Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckle

I picked this book up after it had been suggested to me by a classmate yesterday, and it was absolutely worth the read. The protagonist of this book, Breq, was once a starship AI. However, she is now tethered to a human body and is out to discover what has caused this to happen to her, and perhaps get her revenge.

This book shapes the world around the protagonist, which is what I tend to prefer in a sci-fi story, provided it’s done correctly. This is definitely the case here; on top of the usual questions of morals and ethics during a life of war, the narrative made some truly interesting points by integrating them seamlessly into the plot.

Admittedly, I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first which dragged in places. The joy of discovering the world through Breq was there, but it was much less pronounced earlier on. However, I did still enjoy it, and the book picked up beautifully halfway through.

Rating: 8/10

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Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold

Everything and everyone on Artemis was bioengineered, made to be the perfect addition to the guests on the pleasure planet. 

Centuries later, humanity has lost the majority of the advanced technology it once possessed. Artemis has faded away into a fable until a young archeologist finds hints that send him out into the universe. His quest to find the lost world strands him on Artemis.  Joined by the Huntress Adara and her psych-linked companion, the puma Sand Shadow, Dane’s quest will lead him to discover the planet’s secrets, and perhaps find the key to saving humanity

I’m not sure who did the cover for Artemis Awakening, but they absolutely deserve a bonus for being the entire reason I picked up this book in the first place.

The text itself is also interesting, although nowhere near as eye-catching. It is certainly interesting, and the premise is fantastic, but it feels more like part of a larger book that has been ripped into bits than a standalone story. Adara was by far the more interesting protagonist, which is nice to see a female protagonist being given a great deal of depth, but did leave me wishing that the archeologist, Griffen was given something more interesting to do than wait around for things to fix themselves. Hopefully this will be solved by the next book.

This was a fun read, but I would suggest borrowing rather than buying a copy.

Rating: 6/10

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1636: The Devil’s Opera by Eric Flint and David Carrico

With the king of Sweden suffering a brain injury from the war with Poland, the allegiance between the time-displaced people of 20th century West Virginia and the people of 1636 is threatened by the new Swedish chancellor’s thirst for blood. With a plot for murder whispered about everywhere in the capital, a small child, a boxing champion, and two out-of-luck policemen may be all that stands in the way of civil war.

This book was very enjoyable, although not quite what I was expecting when I picked it up. More than a straightforward murder mystery, it also incorporates a rather touching coming-of-age story into the narrative.

I had never really picked up the Ring of Fire series before this point, although I had heard of it. I enjoyed the writing and the story here enough that I may have to consider reading a few closer to the beginning of the run, if only so that I can understand what the characters are going through. The book makes perfect sense on its own, but I would love to understand how far the characters have come.

The book admittedly starts out quite slowly, but if you can manage to make it through the first fifty pages or so, the story becomes enthralling.

Rating: 7/10

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The Clown Service by Guy Adams

Toby Greene, hapless agent of the British Intelligence Service, has been reassigned to work at the mysterious Section 37. 

Led by the inscrutable August Shining, Toby finds quickly himself dealing with issues ranging from the trouble of requisitioning a desk to dealing with UFO sightings, ghosts and various supernatural creatures.

However, all of that is tossed to the side when Toby and Shining discover that a supposedly long dead Soviet agent has surfaced once more,  armed with a crowd of zombie-esque minions. 

This book is enormously fun. A number of the characters come across as fairly one-note for the most part, but the premise is so ridiculous that it manages to make that up for itself. The book is very nicely paced, and the tone manages to find that spot between light and dark that allows a narrative to examine surprisingly creepy concepts while still coming across as breezy rather than terrifying.

It reminded me quite a bit of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, for better or for worse. If you enjoy silly stories about spies fighting off hoards of zombies while throwing off quips, I recommend you pick at least this first book for a winter beach read.

Rating: 6/10

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Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer

Decades ago, something unexplained happened to an area of the US that separated it from the rest of the world. As a result, a byzantine government bureaucracy now sends people on expeditions into this area to study the mystery, with varying degrees of success. As the twelfth expedition makes its way across the border that surrounds Area X, the four women involved prepare themselves to collect samples, map out the terrain within, and avoid being afflicted by whatever they find there. 

This series is still one of my favourite stories of the past few years, although I have trouble pinning down why this is. ‘Something worrying is happening to the tiny cordoned piece of land’ is hardly a new concept, after all, and it isn’t as if the plot manages to stay on-course, or even make some sort of consistent sense.

I think ultimately, it’s the sheer nerve of it all that draws me in. Vandermeer took his incredibly involving writing style and a story that could have easily stood as an epic, and used them to supply the audience with as few answers as possible. Each third of the story has its own point, but as a whole the trilogy deals almost exclusively with the ways that the both physical and figerative environments the characters have been thrust into begin to shape their psyches. The plot serves more as  the suggestion of a vehicle for the characters than anything, so it does’t really matter where the plot veers off to as long as it goes somewhere. This sort of story-telling occasionally drives me insane, and indeed there are a number of people these books annoy, but somehow, it works here.

Rating: 8/10

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