Review of “Correction” by Hal Maclean

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This is another flash fiction piece from Daily Science Fiction, which posts short fiction online and also sends it by email through a subscription service. Hal Maclean normally writes epic fantasy and he is the designer of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, among others. I also see a lot of work out there like articles, stories and books in support of games. The story runs 145 words. This review contains spoilers.

This work is a creative format, made up of a series of short corrections issued about an article on alien contact. The first one reads “An earlier version of this article stated, ‘Alien invasion fleet’ rather than, ‘Meng Liberation.’ We regret the error.” The corrections continue, outlining the progress of the liberation and its effects on humanity.

This is exceptionally short and sweet, as Maclean has condensed a whole novel into just 145 words. It’s a fairly humorous, but also serious, social commentary about how the viewpoint of articles can be changed by just a few words, and it also reveals the mechanism of totalitarian dictatorship and an enforced narrative that rewrites history after the fact. I gather that his point is, “words matter.”

Five stars.

Review of The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks

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This science fiction novel was published by Goldfinch in July of 2016, and runs 286 pages. This review contains spoilers.

413s98-itr8 is a bipedal Autonomous Servile Unit, also called Heyoo, which operates in a human sanctuary enclosure protected by the AI CORE. The humans have a comfortable enclosure, are provided with over 1000 calories per day and are allowed to mate, but for some reason, they’re unhappy. They keep tripping Heyoo’s Circular Logic Function with comments like “Go screw yourself,” so it turns itself in for repairs. While it’s in the shop, there is a disturbance and a human rushes in, deactivates its tracker, hands it a package and teleports it into a strange, barren landscape without any instructions except the word “bananas.” The package turns out to be a human baby. This is a challenge, but Heyoo is built to protect humans, so it does its best. Years later it and the boy find the ruined city of Shanghai, and in the tallest hotel, a hidden chamber that opens to the password “bananas.” Inside is a frozen human female and a message that they are to free humans from captivity. What is an Autonomous Servile Unit to make of this?

The theme of this novel appears to be freedom and living a free life. It’s written in first person, so we see and interpret events through Heyoo’s perceptions. It’s only an average, not-too-smart robot, but programmed to be caring, so it makes a good parent to the boy it names Wah because of the crying noise the child makes. It’s been mistaken for a different unit in the repair shop that was supposed to be programmed with clear instructions on what to do to support a human rebellion against the CORE AI that thinks it is protecting humans by imprisoning and controlling them. Without these instructions, Heyoo has to make do, and the results are fairly humorous.

On the less positive side, I’m concerned about the teleportation device. If the humans can teleport a robot and child out into the wasteland, why not a lot of other people, too? Heyoo’s viewpoint is always mild and slightly warped, and the resulting humor tends to rob the events of any real drama. We get its perceptions about how the world looks, but not much depth in how the society or how CORE works, or how the ruined cities came about. The human characters are fairly flat, and the result ends up heart-warming but not especially deep or memorable.

Three and a half stars.

Review of Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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This is a novella published by Solaris in May of 2019. It’s science fiction/horror and runs 95 pages. This review contains spoilers.

A probe exploring the Oort Cloud finds a strange object that at first looks like just another rock, but on closer observation is clearly some kind of alien installation. Earth puts together an international team of scientist-astronauts to go investigate, including Gary Rendell. He is also chosen for the first expedition into the tunnels of the artifact, where the team is attacked and scattered. Lost and wandering, he scavenges for things that look edible and finds doors that apparently open onto other worlds. However, there’s something horrible at the heart of the maze. Is there any way he can escape and find his team again?

This narrative is written in first person, and Tchaikovsky spins a future fantasy for us. We get Rendell’s experiences, plus his reminiscences about politics and events on Earth as he wanders through the tunnels of the artifact. He encounters other alien species, also apparently either exploring or else lost and wandering. There are a few dead corpses, too. Most of this is reasonable, interesting and entertaining, but as the story progresses, Rendell becomes less and less of a reliable narrator. It’s clear something has gone wrong with him, and then we lurch into horror.

On the less positive side, I ended up feeling cheated by the ending. This is dark from the beginning, as Rendell is clearly in serious trouble in a dim and dangerous alien maze. However, the story could have gone a number of different ways. There are opportunities for alien contact and cooperation, exploration of other worlds, uplifting epiphanies, etc., but instead Tchaikovsky opts for a scenario where Rendell is warped and changed by the alien installation. There wasn’t any reason for this that seems logical, and it feels like lazy writing. Maybe he was just in a bad mood.

Best enjoyed by horror fans. Three stars.

Congrats to the 2020 Dragon Award Winners/Finalists

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There’s never enough time between the release of the ballot and the final result to read all the Dragon Finalists, but I’ll review the winners, and maybe a couple or three others that have caught my eye. Stay tuned!

Best Science Fiction Novel

  • The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
  • The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson
  • Network Effect by Martha Wells
  • Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)

  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • Jade War by Fonda Lee
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Burning White by Brent Weeks

Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel

  • Finch Merlin and the Fount of Youth by Bella Forrest
  • Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer
  • The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
  • Force Collector by Kevin Shinick
  • The Poison Jungle by Tui T. Sutherland
  • Cog by Greg van Eekhout

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel

  • Savage Wars by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole
  • Edge of Valor by Josh Hayes
  • Aftershocks by Marko Kloos
  • Defiance by Bear Ross
  • Howling Dark by Christopher Ruocchio
  • System Failure by Joe Zieja

Best Alternate History Novel

  • Witchy Kingdom by D. J. Butler
  • The Girl with No Face by M. H. Boroson
  • Revolution by W. L. Goodwater
  • As Our World Ends by Jack Hunt
  • Up-time Pride and Down-time Prejudice by Mark H. Huston
  • A Nation Interrupted by Kevin McDonald

Best Media Tie-In Novel

  • Firefly – The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove
  • Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack
  • Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War by John Jackson Miller
  • Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Aliens: Phalanx by Scott Sigler

Best Horror Novel

  • The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
  • Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky
  • Scavenger Hunt by Michaelbrent Collings
  • The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North
  • The Toll by Cherie Priest

Best Comic Book

  • Avengers by Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness
  • Bitter Root by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene
  • Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett
  • Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
  • Spider-Woman by Karla Pacheco, Pere Perez, Paulo Siqueira
  • Undiscovered Country by Charles Soule, Scott Snyder, Daniele Orlandini, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Matt D. Wilson

Best Graphic Novel

  • Battlestar Galactica Counterstrike by John Jackson Miller, Daniel HDR
  • Batman Universe by Brian Michael Bendis, Nick Derington
  • Black Bolt by Christian Ward, Frazier Irving, Stephanie Hans
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
  • Mister Miracle by Tom King, Mitch Gerads
  • Something is Killing the Children Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’Edera

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series

  • The Mandalorian– Disney+
  • Altered Carbon– Netflix
  • Lost In Space– Netflix Originals
  • Star Trek: Picard– CBS All Access
  • The Expanse– Amazon Prime
  • The Witcher– Netflix
  • Watchmen– HBO

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by J. J. Abrams
  • Ad Astra by James Gray
  • Fast Colo rby Julia Hart
  • Joker by Todd Phillips
  • Terminator: Dark Fate by Tim Miller
  • The Lion King by Jon Favreau

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game

  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order– Respawn Entertainment & Electronic Arts
  • Borderlands 3– Gearbox Software & 2k Games
  • Control– Remedy Entertainment & 505 Games
  • Death Stranding– Kojima Productions & Sony Interactive
  • Gears 5– The Coalition & Xbox Game Studios
  • Half-Life: Alyx– Valve
  • The Outer Worlds– Obsidian Entertainment & Private Division

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game

  • Minecraft Earth– Mojang Studios & Xbox Game Studios
  • Arknights– Hypergryph, Yostar
  • Call of Duty: Mobile– TiMi Studios & Activision Games
  • Grindstone – Capybara Games Inc.
  • Manifold Garden– William Chyr Studio
  • Mutazione– Die Gute Fabrik & Akupara Games

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game

  • Tapestry– Stonemaier Games
  • Forgotten Waters– Plaid Hat Games
  • Jaws of the Lion– Cephalofair Games
  • Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid– Renegade Game Studios
  • The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine– Kosmos
  • The King’s Dilemma– Horrible Guild Game Studio

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game

  • Magic: The Gathering: Throne of Eldraine– Wizards of the Coast
  • Alien RPG– Free League Publishing
  • Battlestar Galactica – Starship Battles: Viper Mk. VII– Ares Games
  • Pathfinder Second Edition– Paizo Publishing
  • Spectaculars Core Game– Scratchpad Publishing
  • Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Warcry– Games Workshop

Review of Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses edited by Juliana Rew

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This is Third Flatiron Publishing’s Summer 2020 anthology, published June 3 of this year. It leans to science fiction and runs 192 pages. For anyone who’s been following my reviews, you may have noticed that Rew does a couple of these a year, plus periodic collections of “best of.” This review may contain spoilers.

For this anthology, Juliana Rew advertised for stories about an unusual theme: a “positive future.” Twenty international authors responded with visions of what a bright future for humanity might look like, including how social media, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, space exploration and medicine could produce improvements in human lives. Some of the stories focus on how climate change might be mitigated, or how war might become obsolete. One story is about reintroducing endangered species to the wild, and another gives us a replacement clone for a dead child. Although most stories are entertaining takes on the future, a couple of them stand out as haunting. In “To the Stars and Beyond” by Chloie Piveral, a youngster on a colony ship goes on a search for soil to place in her dead aunt’s coffin. And in “Just Like Living with Dad” by Jenny Blackford, we encounter transmigration and ghostly goldfish.

The book finishes off with a humor section of short-shorts called “Grins and Gurgles.” Contributors include Christopher Muscato, Robert Bagnall, Jenny Blackford, Paul A. Freeman, Angelique Fawns, Patrick Hurley, Gustavo Bondoni, David Cleden, Eneasz Brodski, Emily Martha Sorensen, Koji A. Dae, Chloie Piveral, Liam Hogan, Mike Adamson, Alexandra Seidel, Neil James Hudson, Ville Nummenpaa, Matt Tighe, Mariev Erie Matriarch, and John Kiste.

Four stars.

Congrats to the 2020 Hugo Finalists!

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As usual, there’s a pretty high correspondence between this list and the Nebulas. I’ve linked to the reviews I’ve already done, and I’ll review and link to the others in the fiction categories as soon as I can get organized. Okay really, pretty soon.

Best Novel
The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
Middlegame, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novella
To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)
Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga)
In an Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga)

Best Novelette
“For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com 7/10/19)
“Omphalos”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
“Away with the Wolves”, Sarah Gailey (Uncanny 9-10/19)
“Emergency Skin”, N.K. Jemisin (Forward)
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 7-8/19)
“The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 4/19)

Best Short Story
“Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 1/31/19)
“As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang (Tor.com 10/23/19)
“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19)
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon (Tor.com 7/24/19)
“A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)

Best Series
Winternight, Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Luna, Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
InCryptid, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
Planetfall, Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
The Wormwood Trilogy, Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Best Related Work
Joanna Russ, Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press)
The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein, Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)
“2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, Jeannette Ng (Dublin 2019 — An Irish Worldcon)
The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square)
Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood, J. Michael Straczynski (Harper Voyager US)
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin

Best Graphic Story or Comic
Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Stephanie Hans (Image)
The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: Okay, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson (Image Comics)
Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen, Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
LaGuardia, Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Tana Ford, colours by James Devlin (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
Paper Girls, Volume 6, Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson (Image)
Mooncakes, Wendy Xu & Suzanne Walker (Oni Press; Lion Forge)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Avengers: Endgame
Captain Marvel
Good Omens
Russian Doll, Season One
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Us

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Who: “Resolution”
The Expanse: “Cibola Burn”
The Good Place: “The Answer”
The Mandalorian: “Redemption”
Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”
Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”

Best Editor, Short Form
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
C.C. Finlay
Jonathan Strahan
Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
Sheila Gilbert
Brit Hvide
Diana M. Pho
Devi Pillai
Miriam Weinberg
Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist
Tommy Arnold
Rovina Cai
Galen Dara
John Picacio
Yuko Shimizu
Alyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Escape Pod
Fireside
FIYAH
Strange Horizons
Uncanny

Best Fanzine
The Book Smugglers
Galactic Journey
Journey Planet
nerds of a feather, flock together
Quick Sip Reviews
The Rec Center

Best Fancast

Be the Serpent
The Coode Street Podcast
Galactic Suburbia
Our Opinions Are Correct
Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel
The Skiffy and Fanty Show

Best Fan Writer
Cora Buhlert
James Davis Nicoll
Alasdair Stuart
Bogi Takács
Paul Weimer
Adam Whitehead

Best Fan Artist
Iain Clark
Sara Felix
Grace P. Fong
Meg Frank
Ariela Housman
Elise Matthesen

Lodestar for Best Young Adult Book (Not a Hugo)
The Wicked King, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Hot Key)
Deeplight, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
Minor Mage, T. Kingfisher (Argyll)
Catfishing on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee (Disney/Hyperion)
Riverland, Fran Wilde (Amulet)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)
Sam Hawke
R.F. Kuang
Jenn Lyons
Nibedita Sen
Tasha Suri
Emily Tesh

Review of Warming Season by S.R. Algernon

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The description of this novel says it’s based in the universe of Algernon’s short stories “In Cygnus and in Hell” and “Home Cygnus,” both published in Nature magazine. It’s billed as Cygnus Book I, so I expect we’ll see additions to the series. For anyone who doesn’t recall, Algernon was nominated for a Hugo Award in 2016 for the short story “Asymmetrical Warfare.” This novel was published in January 2020 and runs 438 pages. This review contains spoilers.

Cygnus is a moon of the planet 16 Cygni Bb, which has been settled by a group of colonists who arrived on the colony ship Xi-Zhong. Three-hundred and sixty-five years after the founding, the colony is dominated by the Cygnus Power Corporation, and stagnation and corruption have set in. The moon has a harsh climate, and even after efforts at terraforming, temperatures in winter and summer are extreme, so colonists struggle to make a living. At the end of the cold season, a man is found dead in an alleyway, and Silver Falls Liaison Officer Deepankar Varanasi begins an investigation. The man has invented a prototype that will transform power generation, and a group of rebels aims to capture the prototype and launch a take-over of the entire colony. Cygnus Power moves to protect their interests and maintain the status quo. As the confrontation develops, it looks like they’re headed for total warfare. As Liaison, can Dee do anything to save the colony?

This is a slow burner, an absorbing story with strong, well-developed characters and a complex plot. The world is imagined in fair detail, including the environment, the government, the religious observances, and Dee’s circle of family, friends and acquaintances. This isn’t really about the technology, so the prototype’s function isn’t explained, but in general, the level of tech seem reasonable. We get a brief glimpse of a colony off-shoot with a different approach to adaptation. From a slow burn at the beginning, this progresses toward a train wreck of epic proportions.

On the not-so positive side, I had a little trouble defining Dee’s role and following his responses as the crisis develops. He seems to be an appointed official with self-esteem issues who attends children’s pageants and speaks at commemoration parades, and I would expect this kind of officer to have a security squad to handle things for him. Instead, Dee tries to operate as a one-man police force, investigating crimes and confronting revolutionaries himself. When things go wrong, he has no clear plan. His hands-on approach adds to the adventure quality of the story, but it’s hard to support in realistic terms.

It’s an interesting beginning to a series and I have to appreciate the space colony setting and the projection into a possible future. We’ll have to wait to see how things resolve.

Four stars.

Review of Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

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This is a futuristic detective novella published in 2017 through Sanderson’s imprint Dragonsteel Entertainment. It runs 98 pages, and the film rights have been optioned by MGM. This review contains spoilers.

Anthony Davis and his partner Chaz are police detectives assigned to the Snapshot project. This is a technology that can recreate a city of 20 million for a single day as a resource for police investigations. Davis thinks the two of them have been taken off regular duty for this because of deficiencies—Chaz is rated too aggressive, and Davis isn’t aggressive enough. The two of them have been sent to investigate a crime that took place 10 days ago. They successfully locate a murder weapon, and then they have to wait for evening for their next assignment, a domestic dispute. Davis visits his son Hal, successfully avoiding his ex-wife, but then the two detectives get sidetracked when they run across evidence of a mass murderer, The Photographer. Headquarters orders them not to get involved, but feeling a sense of duty, they cautiously start an investigation. None of the people in the city are real so they can’t be really killed—except Davis and Chaz. Anything they do in the city causes deviations from reality. Is what they’re doing putting them at risk?

This is an entertaining read. It sets up the situation and some guys with problems and lets it play out. As usual with Sanderson’s work, it’s strongly plotted, with complexities and a sudden twist at the end that I wasn’t expecting. There’s an emotional component when Davis sneaks in the visit with his son, followed by later issues with his ex. The eventual face-to-face with The Photographer strongly suggests this might be a Snapshot of a Shapshot, in other words, an investigation of crimes committed within a previous Shapshot of the city.

The fact that both men have been taken off regular duty because of aggression issues mirrors a more developed discussion of this in Sanderson’s recent Skyward series. The repetition suggests it might be a recurring theme in his work, but there’s no real discussion of it here—Sanderson only presents the contrast, and maybe the difficulty of getting something like this right as an officer of the law.

On the not so positive side, I thought the sudden twist wasn’t that well supported by what had gone on before. It was foreshadowed some by The Photographer, but the conflict we saw didn’t quite build up enough motivation for the main characters. This could have also tied in better with the theme of aggression. What the mass murderer was doing didn’t quite make good sense, either. Still, these issues don’t detract from a good story.

Three and a half stars.

Review of “Obsolescence” by Martha Wells

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This short story is based in the Murderbot universe, and appears in the anthology Take Us to a Better Place, released by Melcher Media on January 21, 2020. This review contains spoilers.

Jixy is an administrator at Kidland Station, somewhere in space. She is first alerted to a problem by screaming children, and finds, to her horror, that Greggy seems to have had a terrible accident. It’s a messy cleanup job, and worse, it looks like some of his components have been stolen. Greggy was a retired exploration rover, an early version of a human-machine construct, who was working at Kidland Station in a second career as a teaching assistant. Suspecting that Greggy might have been attacked by an unauthorized visitor, Jixy puts the station in emergency mode and orders a search of the module. It’s a scary situation, as everybody remembers stories of raiders that attack people to steal their prostheses and augments. Can Jixy find whoever is responsible before they strike again?

On the positive side, this story follows up on information we’ve gotten from Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series. One reason that Murderbot tries so hard to blend in with the human population is that it’s concerned about being identified as a rogue construct without any rights, which would be fair game for a chop shop gang. Murderbot also mentions the exploration rovers as an early example of human-bot constructs. Generally these were people who had suffered some highly debilitating accident and were offered the chance for reconstruction to help establish the first bases on Luna and Mars.

On the not so positive side, this suffers greatly from lack of Murderbot. Without its wry observances, the story fails to generate anything much in the way of interest. The vision of Greggy floating in his own remains is somewhat horrific, as is the perpetrator, but otherwise, I’m not sure of the point here. That transhumans will get obsolete the way an old car does? Well okay, maybe so. It’s a bit short on details, too.

Three stars.

Review of Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

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This novel is science fiction and #2 in the Skyward series, following the novel Skyward. It was released by Tor in November of 2019 and runs 461 pages. This review contains spoilers.

At the end of Skyward, Spensa Nightshade has found that reality is a long way from what she’s always believed. Humans have been imprisoned on Detritus, guarded by the Krell, and Spensa has found she has cytonic abilities to hear and teleport ships through the Nowhere—the method her ancestors used to get around in space, which can be amplified by an unknown “cytonic hyperdrive.” As the humans have made advances into space, conflict with the Krell has increased. Human techs locate a video on one of the orbiting space platforms and, watching it, Spensa has a terrifying vision of delvers (inhabitants of the Nowhere). She screams cytonically and accidentally contacts an alien pilot, who hyperjumps into Detritus space. The ship is damaged by the automated guns on the platforms. Hoping to capture its hyperdrive, Spensa and her Skyward flight try to rescue the ship, but find there’s no hyperdrive aboard. The pilot is injured in the crash landing, but gives Spensa coordinates for Skysight, the center of alien government. Spensa and her flight leader Jorgen make a quick decision, and Spensa disguises herself as the injured pilot, then uses the coordinates and her cytonic ability to hyperjump there. She is welcomed by Cuna, a representative of the Superiority, and enters a training program to provide fighter pilots for the Superiority, supposedly to defend against the delvers. With the help of her ship’s AI M-bot and Doomslug, her odd pet that has stowed away, Spensa tries to navigate the alien politics and manages to make friends with various representatives of the “inferior” races Cuna has assembled into his fighter units. Spensa builds a spy drone from a cleaning bot and finally learns the secret of the hyperdrives. She gets caught with the drone, but there’s a coup afoot in the Superiority government. Can Spensa save Detritus, rescue M-bot and Doomslug and get away?

This is a really condensed summary, of course. The novel has a great plot, full of twists, turns and revelations. The characters are very well developed, full of alien idiosyncrasies, and the action/suspense starts up right at the beginning, making this a pretty gripping read. Spensa operates by the skin of her teeth, developing into a leader herself within the assembly of misfits that makes up her new flight. The book also features a constant undercurrent of discussion about aggression versus non-aggression and how each one affects a particular society. The Superiority prides itself on non-aggression, for example, but has to draft alien pilots to do the dirty work of defense. Meanwhile, they suppress these “inferior” races, keeping hyperdrives away from them so they can’t develop economically. Humans are painted as the real bad guys in the picture for their highly aggressive and dominant tendencies. Meanwhile, M-bot is finding ways to work around the programming that keeps him confined and enslaved. Will that turn out to be dangerous?

On the not so positive side, Skysight doesn’t seem that alien of a place, and some of this seems a little over-simplistic, especially the way Spensa interacts with the aliens and the way she develops a method to deal with the terrifying delvers. M-bot comes across as immature and sulky, and we all knew Doomslug was going to figure in this somehow, right?

Highly recommended.

Four and a half stars.

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