James Corey – Science fiction – May. 2023
Abaddon’s Gate, the latest installment in The Expanse series, takes readers on another thrilling journey alongside James Holden and introduces three compelling new characters. Anna Volovodov, a Kenyan pastor, brings a refreshing perspective to the narrative as she grapples with the moral implications of the protomolecule construct. “Bull” de Baca, the head of security on the OPA Behemoth, adds a layer of tension and strategic thinking as the crew navigates the dangers of The Ring. Finally, Clarissa Mao, sister of Julie Mao, brings a personal vendetta and a complex backstory to the forefront, offering a unique motivation for her actions. As the characters venture into the mysterious and foreboding world of The Ring, parked outside Uranus’s orbit, the story unfolds with a perfect blend of suspense, scientific intrigue, and political maneuvering. James S. A. Corey’s writing continues to shine, delivering a captivating plot that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.
Ryka Aoki – Speculative fiction – Apr. 2023
Light From Uncommon Stars is a beautifully crafted speculative fiction novel that intertwines the lives of four remarkable women. The story is a tapestry of fantasy and science fiction, with each protagonist bringing a unique perspective and backstory that contributes to the richness of the narrative.
One of the main characters, a violin teacher, has made a secret deal with a demon, which becomes the basis for much of the story’s supernatural elements. Another is a young transgender violin prodigy with a painful past, who adds a layer of depth to the themes of identity and self-discovery.
The inclusion of an alien starship captain leading her refugee family adds another dimension to the story, with the portrayal of a culture that is alien yet relatable. The final protagonist, the last descendant of a male-dominated family luthier business, brings a perspective on tradition and legacy that grounds the story in reality.
The novel addresses several themes, including womanhood, Asian American culture, music, and the challenges faced by the LGBT community. These themes are explored with sensitivity and nuance, and the result is a compelling and emotionally charged narrative.
However, the ending of the story felt weak, with a resolution that was too much of a fairy tale ending. It didn’t feel in keeping with the rest of the story’s complexity and richness. Additionally, the male characters in the novel were somewhat two-dimensional, which detracted from the overall depth of the story.
In summary, Light From Uncommon Stars is a beautifully written and engaging novel that weaves together a tapestry of genres and themes. While the ending may disappoint some readers, the emotional depth and intricate character development make it a worthwhile read.
James Corey – Science fiction – Mar. 2023
Caliban’s War is the second book in The Expanse series. The novel follows the crew of the Rocinante, who find themselves caught up in a solar system-wide conspiracy involving a new form of alien life, a ruthless corporation, and a power-hungry politician. The story also introduces new characters, including a high-ranking UN official, a Martian Marine sergeant, and a scientist studying the alien protomolecule. As tensions escalate and violence erupts, the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. The novel explores themes of power, politics, loyalty, and the consequences of humanity’s actions.
Andy Weir – Science fiction – Feb. 2023
After thoroughly enjoying Andy Weir’s The Martian and Project Hail Mary, Artemis was a disappointment. The story follows Jazz, a resident of a moon colony named Artemis, as she attempts to commit the perfect crime. The story is okay, but nothing exceptional. It’s predictable in many parts but still has enough twists and turns to keep the reader off guard. The characters are interesting, but none are particularly deep. I did enjoy the science fiction elements, such as how a Moon colony could work from a technology and economic perspective.
James Corey – Science fiction – Jan. 2023
This is the first book in The Expanse series, a space western set in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Expanse series is the basis for TV series by the same name. I’m a big fan of the TV series, which prompted me to pick this book up. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed. The main differentiators compared to the TV series are that the pace is a bit slower, and more time is spent going into details about how the space stations work, the economy of the Belt, and the politics of the OPA. There are only two character-driven storylines (Holden and Miller), so things are much more focused.
Tamsyn Muir – Science fantasy – Dec. 2022
Gideon the Ninth is a mashup of fantasy, sci-fi, and who-dun-it. Basically, it’s “lesbian necromancers in space”. It has excellent world-building, and I enjoyed the well-balanced mix of poetic & flowery language with crass humour. Ultimately, it has many weaknesses, making it hard to get through. Many minor characters are shallow and indistinguishable, but they’re so integral to the story that they don’t feel like minor characters. The writing is so confusing that it’s tough to understand who is talking to whom in some scenes. The actual story didn’t feel remarkable.
Arkady Martine – Science fiction – Oct. to Nov. 2022
A Desolation Called Peace is the second book in the Teixcalaan duology. Martine’s brilliant world-building continues, but this time focussing on the culture of Lsel Station and the Teixcalaan military fleet. It tackles some big themes, particularly language, institutions, and colonialism. Collective conciousness is a theme that is explored across multiple levels of abstraction, which I found to be a really interesting idea. It would be rated a five, but the increased number of characters compared to the first book make the story harder to follow in some places.
Aldous Huxley – Dystopian fiction – Oct. 2022
I originally read Brave New World in 2005 for a high school English class and didn’t get much out of it then. This time, I got much more out of it and appreciated its commentary on themes such as individuality, happiness, truth, free will, and state-controlled societies. I unfortunately didn’t find the narrative particularly compelling.
Dennis Taylor – Science fiction – Sep. 2022
Heaven’s River is the fourth book in the Bobiverse series. It departs from the style of books two and three, with much of the action taking place with the Bobs controlling individual “Mannys” (human-sized personas) on an alien megastructure. It’s a refreshing change to the formula.
George Orwell – Dystopian fiction – Sep. 2022
I enjoyed the exploration of some weighty themes in 1984. Propaganda, language (as a general tool), control via history revision, loyalty, and actual gaslighting. The world-building is decent, and the atmosphere is well-constructed. The main thing that I didn’t like about 1984 is that I didn’t like or relate to any of the characters.
George Orwell – Political satire – Aug. 2022
Animal Farm is short and fun parody about the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. It packs some heavy criticism towards the totalitarian side of socialism, and touches on themes such as the failure of intellect and the corruption of ideals. I enjoyed the playful style of writing.
Dennis Taylor – Science fiction – Aug. 2022
Roadkill is about three friends who accidentally acquire a spaceship/sentient AI, who they join on an adventure to save the human race. I found the book entertaining, but ultimately the story and the characters are easily forgettable.
Arkady Martine – Science fiction – Aug. 2022
A Memory Called Empire is the first book in the Teixcalaan duology. It follows Mahit, who is posted as the new ambassador of a small mining station to the mighty Teixcalaan empire. The world-building is fantastic, and the story is thoroughly interesting with political intrigue and drama. Some great themes are explored, such as identity, imperialism, colonialism, language, and independence. The quiet normalisation of queer relationships is a subtle but nice touch.
Dennis Taylor – Science fiction – Jul. 2022
All These Worlds is the third book in the Bobiverse series. It feels much like the second book in the series and pales compared to the first. A savage new alien threat takes centre stage, but much of the narrative focus is on combat with the threat rather than exploring their history, society, and culture.
Leigh Bardugo – Fantasy – Jul. 2022
Shadow and Bone is a fantasy novel about a young woman whose newly surfaced powers set her apart from her peers and put the balance of powers in the world in jeopardy. The story and world-building felt a bit too predictable and generic for my liking.
Frank Herbert – Science fiction – Jul. 2022
Destination: Void follows the story of a small group of clones who are caretakers for a colony ship heading to Tau Ceti. Unbeknownst to them, they’re part of an experiment to create artificial consciousness. This fascinating concept is executed poorly and hasn’t aged well (the book was published in 1965). My main criticism is that the book spends significant time waffling on about mathematically defining consciousness, and the techno-gobbledegook is nearly incomprehensible. I struggled to get through it.
Andy Weir – Science fiction – Jun. 2022
The Egg and Other Stories is a collection of nine very short standalone stories. Each is excellent. Some whimsical and fun, and others are sad or profound. Every story ends with an unexpected twist.
Orson Scott Card – Science fiction – Jun. 2022
Ender’s Game follows a young boy who is recruited by the military to attend Battle School, a training facility for gifted children to become military commanders in a war against an alien species known as the Buggers. As he progresses through the ranks, he becomes increasingly conflicted about the morality of the war and the toll it takes on him and his peers. I found the story entertaining, but ultimately not a standout.
Daniel Keyes – Science fiction – Jun. 2022
Flowers for Algernon follows the life of Charlie Gordon, a man with a severe intellectual disability. He is selected for an experimental surgery which causes his IQ to rise dramatically, eventually surpassing that of his doctors and colleagues. However, as Charlie becomes more intelligent, he becomes more isolated and realizes the true nature of his relationships with those around him, leading to a tragic conclusion.
I enjoyed the emotional depth and complexity of the characters in the story. The exploration of how intelligence affects relationships and personal fulfilment was profound.
Andy Weir – Science fiction – Jun. 2022
The Martian follows an astronaut stranded alone on Mars after his team is forced to evacuate due to a severe dust storm. Believed to be dead and with no means of communication, he must use his skills as a botanist and engineer to survive on the hostile planet and find a way to signal Earth for a rescue mission.
I enjoyed the hard science fiction aspects of the book, as well as its emotional ups and downs as the story progresses.
Philip Dick – Science fiction – May 2022
Ubik is set in an alternate reality where psychic abilities exist, and corporations have monetised nearly every aspect of daily life. The story follows a team of anti-psychics who gradually experience strange and inexplicable phenomena. As the line between reality and illusion becomes increasingly blurred, the team are forced to unravel the mystery of the enigmatic substance called “Ubik”.
I enjoyed the world-building and sense of mystery that was built up throughout the novel. I was left guessing what was really going on right up until the very end of the story.
Richard Morgan – Science fiction – May 2022
“Altered Carbon” is set in a future where human consciousness can be digitized and transferred between bodies, known as “sleeves.” The story follows a mercenary who a wealthy businessman hires to investigate his murder.
I picked up this book because I enjoyed the TV series based on it. I enjoyed the fast pace and grittiness of the book, but ultimately it didn’t live up to the TV series for me.
Dennis Taylor – Science fiction – Apr. 2022
For We Are Many is the second book in the Bobiverse series. It picks up where the story left off and follows the Bobs into their adventures through the local star systems. Some interesting ideas are pursued, such as one of the Bobs becoming a “sky god” to the local inhabitants of Delta Eridani and some incredible battles between competing von Neumann probes. Its main fault is that it doesn’t feel as fresh as We are Legion by comparison.
Dennis Taylor – Science fiction – Mar. 2022
We are Legion is the first book in the Bobiverse series. It follows the story of Bob, who dies in the 21st century and wakes up hundreds of years later about to be inserted into a von Neumann probe as its controlling AI. This is an intriguing and novel concept and is executed exceptionally well. I was initially put off by the silliness of the title but got over that very quickly.
Julia Galef – Self help – Mar. 2022
The Scout Mindset explores the idea of having a scout mindset versus a soldier mindset. Scout mindset involves the ability to objectively evaluate evidence and update beliefs based on new information, while soldier mindset is focused on defending existing beliefs and biases.
Cormac McCarthy – Post-apocalyptic – Feb. 2022
The Road follows a father and his young son as they journey through a barren and dangerous world. As they do so, the duo encounter various threats, including hunger, cold, and roving bands of cannibals, all while trying to maintain their humanity and love for each other.
I was taken by surprise at the deep, visceral reaction I had to the story.
David Graeber – Organisational culture – Jan. 2022
Bullshit Jobs explores the phenomenon of meaningless jobs that seem to serve no purpose other than to keep people busy.
I found the enumeration of different flavours of bullshit jobs interesting, but didn’t get much else out of the book and found it hard to get through. The discussion around Universal Basic Income as a solution to bullshit jobs was very cliché.
Andy Weir – Science fiction – Dec. 2021
Project Hail Mary follows a scientist who wakes up on a spaceship with no memory of his past or why he’s there. He soon discovers that he’s on a mission to save Earth from a single-cell organism, which is consuming the Sun’s energy and causing it to dim. The novel is a thrilling adventure that combines hard science with a compelling story of survival and hope.
Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein – Science – Dec. 2021
A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century explores how human biology and evolutionary history inform our current challenges and opportunities in the modern world. Drawing on research from fields such as anthropology, biology, and psychology, the authors examine topics such as human sexuality, social hierarchies, and the role of technology in our lives. They argue that by understanding our evolutionary past and how our biology shapes our behaviour, we can better navigate the complexities of modern society and achieve greater happiness and fulfilment. Overall, the book offers a thought-provoking and insightful perspective on being human in the 21st century.
Ayn Rand – Philosophical fiction – Aug. to Nov. 2021
Atlas Shrugged depicts a dystopian society in which its productive members go on strike to protest against excessive regulation and interference in industry. The story follows Dagny Taggart as she tries to save her family’s struggling railroad company. The novel deeply explores many different themes, including property rights, libertarianism, capitalism, and the role of government.
My main criticism of the book is that the protagonists are unrealistic and almost read as caricatures. This is partially redeemed by the portrayal of the antagonists, who are very lifelike and realistic. Some of the ideas could have been expressed in a more condensed way.