Review: “NACL: Eye of the Storm” by Allegra Pescatore and E. Sands

Pescatore is fast becoming one of my favorite authors (thanks to her for generously sending over the book!) I haven’t read anything by Sands before, but I’ll be keeping an eager eye out for more of her work in the future!

This is a pretty brilliant sci-fi series, focused on a dystopian world (we really need another word for “dystopian but not even purporting to be good,” maybe just “a crappy world?”) where a corporation controls everyone through maintaining militaristic oversight of the entire world’s supply of salt.

Though at this point I think I’m familiar-ish with Pescatore’s style, having read close to 1500 words of her prose in the last few weeks, this was completely different. Admittedly, this is a new genre (sci fi rather than epic fantasy), but I also think it’s an impressive tribute to the strength of their collaboration that I couldn’t tell who had written what.

I loved the collision of sci-fi and magic in this original and fast-paced story. Despite being over 500 pages long, the writing is snappy and it moves quickly. This book is very much for adults, and some of the sexual scenes and language felt gratuitous to me (not offensive, just perhaps unnecessary). However, the writing is smooth and enjoyable throughout.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the worldbuilding, which is complex and feels as vast as its planetary-scale setting. For that alone, the book is well worth reading. Strongly recommend!


Review: “Legend” Series by Marie Lu

I have been enjoying Lu’s work a lot lately–I have a couple of her other books waiting in my TBR, actually–but I didn’t like this one nearly as much as I have some of her other work. I think my major quibble is that it focused too much on a love story for me. There also wasn’t much distinction between the narrative voices of the two main characters, which made it a little hard to track or to get attached to either of them.

That said, I really liked the worldbuilding. Even more than that, the big ethical questions the series asked about how society should be constructed and run were interesting and well-developed, without distracting from the fast-paced action.

Lu’s action sequences continue to be terrifically written, too. This series is definitely a very fun pageturner, but for me it didn’t go much beyond that.

Review: “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir

Here’s how much I liked Project Hail Mary.

I got it from my library. I read the whole thing in one sitting. Then I flipped it over to the beginning and read it again. Then I went out and bought my own copy, for keepsies.

So yeah, I thought it was okay.

My first read-through was pretty focused on the plot. I am always compelled by books that are about character questions and worldbuilding lore, so the central mystery being “why doesn’t this guy remember getting on this spaceship” was a very intriguing one to me–and the answer provided was thoroughly satisfying and asked some great ethical questions I will avoid expounding on here so as not to spoil the read.

But I knew I’d missed a lot of the science that makes Weir’s work great in rushing through that first read, so I wanted to read it again.

This was a great decision. The premise of this book is exciting and original, as is typical of Weir’s work. He’s also crafted another interesting and unusual protagonist. We’re so used to seeing dark and gritty hero types in speculative fiction that this cheerful, sarcastic, kinda weird science teacher feels like a breath of fresh air. Ryland Grace is an incredibly believable character, and even more believable as the hero he eventually becomes for that.

The prose is delightful. Readable and funny, while also making the advanced scientific concepts present extremely understandable. Making Grace a science teacher was helpful for that. (My one critique is that I wanted more linguistics, and I thought the language-learning aspects were skimmed over slightly. How did they introduce advanced concepts like “grace” or “bad” with no shared cultural reference points? I want to know!!!) Otherwise, the science felt thoroughly real and I may have actually learned some stuff.

Plotting is another real strength. Crises don’t just happen, they’re the result of character errors, and they get resolved through character strengths. The interwoven present-flashback structure worked really well for this, too.

Also, this book has one of the most beautiful epilogues I’ve ever read. The conclusion made me cry.

Can’t recommend it highly enough. It may be even better than The Martian, which is one of my all-time favorites. Its ethical questions are a little more complex, its secondary characters better-developed, and its stakes even higher. This is life-or-death for our protagonist, but also the whole world. But it also has Weir’s signature humor and above all, positivity. He shows the ugly parts of humanity, but also the faith, the perserverence, and the very best of us.

Maybe I’ll read it again before I bring the library their copy back…

Review: “Warcross” Duology by Marie Lu

As popular as she is, I had never read any of Marie Lu’s work until about a week ago, when I picked up a copy of Kingdom of Back at my local library. I don’t tend to like contemporary popular YA series (someday I’ll write a post about this). But I loved the idea of Kingdom of Back, and the execution more than lived up to its really compelling premise, so I figured I would check out some more of her work, even the parts that seemed a little bit, well, dystopian-future-love-triangley (no shade if that’s what you like, ’tis just not for me.)

I really loved both Warcross books! I will say that I didn’t find the romantic subplot compelling–I rarely do–but otherwise these were delightful reads. They were quick and easy, I sped through them in about 20 minutes apiece, with plenty of twists and turns that kept me engaged throughout. Emika is a delightfully engaging protagonist (Sidebar: I am also always delighted to see a realistic representation of foster care in fiction–neither idealizing nor dehumanizing the experience).

The climaxes of both books were really surprising, which worked well in this techno-thriller-esque genre. The writing wasn’t memorable, but that also suits the genre well (as compared to Lu’s much more lyrical writing in Kingdom of Back, for instance). This isn’t usually my type of book, but I enjoyed it a lot and am looking forward to diving in to some of her other series!

Review: Amid the Crowd of Stars by Stephen Leigh

Hi everyone! I’ve decided to start trying to review all the books I read here on this blog. Mostly because rumor has it it’s good to update your website more than once a year, but also because Goodreads can feel a bit confining. This way I can give my thoughts in whatever rambly way I’d like!

Today’s review is of Stephen Leigh’s Amid the Crowd of Stars. I came across this book more or less by chance in my public library. Sadly, my branch of the NYPl is a bit pitifully stocked, and the fantasy section more so–I rarely find anything on my TBR unless I’ve requested it. The good news is that I often stumble across new books and authors.

Amid the Crowd of Stars promises a new take on a familiar sci-fi premise: two groups of humans, the survivors on Earth and a colony they lost touch with centuries ago, now reestablish contact. The flap copy offers up a vision of an ethical and existential exploration of what it means to be human.

I must say I found relatively little of this question explored inside the pages. To me, all of the characters were so clearly human as to render that question a bit absurd. On the other hand, it made for an engaging read. I particularly enjoyed the character of Saoirse. The worldbuilding of both the fictional colony culture and the imagined future-Japan was done sensitively and clearly. Though the book may not have dived into the promised big-picture issues, it was nonetheless an enjoyable take on the first-contact narrative.