fight him without powers and she blasts him and then just says “I don’t have anything to prove to you” and I honestly loved that.

Overall it is an good film, doesn’t quite have the sparkle I would have liked to see and I honestly think that is because they played this too safe. If they had pushed more into the exploration of a female hero and did more than the brief nods to what being a woman can be like, I think they could have had something as special as Black Panther.

Still, it’s doing well at the box office so I have every reason to believe that future solo Captain Marvel films may well appear.

To end with here’s a picture of Goose, everyone’s favourite scene-stealing cat (Flerkin).

goose

Shattermoon – 3.5*

Book: Shattermoon by Dominic Dulley

So first things first I just want to clarify that I won my copy of this book in a giveaway on Twitter. I don’t think that really influenced me, but it seemed reasonable to mention it.

The book follows Orry, who is a swindler and a liar, as she gets sucked into danger with a whole lot of people coming after her due to her acquiring a pendant they all want for some reason she doesn’t understand.

It’s a very fast paced story with little time for pause between one action sequence and the next and I will admit that I found this to be a little bit too much at times. I would have preferred some quieter and more personal moments snatched in the midst of the chaos to heighten the emotional impact of the story, but I will say that the book is quite a ride and certainly isn’t boring!

The setting is quite curious as well, mostly centred on humans with a previously hostile alien race mostly kicking around in the background. It has a very similar society to ours in many ways, the rich are in charge, many people live in poverty and sexism is apparently alive and kicking. I found that a little disappointing if I am honest. Perhaps it is foolish of me to hope that we will leave some of our prejudices behind if we venture out into the stars, we will probably find new ones, but it would be nice to see that change.

Still, the book is quite a fun ride, though be prepared for it to get pretty bloody in places too, to a degree that surprised me, probably because it comes across as being very Space Opera and then got quite graphic. Note that it wasn’t the violence but the fairly brutal descriptions of it that surprised me.

I am definitely interested enough in the band of criminals and outcasts trying to do the right thing to read more, I mean I am a massive fan of Firefly, and it definitely has nods in that sort of direction within it. But yes, perhaps some slower moments to beef up the relationships between the characters would be nice, would break up the pace a little and let the reader breathe.

If you are a fan of action packed Space Operas with kickass female heroines then I have to say that this book will definitely be your thing and you should check it out.

Dreams Before the Start of Time – 3*

Book: Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

This was a book that we did for our Sci-Fi and Fantasy bookclub and I must admit that I was really excited to read it ahead of time. A science-fiction novel about parenthood, what it means to be a family, shown as time and technology changes sounded absolutely fascinating and definitely up my street.

Unfortunately I found the end result a little disappointing. I am still glad I read it, but it just wanted as good as I hoped for, which I thought was a definite shame. It may not have helped that I read this after I had read Before Mars by Emma Newman and thus could not help making unfair comparisons in my head.

Firstly I should say that this is less of a novel and more of a series of connected short stories and viewing it in that light will probably make it more enjoyable. As it is I struggled to keep the characters straight in my head as there were quite a lot of them and very few stood out to a degree that made them memorable, which didn’t help.

The ideas in the book are excellent, I mostly wish that there was perhaps a longer book with a little more depth to it than this was. The book mostly presents the scenarios without particular comment, which is not a bad thing, but with everything else did leave me feeling a little unfulfilled.

So weirdly I think my biggest complaint is that I could have done with more flesh to the bones. Perhaps a few less characters in there. I also wish there had been more diversity in families in some ways than there were. Not many lower class families, not much in the way of racial diversity, that sort of thing. There is diversity in terms of sexualities though, which is very welcome.

This was a book that other people in the club loved though, they felt the pace was perfect and really enjoyed the vignettes so definitely strongly divided by individual tastes I feel. Probably won’t re-read it, but interesting enough subject matter to be worth a look.

Planetfall series (5* on average)

The Planetfall series by Emma Newman (Planetfall, After Atlas and Before Mars)

I was going to write separate posts for each of these, but I haven’t written anything for the blog in far too long so instead of trying to make myself write a post for each I thought I would try and push myself back into writing this by doing all of them at once. There may be some spoilers though I will try and keep them to a minimum.

Planetfall (4*)

So I read the first book of the series for my book club and the way it ended up I read it completely on two train journeys (not a fun journey unfortunately, but the book was a very welcome distraction) which took me around 4 1/2 hours in total because it sucked me in completely and totally, so for a fast reader like me I really clipped through it.

The main character is very compelling and as is the mysteries presented in the book. What is the weird organic city? What did happen in the past? Where did the stranger come from? And it unravels all of these using flashbacks mixed with the present story of what is happening.

What really amazed me was the slow revealing of the main character’s mental health issues, which was wonderfully well done. I should warn that the book has a really well done description of a panic attack so if you suffer from these be warned as it might grip you a little too hard if you are not careful.

The pacing towards the end is perhaps a little off, at least the biggest complaint about it was that the ending came around a little suddenly. It may just be that where the story was going isn’t as noticably telegraphed as people expected. I mean, it was fast but I will admit that I loved the ending. It was beautiful to watch someone process their trauma and for someone who has been through trauma and has mental health issues the whole story made me want to cry with joy and relief that someone could write something that spoke to me so clearly.

And if the ending wasn’t your cup of tea I still recommend sticking with this series because the next book is even better than this one.

 

After Atlas (5*)

The book is set in the same universe of Planetfall, but this book follows what happens on the Earth after the people who left on Atlas have gone and what that means. The main character is an indentured servant working as a detective and follows him trying to determine who or what killed a man he used to know in his youth.

I have heard that the reason many people set detective novels before the internet and mobile phones is because they think those things will wreck their story. Well, this book basically sticks fingers up to that idea and manages to pull off an amazing murder mystery despite the protagonist having technology at his fingertips that modern day policing would love I am sure.

There is a wonderful tension between him unravelling what happened and also dealing with his own past trauma as well as his personal situation. The atmosphere created when you realise how little control he has over his own life is heart-rending and claustrophobic and so very well written.

I’ve never had an issue loving male characters (or characters who do not echo me closely), but it’s rare for me to see myself so strongly represented in some ways in a male character, but the way he deals with his trauma caught my breath a number of times and I felt so strongly for him and wanted it all to work out.

Oh and the ending will knock your socks off. Well, I mean it might not, but it definitely did for me!

 

Before Mars (5*)

This book runs slightly concurrently with the events in After Atlas and deals with a woman arriving for a stint of working on Mars only to feel that something is off. She finds a strange note, things aren’t quite where they should be, and it seems that there is more going on here than there should be. That or she is slowly losing her mind.

As with the rest of the series it deals with the mystery of what is going on superbly and though you can definitely work out parts of what is going on before the whole thing is revealed, there is enough surprises to keep you guessing and interested in what is going on.

The other thing I want to talk about is how well Emma deals with the subject of post partum depression and how motherhood is not always a magical, wondrous thing for ever mother and how isolating and difficult feeling like that can be. Now, I am not someone who is ever planning on having children and being able to see this perspective on things was still really interesting and made me really feel for the character. I mean, from a different angle but I know what it is like for society to make you feel like you are broken for not being what is expected of you.

There are some spoilers in the book for the finale of After Atlas and whilst you can still read them in any order between the two, you will miss the impact of the bigger world events at the end of After Atlas if you didn’t read that one first (also it’s really good).

This one is just as good as After Atlas in my opinion and like the whole series the blend of mystery and someone dealing with personal mental health issues is fantastic. One of the things I love is all the main characters in this series are very competent at what they do, their mental health affects things sure, but it doesn’t stop them from excelling in other ways and that is really refreshing to see.

Emma also has characters who are LGBTQIA+ and it’s mentioned but it’s not the focus of their story, just a part of who they are and that’s pretty cool. There’s nothing wrong with those things being a big part of a story if that’s what someone wants to tell, but it’s also lovely to have characters who are casually queer without commentary on the fact, make it normalised in a way that is frankly fantastic.

 

The next book, Atlas Alone, is out in April and available to pre-order, so that’s something to look forward to!