Reviews: Miscellaneous Reviews

Can’t Get There From Here

The Luminous Dead — Caitlin Starling

2019’s The Luminous Dead is Caitlin Starling’s debut novel.

Gyre Price lies to get the contract for a solo caving expedition. It’s a calculated risk: caving is dangerous. But the payoff for the foray could be lucrative enough to pay Gyre’s way off the dead-end colony world of Cassandra-V.

Cassandra-V’s wealth, such as it is, is based on subterranean mineral deposits. It’s a reasonable guess that Gyre’s employer hopes to discover a new vein of ore. A guess is all it is, as the employer is oddly reticent about the project’s goals. This isn’t the only piece of important information that Gyre has not been given. The employer knows that Gyre lied about her experience but hired her anyway.

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Ten Fathoms Deep on the Road to Hell

Spanish Mission — K. B. Spangler
Hope Blackwell, book 2

2018’s Spanish Mission is the second volume in K. B. Spangler’s Hope Blackwell series of novels1.

Seeking to distract her cyborg friend Mary “Mare” O’Murphy from the disquieting revelation that ghosts exist and are quite visible to Enhanced Americans, Hope Blackwell takes Mare and their talking koala pal Speedy on a road trip to Vegas.

This bold gambit sets Hope and Mare up for an encounter with paranormal impresario Eli Tellerman of the reality show Spooky Solutions [2]. Tellerman knows Hope for the psychic that she is. In short order he manages to strong-arm her into joining his latest venture.

It’s an exciting foray into the desert in search of ancient treasure, pirate ships lost in an arid wasteland, and (of course) ghosts.

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Why Don’t You Be You?

No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales) — Ana Mardoll

2018’s No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales) is a single-author collection by Ana Mardoll.

Thanks to the place Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood has in my heart, I am always up for fairy tales re-imagined in a new light. Of course, this is sometimes not fair to new collections; I tend to measure them against a collection I like very much. Mardoll’s collection passes the test.

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Save the World

Krrish — Rakesh Roshan
Krrish, book 2

2006’s Krrish is the second film in the Krrish franchise (which includes at least five films, a television show, television movies, a comic, and a computer game, and probably more tie-ins I’ve missed). It was written, directed, and produced by Rakesh Roshan. It stars the producer’s son Hrithik Roshan1 as the title character, as well as Priyanka Chopra, Rekha, and Naseeruddin Shah.

As soon as orphan Krishna Mehra’s super-intelligence begins to show itself, his doting grandmother Sonia (Rekha) whisks him away to a remote village in northern India. Krishna’s father Rohit had similar abilities, which led to tragedy when an evil man tried to exploit him. Sonia is determined not to lose her grandson as she lost her son and daughter-in-law.

Sonia can flee the world but that won’t keep the world from coming to that remote village.

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Evil Genius

Vicious — V. E. Schwab
Villains, book 1

2013’s Vicious is the first volume in V. E. Schwab’s Villains series.

ExtraOrdinary (EO) people are the stuff of rumours. That doesn’t stop ambitious college students Eli and Victor from trying their hand at artificially inducing EOs. The key seems to be near-death experiences, which are easy enough to orchestrate provided one has no professional ethics and less caution.

EOs do exist and Eli and Victor’s method does work. Which is how Eli and Victor got their powers, why Victor spent a decade in prison, and why as the book opens Victor and his new friend Sydney are digging up a dead body.

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Nothing’s Gonna Change My World

A Real Sky — tori_siikanen

tori_siikanen’s A Real Sky is an unfinished novel, readable at Archive of Our Own. It attempts to give Tanith Lee’s Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine duology a concluding volume.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

But not in Four-BEE, Four-BOO, and Four-BAA, where, for humans, there is no death and no escape from the carefully orchestrated existence permitted by their quasi-robot (Q-R) tenders. Attempts to step outside carefully defined borders spark the close attention of the Q-Rs.

Case in point: a nameless protagonist plagued with unexplained dreams of a past of which they should have no knowledge. Also, unfashionable interests.


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Like Dreamers Do

Otherbound — Corrine Duyvis

Corrine Duyvis’ 2014 Otherbound is a standalone fantasy.

Arizona teen Nolan is a visionary. He doesn’t imagine things: he sees things. Whenever he closes his eyes — when he blinks, for example — he sees whatever Amara sees.

Amara lives in another realm where magic is real. She has a talent, healing, which makes her nigh unkillable. You’d think this would make her a power in the world in which she lives. It doesn’t. She’s a slave. She’s a slave on the run, following her mistress.


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From Here to Mars

The Fated Sky — Mary Robinette Kowal
Lady Astronaut, book 2

2018’s The Fated Sky is the second volume in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series.

Earth is doomed … but not immediately. There is enough time to try to establish colonies on the other worlds of the Solar System, for a chosen few to survive catastrophe. But who, exactly, will qualify to be among the lucky handful to have a future?


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Screaming to Say

In the Vanisher’s Palace — Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s 2018 novel In the Vanishers’ Palace is a standalone secondary world fantasy (unless it’s SF; see comments).

The Vanishers used the world as their toy until they broke it. Having ruined the world, they absconded, leaving their former slaves and playthings behind to scrabble for life in the poisoned wreckage.

Yên’s village has no room for the useless or the weak. Her mother’s knack for healing magic pays her own way, but it’s not enough to support Yên. She is only a mediocre scholar. She has failed to pass the metropolitan exam and escape to the comparative security of the imperial court. It’s only a matter of time before Elder Tho finds a pretext to eject Yên from the village or feed her to the purifying artifact in the Plague Grove.

Giving Yên to a dragon to do with as the dragon wishes is also acceptable to Elder Tho.

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Bloom for Me and You

A Study in Honor — Claire O'Dell

Claire O’Dell’s 2018 A Study in Honor is a near-future Holmesian mystery.

Public spirit compelled Dr. Janet Watson to serve on the Federal side of the New Civil War1. After an enemy bullet cost her an arm, the government thanked her for her service by providing her with a second-hand, defective prosthetic limb and a medical discharge.

She has broken up with her girlfriend. She is having a hard time finding a job (not that many jobs for one-armed African-American surgeons). She is depressed and struggling with PTSD. Nevertheless, she persists. Watson settles for a position well below her skill level, as a medical technician whose tasks are limited to ticking boxes on a checklist. Now she has to find a place to live in the crowded capital (a quest complicated, of course, by the melanin content of her skin).

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A Dream of Weaving

The Meek — Der-shing Helmer

The Meek is a webcomic by Der-shing Helmer (last seen here as the author of Mare Internum).

Fifteen year old Angora has been dispatched to save her world by the ancient and powerful giant salamander Mocheril, whom Angora calls Grandfather. Angora is energetic, determined, and able to command plants. She is also fearfully ignorant of the world and deficient in many attributes that would facilitate her quest.

Her utter lack of clothing proves unpleasantly attention-getting.

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Sole Misfortune

An Unkindness of Ghosts — Rivers Solomon

Rivers Solomon’s 2017 An Unkindness of Ghosts is a generation-ship novel.

The generation ship Matilda set out lifetimes ago to convey a handful of people to a distant promised land1. It carries within it every flaw known to human society. Until the ship arrives at its destination, there is no escape, not for the ship’s rulers (the Sovereignty) and not for the unfortunates relegated to the lower decks.

Aster is brilliant. Her intellectual gifts recommend her to the great surgeon Theo — not as a potential surgeon, but as a surgeon’s assistant. That is all she can ever be, because her skin is brown. That marks her as one of the underclass, as someone who can be oppressed and victimized without consequence.

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Beat Down Like a Waterfall

Sleepless Domain — Mary Cagle

Sleepless Domain is an ongoing webcomic by Mary Cagle.

The time is now 10 PM. All citizens should be indoors, and all magical girls transformed.

The unnamed city is perpetually under siege; monsters have overrun the world. During the day, the monsters are kept at bay by a magical barrier. At night, the monsters are able to make their way into the city. At night, it is up to the city’s magical girls to protect the city and its mundane inhabitants.

Team Alchemical — Undine Wells, Gwen Morita, Sylvia Skylark, Tessa Quinn, and Sally Fintan, or, as they are known by the city, Alchemical Water, Alchemical Earth, Alchemical Air, Alchemical Aether, and Alchemical Fire — spend their days in school and their nights fighting monsters. Now they’ve found a new enemy to fight.

Each other.

(spoilers)

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See the Crystal Raindrops Fall

What’s Left of Me — Kat Zhang
Hybrid Chronicles, book 1

2012’s What’s Left of Me is the first volume in Kat Zhang’s Hybrid Chronicles.

Alone of all the world’s regions, only the Americas have chosen to eliminate the two-minded adult hybrids, to seal themselves off from the chaos that hybrids cause. The rest of the world can have its Great Wars, but North and South America are secure, peaceful, and steadfastly conventional.

Like all human children everywhere, Eva and Addie were born as hybrids, two minds sharing a single body. Most New World children settle, a process in which the weaker of the two minds fades away, leaving only a single, stable, intellect. Although clearly fated to vanish, Eva lingered on, unable to control the shared body, but still present. Despite the best treatments modern medicine could offer, it seemed the child was doomed to be one of those unfortunates safely sequestered away from decent folk.

Eva_and_Addie eluded institutionalization by embracing the one technique that would keep the adults satisfied. They lied.

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No Guilt To Haunt Me

We Could Be Villains — Missy Meyer
Valentine & Hart, book 1

2014’s We Could Be Villains is the first volume in Missy Meyer’s Valentine & Hart series.

Sarah Valentine has an unrewarding job working for Seattle software company WonderPop. Her social life isn’t too hot either. Small wonder that when she meets personable mail room employee Nathan Anderson, she embraces the opportunity for a dalliance. She is rather disgruntled when Nathan suddenly vanishes without so much as a goodbye.

Next: Sarah finds herself collateral damage when Seattle’s own super-hero team, the Ultimate Faction, takes an interest in WonderPop.

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Put Your Hands Up High

Heroine’s Journey — Sarah Kuhn
Heroine Complex, book 3

2018’s Heroine’s Journey is the third instalment in Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex series.

Like her sister Evie and her sister’s best friend, Aveda Jupiter, Beatrice “Bea” Tanaka has bona-fide superpowers. However …

The ten-year age difference between Evie and Bea means that Evie sees Bea as a kid sister. Not only that, she’s the kid sister whom Evie raised after the death of their mother. Evie cannot see Bea as anything but a child and relegates her sister to support roles.

Evie is also suspicious of Bea’s superpowers. Bea can control other people’s emotions, which is a super-villainous sort of power. (It doesn’t help that Bea once sided with a black hat.) True, Bea can also scream loudly enough to shatter solid objects, but it’s not at all clear that she can use this superpower in an emergency or that it will even be useful when used.

Bea is afraid that Evie will never accept her as an equal; she is less and less interested in helping Evie and Aveda.

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Ages and Ages Hence

The Calculating Stars — Mary Robinette Kowal
Lady Astronaut, book 1

The Calculating Stars is the first novel in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series1.

President Dewey’s Take That! to Communist Russia took the form of not one but three successful space launches. Dewey scarcely has time to revel in America’s success before a space rock obliterates Dewey, Washington DC, and everyone else within hundreds of miles of the impact point.

Five hundred miles away, Elma York and her husband Nathaniel survive the impact and the immediate aftermath. Once the implications of the impact become clear, they realize that their survival — and the survival of the biosphere — may be strictly temporary.

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Sounds Like a Whisper

Empire of Sand — Tasha Suri
The Books of Ambha, book 1

Empire of Sand is the first book in Tasha Suri’s new series, The Books of Ambha.

Being the daughter of Governor of Irinah has its benefits, even for illegitimate children, like Mehr. Benefits even though her exiled mother was an Amrithi, a folk despised by the Ambhan ruling class. Mehr appreciates her privileges only when she loses them.

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Far Beyond a Star

Adrift — Rob Boffard

Rob Boffard’s 2018 Adrift is a standalone SF adventure.

Sigma Station began as a helium three mining station. Its spectacular view of the Horse Head Nebula transformed it into a tourist destination. Now it has been slated to play a crucial role in interstellar relations.

Not a role that most of the station’s inhabitants will survive to appreciate, mind you.

[spoiler warning]

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Workin’ On The Chain Gang

The Nearest Fire — Cherry Wilder
Torin, book 2

1980’s The Nearest Fire is the second volume in Cherry Wilder’s Torin series.

Yolo Harn is principled and inflexible. Her righteous fury leads to an angry assault, a crime Yolo will regret for the rest of her life. Regardless of her motivation, assault is assault. Nothing for it but to send her off to prison.

Offered a poisoned amnesty, one that would trade a jail term for lifelong vassalage, Yolo sticks to her principles and declines the offer. Affronted, officials send Yolo away, to serve out her term in distant Itsik, the worst prison colony on Torin.

That act of spite places Torin’s destiny in Yolo’s hands.

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You May Say I’m A Dreamer

Winter Tide — Ruthanna Emrys
Innsmouth Legacy, book 1

2017’s Winter Tide is the first volume in Ruthanna Emrys’s Innsmouth Legacy series.

The American government’s ample experience at rounding up and exterminating unwanted indigenous populations was evident in 1928, in the campaign against the Deep Ones. The government swept up the entire population of Innsmouth, consigning the unlucky inhabitants to incarceration and eventual execution in a desert concentration camp. By the time Japanese internees began to arrive in the 1940s, just two Deep Ones were left: Aphra and Caleb March.

Inadvertently freed with the Japanese internees at the end of the war, Aphra and Caleb prefer to avoid contact with the authorities who targeted their race for extermination. How unexpected, therefore, for the former génocidaires to reach out to Aphra for help.

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Tick Tock

Just One Damned Thing After Another — Jodi Taylor
The Chronicles of St. Mary's, book 1

2013’s Just One Damned Thing After Another is the first volume in Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s.

Academic achievement offered teenaged Madelaine Maxwell an escape from her horrific homelife. Her credentials as a historian prompted an offer of something even better: time travel.

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In a World Full of Wonder

The Dolphins of Altair — Margaret St. Clair

1967’s The Dolphins of Altair is an SF novel by Margaret St. Clair.

Fed up with brutal exploitation, the dolphins of Earth take a desperate step. They reach out telepathically to their oppressors. Three humans prove sympathetic: Secretary Madeline Paxton, dock worker Sven Erikson, a former soldier, and Navy psychiatrist Dr. Edward Lawrence.

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Way Up in the Clouds

Rogue Protocol — Martha Wells
Murderbot Diaries, book 3

2018’s Rogue Protocol is the third book in Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series.

Frustrated with the progress of the case against the GrayCris Corporation (more exactly, the lack thereof), rogue SecUnit (self-designated Murderbot) reluctantly heads off to find damning evidence on GrayCris.

Which brings us to certain events in the Milu System.

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Satiny Luscious Chocolate

Free Chocolate — Amber Royer

2018’s Free Chocolate is an interstellar adventure by Amber Royer.

Humans were surprised and alarmed to discover that alien Krom had infiltrated the Earth, passing themselves off as Homo sapiens. Humans were surprised and enraged to discover that their Krom visitors had used their time on Earth to purchase samples of particularly enticing Terrestrial products: coffee, sugar, tea, vanilla.

By the time technologically backward Earth had adjusted to the new state of affairs and was finally able to market their unique biological materials to the galaxy … earthlings found that the Krom already controlled the market for the sampled goods. In doing so, the Krom had violated no galactic regulations. Just business. Nothing to see here. Humanity could only react with impotent fury and close off Earth to other aliens.

But the Krom overlooked one potential export:

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