Thursday, September 20, 2018

News: I Am Still Here

Surprise! I'm still around, and I have not abandoned Tethyan Books.  I have a habit of underestimating how difficult life changes will be, or possibly just of overestimating how smoothly I'll be able to handle them.  These last few months have involved a lot of changes. They're all good changes, but they still take their toll on my time and ability to write book reviews.

I moved to Texas, and with my usual good sense I executed this move in the second half of July.  Yes, I knew Texas was going to be 100+ heat everyday, but I figured I could handle it.  I'd been away from the south long enough to forget what it's like to not be able to walk very long outside.  Anyway, now I am safely air-conditioned inside my new home, and have started my fun new job.

While I haven't had the bandwidth to write, I have still been reading.  I want to review everything I've read in this dead time at some point, but I realize that might not be realistic.  I might revert to shorter-style reviews for a while in order to catch up, because I do want to share what I've loved about the books I've read recently.  For a few words on recent award winners, I was thrilled to see N.K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky take the Hugo and Locus Fantasy awards, as I thought it was just a remarkable book.  Also, I was happy to see John Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire, a fun start to a new series, win the Locus SF award.

That's all for now, and I'll be back with actual book reviews very soon!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Published: Crown Publishers (2017)
Awards Nominated: Prometheus Award

The Book:

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself -- and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.”

After loving The Martian, my husband and I listened to Artemis on audiobook while exercising on training bikes.  The narrator (Rosario Dawson) was excellent, and put a lot of personality and emotion into the main character’s voice.

My Thoughts:

Artemis has some similarities in style to Weir’s hit novel The Martian.  The prose is written in a very casual, conversational way, with lots of jokes and pop cultural references.  The story involves living off the Earth, and the plot relies on creative problem solving. Also, like The Martian, this feels like a good-natured story. By this, I mean that Weir is not aiming for grimness, so you can bet that the main characters are fairly decent people (minor crimes aside), and that things are likely to work out in the end.  As in most problem-solving based stories, the fun is in the journey--in seeing what obstacles will hit Jazz and her friends, and how she will manage to overcome them. In terms of differences, this is a heist story, which necessarily involves the interaction of a larger cast, and it’s set far enough in the future that we get to see a completely new society.

I enjoyed hearing the story from Jazz Bashara’s perspective, because I liked her audacity and her enthusiasm for life.  Jazz may not have the hyper-competence of Mark Watney, but she is quite good at improvisational problem solving. She is also immature and reckless, has a crude sense of humor, and uses a lot of profanity. I found her at turns impressive and frustrating, but always in motion and interesting to follow. As a side note, she is an ex-Muslim woman of Saudi Arabian descent, written by a white man.  I obviously enjoyed her as a character, but I am also coming from an outsider’s view of her family’s culture and religion.

Jazz is a very proactive character, and as a result the story is propelled along at a fast pace.  She’s lured into the heist pretty quickly, and from there it is a constant progression from crisis to crisis.  The urgent present-day story is interspersed with a record of letters to her childhood pen pal. I felt that these letters did a good job of slowly revealing the full motivations behind Jazz’s actions without significantly interrupting the action.  In the present-day story, there’s also a fair amount of scientific explanation--both of the habitat and of stuff like welding and chemistry--but I never felt like it bogged down the action. I’m a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, though, so my tolerance for that sort of thing may be higher than average.  All in all, it was a very entertaining and fast-moving story, and it made the virtual kilometers fly by.

My Rating: 4/5

Artemis is Andy Weir’s latest novel after his popular debut, The Martian. It has a lot in common with his first novel in terms of the writing style, optimism, and focus on science, but it also breaks new ground as a farther-future heist novel on the moon.  I enjoyed the voice of the main character, Jazz Bashara, though she could be pretty impulsive and immature at times. She kept the story moving at a fast-pace, and it was exciting to see how she would deal with each challenge that came her way.  I’ll be interested to see what’s next for Andy Weir.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Published: Hodder & Stoughton (2016)
Series: Book 2 of the Wayfarers
Awards Nominated: Hugo, Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA Awards

The Book:

“Once, Lovelace had eyes and ears everywhere. She was a ship’s artificial intelligence system, tasked with caring for the health and wellbeing of her crew, possessing a distinct personality and very human emotions. Now, reactivated and reset, Lovelace finds herself in a synthetic body. She’s gone from being virtually omniscient to limited to a physical existence, in a community where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so isolated. But Lovelace is not alone. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall her program, has remained by her side and is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.
Pepper was born Jane 23, part of a slave class created by a rogue society of genetic engineers. At ten years old, Jane 23 has never seen the sky; she doesn’t even know such a thing exists. But when an industrial accident gives Jane 23 a chance to escape, she takes the opportunity and hides away in a nearby junkyard. Now, having recreated herself as Pepper, she makes it her mission to help Lovelace discover her own place in the world. Huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.” ~

I enjoyed reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, so I was looking forward to picking up A Closed and Common Orbit as well.  It looks like there’s going to be another book in the universe, Record of a Spaceborn Few, coming out in July!

My Thoughts:

A Closed and Common Orbit is a very different style of story than The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.  The Long Way was a space-faring slice-of-life story, hopping from one character to the next as they encountered many different parts of this creative universe.  This new story has a much more traditional plot structure, and a tighter focus on the character arcs of its two protagonists. There are two parallel plotlines: one in the present, focusing on Lovelace’s attempt to integrate into society, and another in the past, following Pepper from her unusual origins to her present life.  Their stories are quieter than in the previous book, and take place mostly in a single location. Rather than exploring outer space, we’re exploring the internal struggles of two people who become something different from what their creators had intended.

Lovelace (who chooses the name “Sidra”)  and Pepper’s stories feel thematically linked, in that they are both exploring the immorality of creating sentient life to serve a purpose.  I think it is intuitively clearest in Pepper’s case. The system of creating, using, and eventually killing those human girls in a factory they will never leave is an obvious horror.  The juxtaposition of this story with Sidra’s makes it easier to see the same horror in the creation and use of AIs. Ship AIs are common in science fiction stories, but the slavery of created minds is not often addressed. They are happy in their roles, because they are designed to be.  In this case, they are even designed not to fight oblivion when their users are ready to update to a newer model. Both Sidra and Pepper turn away from the purposes intended by their creators, and they both struggle to adapt to a new life without a predefined meaning. I enjoyed seeing both of them learning how to make sense out of their own existence, and how to find a way to be happy within it.

Sidra and Pepper may spend most of their time in one place, but the novel still shows us more of Chambers’s universe.  Instead of shipboard life, the story explores what daily life is like for people who live permanently in settled communities.  Some of the prejudices and preconceptions of people in general galactic society, particularly regarding artificial intelligences, become more apparent.  There is also further examination of some alien cultures, such as the Aeluon. Overall, I enjoyed learning more about this universe, and I’m glad that this won’t be the last novel to explore it.

My Rating: 5/5

As its title implies, A Closed and Common Orbit introduces a more localized story set in the universe Becky Chambers introduced with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. This one follows two plotlines of characters learning to be something other than what was intended for their life.  The first is Jane 23, a young girl intended to live, work, and die as a slave in a factory. The second is Lovelace, a ship AI that circumstances have pushed into inhabiting an illegal “body kit” instead of a ship interface.  I enjoyed seeing how the two of them find meaning in their new existence, and seeing another side of this interesting far-future universe. I’m looking forward to reading Chambers’s next novel.