Review – Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

I can’t point to anything specific that would explain why Raven Stratagem, and the book before it in the Machinieries of Empire series, Ninefox Gambit, grates on me.  But they do, enough that the only reason I finished the first and picked up the second at all, was because I wanted to have read, and be able to have an opinion on, all of the Hugo finalists this year.

It isn’t the writing or the world-building.  Both are good, and the world-building is actually fascinating.  The world of the Hexarchate is filled with fascinating people, communities and concepts.  The characters are interesting and diverse, and there are several that I am becoming invested in.

It may be the “calendric orthodoxy/heresy” that gets on my nerves.  Although this is primarily a science fiction space opera, there is an element of fantasy/magic in the orthodoxy that allows “exotics”, like faster-than-light travel, to exist and be used.  The concept does annoy me.

Otherwise, Lee does a terrific job with the hard science fiction tropes he uses.

Lee, Yoon Ha.  Raven Stratagem.  Oxford, England: Solaris Books, 2017.  Kindle edition.  Amazon.

Review – Provenance by Ann Leckie

Judging by how much I enjoyed this novel, I must have been in a terrible mood when I tried and rejected Ancillary Justice, the first novel in this universe.  I’m looking forward to reading it now.

Provenance is one of the Hugo Award finalists for the Best Novel of 2017.  It’s the story of a young woman who sees herself as unexceptional, is trying to get her mother’s approval and attention, and to show up her foster brother.  She decides on an audacious, expensive plan.  The novel follows her through the plan, its consequences, and its ramifications.

I enjoyed this novel for two main reasons.  First, the world in which the story is set is rich and complex, set in a universe with multiple planets, races, and cultures.  Fortunately, the story is understandable and enjoyable without the previous books set in the same universe.

The other reason I enjoyed the novel is that the characters are complex and unpredictable.  While reading through the setup, I expected certain things to happen.  Some of them did, some of them didn’t, and what the expected events didn’t necessarily happen for the reason that I expected.

Provenance was a delightful novel that I recommend to anyone looking for a good science fiction story.  Leckie’s prior books are now going on my list of books to read.

Leckie, Ann.  Provenance.  New York: Orbit Books, 2017.  Kindle edition.  Amazon.

Review – New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Of all of the Hugo and Nebula award finalists for 2018, New York 2140 is the longest.  However, it is a comparatively quick read, so don’t let that stop you.  It’s an entertaining read, with only one, although large, problem, and it definitely belongs on this list.

The novel is set in New York City in the year 2140 and the action takes place over the next 3 years.  Most of the action, there are a couple of scenes that do take place outside of New York.  In this future, several events happened that caused ice melting and the sea to rise fifty feet.  That leaves a good portion of New York City, including all of Downton, underwater.  Since many of the buildings are skyscrapers, or at least taller than the sea rise, people still live there.  New York City is still the place to live.

There is a group of characters who live in one of the buildings in Madison Square, including the building manager, a police detective, a social worker, a couple of people in the finance industry, a cloud star who’s clothes are likely to disappear, and a couple of boys who don’t, technically, live there, in addition to several others.

Before I go into what I liked about the book, my major complaint is that there are multiple chapters which is just the author explaining the economics of the situation and why it’s a bad thing.  I found this especially annoying because his characters also explain the economic situation (economics and finance are very important to the story), and I don’t need the author jumping in a giving me a lecture.  In fact, they spend enough time giving info-dumps on both the economics (with many examples including the 2008 disaster) that I resented the author jumping in and doing it again.  The length of this book could have been cut by quite a bit, without damaging or confusing the story, just by cutting out these chapters.

That said, I did enjoy the novel.  I’ve been a fan of science fiction for decades, and enjoy a good “hard” science fiction novel.  This one falls into that category, although that does depend on whether or not you believe the scientists on climate change.  I would expect there to have been more change than there is but, otherwise, it’s a very believable future.

New York City is as much a character as any of the human characters in the novel.  Several of the characters discuss snippets of its history, especially about the Revolutionary War and the HMS Hussar, which I looked up and is a real thing.  These discussions are usually brief, or necessary to the plot, or both.

That New York City is set as the location is appropriate since it is currently the center of the financial world (in the future, not so much, but it still has much influence), plus its geographical features (it is described as an archipelago in an estuary debouching into a bight, featuring a lot of very tall buildings) make it an appropriate location.

All of this makes the novel sound grim, but it’s not.  Although there are some tense moments, a lot of less than happy ones, and not a lot of humor, there is some light-heartedness through the story.  The one financial guy’s response to being asked to look after the two boys and the cloud (internet) star and her frequent ditziness are two examples.  Frankly, the novel is a good cross-section of people that way: some dour, some cheerful, some honest but not always, some sleezy but not always.  There are no purely good people, there are no purely evil people, there are just people doing the best they can.  Which is a pretty good way of expressing one of the themes of the book:  people doing the best they can, as a community because we are social animals.

I recommend this book as a good read whether you’re looking for the next Hugo winner or not.  It’s good science fiction and a good story.


Robinson, Kim Stanley.  New York 2140.  New York: Orbit Books, 2017.  Kindle edition.  Amazon.



Review – The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Since the word “empire” is in the title, it shouldn’t be a surprise that The Collapsing Empire reminds me more than a bit of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.  Not in a plagiarized way, just that both series are telling a story about an empire that is about to collapse.

In this first novel of a planned series, the setup occurs.  The emperox, a gender-neutral term for emperor/empress, has just changed.  Regular space pilots are starting to notice that there are problems with the Flow, the method used to travel “faster-than-light”.  Without the Flow, each system will be isolated and, with the exception of End, none of the human population lives on planets.  Earth was isolated from the rest of the human population centuries ago, when the Flow moved.  The Nohamapetan family is being more ruthless than usual.  And only three scientists know why.

I usually enjoy Scalzi’s standalone novels, but the ones he writes as series I find less enjoyable.  Lock In and its sequel Head On are the exception.  I’m not sure why that’s so.  The plot moved along well, I didn’t get bogged down in it, but I never really found myself caring for the characters or for what was going to happen.  The world-building isn’t especially exciting; it’s a far-flung space empire that’s lost track of Earth.  That said, the science either agrees with science as it’s currently known or is at least plausible.

All in all, it’s a perfectly acceptable science fiction novel; I’m just not sure why it was nominated for a Hugo.

Scalzi, John.  The Collapsing Empire.  New York: Tor Books, 2017.  Kindle edition.  Amazon.

Review – Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

On its surface, this is a story about a woman who releases a pirated copy of a productivity drug, her attempts to help those who have been hurt by the drug, the people who are helping her, and the law enforcement people who are trying to find and stop her.  On that level, it’s a decent science fiction novel.

The world in which the story is set–Earth in the mid-twenty-second century–is one in which robots are created and then, ostensibly, earn their autonomy after providing their creators with a decade of work.  In addition, people can be indentured, with technically more safeguards than the chattel slavery that was our country’s shame in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

And there are the drugs.  Just as today, the drugs of this world are patented, so that only those with enough money can afford to extend their lives, recover from infections, treat genetic ailments, enhance their performance, and get intoxicated.  There are those who try to provide those treatments for all, but they are largely blocked by the large, for-profit corporations.

Newitz has some things to say about American health care in the early twenty-first century, but that’s not really the main theme.  Her main theme is achieving autonomy, and how much of it do we truly have.  We are all the products of our upbringing, our “programming,” and the pleasures that we seek.  Do any of us have real autonomy.

This isn’t my favorite of the finalists for Best Novel, but it’s a good solid story by an author to keep an eye on.


Newitz, Annalee.  Autonomous.  New York: Tor Books, 2017.  Kindle edition.  Amazon.