Book Review: Ancillary Mercy


Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very fitting conclusion to one of my favorite sci-fi series. I know some readers of this series were expecting something more of a grand space opera, with Breq perhaps flying across Radch space to end the wrongs of Anaander Mianaai.

That isn't going to happen here and scope and scale of something so large is unfeasible. Instead the story backs off, and focuses more on the specifics. It is telling Breq's story after all, not the story of the Radch. Through that story we get to see the growth and development of Breq becoming the person that she her self cannot admit that she is. It is that point that the rest of the story hinges upon, and really what so many good sci fi stories do hinge upon. They take a character's personal instances and struggles and extrapolate them out to the broader society in question. In this case that question is, is an AI a "person"? The culmination of this trilogy leads us to that point and question and ends not with the answer, but the posing of the question. Some may find that unsatisfying and to an extent, it is. But we are left with the satisfaction of Breq and her position in the world and that her crew and everyone she comes across does care about her.

I came away incredibly satisfied with Breq as a character and would put her right up there as one of the best written sci fi captains. She is cold, calculating and often times hard on those around her, but incredibly fair. That doesn't mean she isn't emotional. We see quite a bit of emotion internally and it is seen in her actions and care for the citizens of the Radch. She is undoubtedly exactly the type of captain you would want on a military ship and one to lead you into an impossible situation.

I also am completely enamored with the writing of the crew and the Left Lieutenants. It is remarkable to me how much the crew truly cares for their obviously flawed Left Lieutenants. They want to see them succeed in almost every situation. They stand up when need and care for them when it is required. In turn, we see the Lieutenants also reciprocate in their own way. And as always, the propriety of the Radch has captured me to no end. This is a series I would love to see some costume and art designers take a crack at. The gender neutral pronouns used in the culture lend me to believe that this is a society that itself has a gender neutral outward appearance. The descriptions of Radch citizens wearing gloves and jewelry stirs my imagination. Ann Leckie herself has a Q/A post over on Goodreads.com that I will quote.

"...I don't think I've ever said that Radchaai are gender neutral--just that they really don't care about anyone's gender, and don't mark it socially or linguistically... it's not really a thing they care much about. They care about it, maybe, as much as we care about hair color.

[I] think it's worth considering...how much of what we consider to be "obvious" about someone's gender when we look at them is actually a set of social cues. Hairstyle, kinds of clothes, even certain colors of clothing. Ways of standing or moving. These can change from culture to culture, or even from decade to decade (just a couple hundred years ago, high heels and hose were a guy thing. Less than a hundred years ago, pink was a "boy" color.)... And consider that while quite a lot of people will say that one's genitals are the defining element of one's gender, we very rarely see the genitals of the people we quite automatically assign gender to. We're not actually gendering the people around us based on their genitals. We're making assumptions about their genitals based on a complicated mass of social cues."

With that, I will say that I hope we get more from this series and this world and could you please prepare some tea.

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Book Review: The Monsters Know What They Are Doing

The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters by Keith Ammann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to rate. It isn't a book of stories or any narrative really. It is a collection of blog posts that provide a description/recommendation on how to run each monster in D&D. On that front this book is very successful. The insight and writing is very well put together and I really learned quite a bit on how to approach encounters.

The real complaint I have with this book is the formatting and layout. This is really a reference book. Unfortunately, the layout and formatting doesn't lend it to be used as a reference book. The book is laid out in "chapters" and a narrative style. I think if the book was formatted more in a dictionary format, two columns per page and with an in-depth index, this could be infinitely more useful for Dungeon Masters to utilize.

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Book Review: Finder

Finder by Suzanne Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really fun read. A fun, light sci-fi adventure following Fergus Ferguson as he finds himself caught up in adventure too large for the likes of him while at the same time only solvable by him.

There is nothing heavy or overly sciencey about this book. It is almost like a pulp fiction novel, putting the sense of fun ahead of any sort of realism. The cast of characters is just as enjoyable as the main character, with people who inevitably end up loving and hating Fergus at the same time. Think of a Han Solo or Rick O'Donnell and everything around that notion. Humor mixed with dumb luck.

If I had any critique of this book, it would be the almost innumerable amount of Deux Ex Machina situations with Fergus and his endless bank account somehow always pulling out ahead. It could have very easily made the book an "eye roller", but somehow Suzanne Palmer is able to make it work and still have the reader rooting for our self deprecating hero through each misadventure. If you can let that go and let the story take you for a ride, you almost have to enjoy this book.

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Book Review: Binti


Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really an interesting novella and deserving of all of the praise and awards it has received. I haven't read a good sci-fi book in quite a while an this one does a really great job of focusing on what I think sci-fi's strongest point really is, cultural critique and not science.

The book is told from the perspective of Binti, who comes from a tribal heritage. It is not explicitly stated where she comes from, but it is presumed to be Africa. The book covers quite a bit on topics of race, cultural differences, and family values, all while tying these anchor points back to a much larger story that expands to an interplanetary conflict. Binti is an very smart and very strong female lead character. She is known in her world as a "Harmonizer". The book never explains precisely what this is, but it is a topic that becomes important to the story as it progresses. The challenges she face progress through the novel and flow through her progression from leaving Earth to traveling to another planet. The story does a really interesting take on transferring her challenges from very relatable ones (i.e. a family not wanting her to leave her tribal land, expectations of woman and marriage) to the broader intergalactic problems, which she must deal with. 

To say any more probably would give away the story. This is simply really well told and at under 200 pages can be read fairly quickly.

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Book Review: The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell

The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777 by Nicholas Cresswell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found out about this book after watching the Townsends Youtube channel in which they referred to a type of dried fish. I had a surprisingly difficult time trying to find a free ebook of this.

This is a journal, plain and simple. It chronicles Nicholas Cresswell's time in colonies just as their American Revolution kicks off. The most interesting aspects of the book really are his characterization of the people in America during this time. There is distinct notes about George Washington near the end of the book that appear to reinforce the almost romanticized version American's have for the man.

Other notable things that stuck out to me are his comments regarding race relations and his observations on slavery. The passages are generally brief, but notable. In all truth though, there isn't much too this book. It is simply a unique window into the most iconic period in America's history and having that look from the side of a British citizen during the war is very interesting.


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Book Review - The Traitor Baru Cormorant


The Traitor Baru Cormorant
by Seth Dickinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is going to be a tough one for me to review. I really liked this book quite a bit, but at the same time, certain elements of the narrative didn't seem to make sense to me. They seemed incongruous to the basic plot-lines or motivation of the character.

Perhaps I'll just bullet point out what I liked and what I didn't like about the book.

Liked

  • The world building was really well done. The cultures and tribes really felt unique and poignant.
  • Baru, our main character was generally well written. She was smart, arrogant and capable. Sometimes too capable.
  • The overall story of empire was extremely well handled. I can't recall any other books or authors who framed the power of an empire through economic and cultural tools in a better way. It made the story extremely unique and more believable. 



Disliked 

  • My biggest hangup with the story really came down to the maneuvering of our main character Baru. Her driving motivations are to save her homeland. She says this several times throughout the story, yet at the same time she or other characters state that her homeland is already gone. It can never be brought back to what it was.  I think I never fully was able to buy into the notion that she was going to sacrifice an entire nation, thousands, if not millions of people to the empire's culture, while at the same time striving to save her own. I think this could have worked a bit better if the author showed Baru with less emotion, as more of the autistic savant. The fact that she did appear to have very distinct emotional struggles and wants though made this decision on her part seem all the more monstrous. I see that is what the author was going for, and perhaps more of that will play itself out over future books, but it came across as a bit hard to digest simply due to the scale of it all.

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Book Review: The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not quite sure how to review the book, because I am not entirely sure what I read. I enjoyed, immensely the five stories that were written by Denis Johnson, but having now finished the book, I have trouble recalling exactly what those stories were.

The five stories featured in this book all focus on the fairly mundane lives of the different protagonists. The topics covered cover drugs, lives, obsessions and other such topics. That being said none of the stories come across as dark as you might initially think. Instead they seem banal and the events that occur are told in a sort of matter of fact, "this is the way life is", sort of delivery. In a lot of ways, nothing happens in any of these stories. The characters tell us of these interludes in their lives, almost in a confessional way, and then that is it, the story is over.

For some reason though I was completely drawn into the stories. It was like a look behind the curtain in these people's lives, and the writing was so well done, that I felt like all of the stories were truly believable.

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Book Review - Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book should have been called "Plymouth: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.

This was a well written narrative that chronicles the pilgrims, and their founding of the Plymouth colony through the first generation of settlers and King Phillp's War. This was an interesting interpretation of that moment in history. The story was written with enough intrigue and character development to keep you going through what amounts to be a very detailed description of the events. It is apparent that the English settlers did an excellent job of keeping diaries and other records of their struggles and trials.

It is important to note though that these accounts are largely from one perspective, and the book acknowledges that while even going so far as to try and provide logically explained reasons or alternatives to some actions.

Overall, a great read, especially if you are looking for an in-depth (sometimes too much so) description of the first decades of Plymouth and New England.


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