Tag Archives: sci-fi

Review of Earthrise (Her Instruments #1), by M.C.A. Hogarth

I picked M.C.A. Hogarth‘s Earthrise up from Amazon when it was free. It was still free at the time of posting.

Description from Goodreads:
Reese Eddings has enough to do just keeping her rattletrap merchant vessel, the TMS Earthrise, profitable enough to pay food for herself and her micro-crew. So when a mysterious benefactor from her past shows up demanding she rescue a man from slavers, her first reaction is to say “NO!” And then to remember that she sort of promised to repay the loan. But she doesn’t remember signing up to tangle with pirates and slavers over a space elf prince… Book 1 of the Her Instruments trilogy is a rollicking space operatic adventure set in the Pelted Paradox universe.

I’m torn how to feel about this book. It’s easily readable, has an interesting universe and I very much enjoyed all the side characters (including Unpronounceably Named Male Lead). But I never came to like Reese. Not even a little bit. I understood that she wasn’t really meant to be a b*tch, but she was. She was so prickly that she pushed everyone away, even me, the reader. I kept hoping that she’d come around and settle down to likable. After all, there are generally expected arcs that such books usually follow. I sense that this series will too, but it didn’t happen in this book.

I kept thinking and being bothered by the idea that if she was a male captain, no author would have written her to be so coddled by her crew. They’re constantly sending her away when things get intense. The stress of leadership was literally eating a hole in her stomach. And she’s angry all the time, because she can’t express herself any other way.

There was also some uncomfortable language. Hogarth uses food to describe skin tones (admittedly for both black and white characters), which is understably a no-no, and Unpronounceably Named Male Lead thinks of Reese as looking exotic, several times. Which might not be so bad if he wasn’t a white man, her a black woman and they weren’t standing next to cat-people, dog-like people and a talking Phoenix. Kind of sure, being a black woman doesn’t make her the exotic one in those circumstances.

Lastly, the plotting is very linear. Reese is hired to rescue someone. She and her crew go right there and get them. Then she immediately has a medical emergency that they are miraculously on hand to fix and then they just go off on their next adventure. There are no red herrings or diverting paths to liven things up a bit.

Having said that, I appreciate there being a person of color as a lead character, even on the cover, and I was entertained throughout the book. I’d be happy to read another one.

Review of Hullmetal Girls, by Emily Skrutskie

I won a signed copy of Hullmetal Girls, by Emily Skrutskie though Goodreads.

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor’s salary isn’t enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha’s and Key’s paths collide, and the two must learn to work together–a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

This was so much better than I expected. I’m just so jaded on YA lit, but this gave me hope for the genre. These girls face some real challenges and succeed through perseverance and determination, every times. Plus, the book is full of diversity and calmly breaks patriarchal norms all over the place. There are people who look different from one another and economic/class distinctions. There’s an aroace character, a pansexual character, someone who isn’t sure, a heterosexual character (they have a conversation, sexuality isn’t a big thing in the book). A gay couple adopts child because a woman loves her child but isn’t maternal or want to be a mother and that’s ok. One of the main characters is religious and wears a head scarf. All the people in positions of power are female (even God) and no one tries to explain it away or excuse it. Romance or being slighted by a man isn’t a motivating force for anyone. Of the only significant male characters, one is inept and clumsy and one is a support worker. There is just so much to love about it.

I did think the story was dependent on the characters being given a leave way that didn’t make sense and I wasn’t entirely sure what actually happened with Key at the end. It didn’t seem to fit the science of the eco rigs, as explained. But these are small complaints on the whole, I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more of Skrutskie’s writing.

Review of Flotsam (Peridot Shift #1), by R.J. Theodore

I received a copy of R.J. Theodore‘s Flotsam from the publisher.

Description from Goodreads:
A fantastical steampunk first contact novel that ties together high magic, high technology, and bold characters to create a story you won’t soon forget.

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

This wasn’t a bad read. I thought the world was really interesting and on the surface the characters seemed to be too. The writing was easily readable and the editing was sound. All in all, I’d recommend it.

However, it did seem overly long, dragging in the middle. I never felt I really got to know the characters, especially the crew and primary antagonist. And the fate of the world was left unresolved in favor of the reader learning the fate of a few.

Lastly, I’m torn about the use of the Xe pronouns. Part of me appreciates a genderless character and the effort it takes to introduce what are likely unfamiliar pronouns to a lot of readers. Another part of me was bothered that the character was presented as so very alien.

I was reminded of an interview I recently read with (I think) David J. Peterson, who has a job of creating fictional languages. The interviewer essentially asked him if he’d ever take an existing, but not well known language, and use it for, say, Elvish. Who would know, the interview joked. Peterson basically rephrased the question as “Are you asking me if I’d ever use someone’s culture? No.”

There was a real part of me that thought using what is the actual identity of real people to represent, not just a fictional character, but a character presented as so much more alien than any other other character that no one in the book could relate to them, was uncomfortable. How might it feel to people who themselves use Xe to read about that character?

I actually feel a little bad bringing it up, because I see from other reviews that there were earlier issues with the character being genderless and the author and publisher took them into account and improved it. Choosing to go with Xe/Xi, instead of whatever it was before. I guess I just wish they’d made a pronoun up, instead of going with a real world one, for a character that was presented as so very non-human by the other characters in the book. (Keeping in mind none are wholly human, but they have a sense of WE that Scrimshaw is denied.)