stuff I read

City Under the Stars by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick

God was in his Heaven—which was fifteen miles away, due east.

Far in Earth’s future, in a post-utopian hell-hole, Hanson works ten solid back-breaking hours a day, shoveling endless mountains of coal, within sight of the iridescent wall that separates what’s left of humanity from their gods.

One day, after a tragedy of his own making, Hanson leaves York, not knowing what he will do, or how he will survive in the wilderness without work. He finds himself drawn to the wall, to the elusive promise of God. And when the impossible happens, he steps through, into the city beyond.

The impossible was only the beginning.

City Under the Stars completes a journey undertaken by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick 25 years ago, when they published the novella The City of God. Over two decades later, the two realized there was more to the story, and began the work of expanding it. Now, after Gardner Dozois’ tragic passing, the story can be told in full.

Ehhhhh, I can’t decide if reading the authors’ previous work “The City of God” would have helped or not.

City Under the Stars is an extremely setting-heavy dystopian novella about a man who flees after committing a murder and then becomes a prophet (?) after visiting The City of God. I honestly am not sure what was going on. It felt very familiar in tone, like it’s similar to Christopher Priest’s Inverted World or Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation in the familiar-yet-wildly-different-and-abstract-setting.

It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t particularly like it. Check it out if you’re a fan of the authors.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

stuff I read

Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha (Mercenary Librarians #1)

Deal with the Devil is Orphan Black meets the post-apocalyptic Avengers by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author duo Kit Rocha.

Nina is an information broker with a mission–she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America.

Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive.

They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process…

Or they could do the impossible: team up.

This is the first book in a near-future science fiction series with elements of romance.

I follow the two authors who write as Kit Rocha on Twitter so I was pretty intrigued by the premise and world of Deal with the Devil as they were promoting it.

Post-apocalyptic, near-future, super-soldier, found family road-trip romantic suspense novel? SURE. (Also the start of a series. Sweeeeet.)

When the novel opens, Nina is returning from an errand when she’s accosted by several….ne’er do wells, shall we say, in a dangerous section of Atlanta in this post-Flare near-future setting. Nina, a genetically enhanced super-soldier, wastes them with nary a hair out of place on her head. She is secretly observed by Knox, the leader of the Silver Devils TechCorps squad – technologically advanced super-soldiers – who a) have apparently recently gone rogue and b) are being blackmailed into kidnapping Nina and her crew. So Knox sets up a fake heist to tempt Nina into helping the Silver Devils raid a library vault (post-Flare, books are almost like currency and Nina has a printing operation) and get her out into the wilds of what used to be Tennessee (?) to make the trade for his biochem tech.

What no one counted on was that Knox and Nina would have buh-nanas sexual chemistry with each other and that the Silver Devils really start to like and respect Nina and her teammates Dani and Maya, who are also genetically enhanced, and their Robin Hood-like mission in their neighborhood. So the plan begins to go awry on the road and everyone’s secrets start coming out. There’s a Mad Max-like roadside ambush, a rural super-soldier cage match, the rescue of a rural town from gangsters in a chapter worthy of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and, if you were wondering, super steamy scenes between Knox and Nina. A little something for everyone.

Now, the promotion for Deal with the Devil puts this book more on the Sci-Fi genre side, but it REALLY punched a lot of solid Romance genre buttons for me. Nina and Knox are SUPER into each other from the jump and their romance arc is a major driver of the plot of the book (and it’s an actual HEA/HFN so definitely could fit into the romance genre). But there are also a lot of perspectives from other members of Nina’s and Knox’s teams as well as insertions about what the evil tech corporations did to each of the characters in the past to make them the super-soldiers they are so the world-building is also part of the plot and that weights it to that SF side. I’m not quite sure how the rest of the series is going to play out – will other members of the teams partner up or find partners or will some of the future books center more on bringing down the tech corps? The characters who make up the two strike teams are pretty diverse so it could go in all sorts of directions. Something to look forward to. Since this is the first book in the series, I felt like the world-building set-up did get in the way of plot on a few occasions and drag just a bit but it was such a fun read on the whole.

I could easily see the Mercenary Librarians series being adapted into a Netflix series – who wouldn’t want to watch sexy super-soldiers who also have a little bit of a Robin Hood penchant on the side take down an evil corporation? Look at how much traction The Old Guard got.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb #2)

Summary from Goodreads: Harrow the Ninth, the sequel to the sensational, USA today best-selling novel Gideon the Ninth, turns a galaxy inside out as one necromancer struggles to survive the wreckage of herself aboard the Emperor’s haunted space station.

She answered the Emperor’s call. She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend. In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

If you haven’t read Gideon the Ninth yet,

stop,

backup,

go do that because this book will make absolutely ZERO sense without it.

Also MEGA spoilers.

You are warned.

Now, for the rest of you who have read Gideon, Harrow the Ninth is a VERY VERY different book. Harrow is what it is like to have a brain that has undergone major trauma and what we do to ourselves because of that trauma (you have to have read the end of Gideon to understand this, it is so hard to explain). The narrative fractures in at least two, possibly three narrative lines, all of which may or may not be unreliable. So rather than a plot-driven, Gideon’s-gonna-kick-some-ass-and-take-names story we have a character-focused, Harrow-is-trying-her-hardest-but-failing-for-reasons-she-hid-from-herself story. What new information we are given about this world makes Harrow a very Empire Strikes Back type of book – it’s the middle of the trilogy, we’ve had the set-up in Gideon, now we have the explanation, and we’ll get the resolution in Alecto the Ninth (no publication date yet as far as I know). For these reasons, this will be a hard read for some people because the tonal shift is so much. It’s a lot. But be patient because at about the 75% mark, this story pays fucking DIVIDENDS y’all.

Muir still gives us amazing scenes of necromancy and revolting body horror. We’re introduced to new characters in the form of the surviving Lyctors and Ianthe is still around, working her own agenda. Also, to me, God appears to look like David Tennant in his Broadchurch phase. I’m down with it.

Harrow the Ninth is out tomorrow!!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I had a copy on pre-order at the store but it turns out to not have the black-sprayed edges like Gideon so I’m going to have to do some sleuthing to find one, boo.

stuff I read

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Riot Baby bursts at the seams of story with so much fire, passion and power that in the end it turns what we call a narrative into something different altogether.”—Marlon James

Rooted in foundational loss and the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is both a global dystopian narrative an intimate family story with quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.

Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down.

In his acknowledgements to Riot Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi thanks N.K. Jemisin for showing him how to write “the type of angry that still leaves room for love” in her Broken Earth trilogy.

And I think there might be no better way to describe the feeling of what happens in Riot Baby. The book opens during the Watts uprising after the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted. Kev is born as the city burns. His older sister Ella has a gift, her Thing – she can see a person’s future, whether they grow to be an adult or become a statistic before middle school. Their mother moves them across the country to Harlem, where Kev is supposed to stay in school and out of trouble and Ella’s Thing grows in power at a frightening speed. She can now manipulate the physical world, cause destruction, lash out, but also try to fix what is broken.

Kev is arrested for armed robbery as a juvenile and spends a number of years at Rikers before being paroled into a near-future carceral state. Watts is now a planned parole community, everything controlled by implanted microchip. It’s an eerie dystopia lurking beneath the veneer of a utopia. And it seems that, over time, Kev also has developed a version of Ella’s Thing. The culmination of this book is a walk through Watts, through the hospital while Kev is being born, seeing the anger, the fear and the hope, and seeing what the two siblings decide what to do with this power they have been given.

This is an incredible and timely book. Published in January, Onyebuchi could not have known what would happen six months later. The demonstrations. The long-awaited destruction of statues commemorating colonizers, slave owners, Confederates. But the effects of systemic racism that results in the deaths of so many Black men at the hands of the police or incarceration as a new form of enslavement or the violent profiling of young Black men? That is ongoing and Onyebuchi uses it to fuel this book. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book #blackoutbestsellerlist

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

Summary from Goodreads:

In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

I bought How Long ’til Black Future Month? the day it came out – I couldn’t get a galley – and have been reading it very, very slowly. Maybe one story a week or so. Sometimes I had to take a little time to digest a story. I tried to speed up my reading by borrowing the audiobook from the library – the narrators were very good, but I was having trouble with the short story format on audio, so I went back to my hardcover. NK Jemisin is such a master storyteller and this collection has incredible range, from the most delicate magical realism to the hardest hard SF with fantasy, horror, steampunk, and cyberpunk scattered along the way. SO damn good. Standout stories were “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” “The Effluent Engine,” “The Storyteller’s Replacement,” “Cuisine des Memoires,” “The Narcomancer,” “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters,” and, of course, “The City Born Great” (which was the basis for Jemisin’s new novel The City We Became).

Dear FTC: I read my own damn copy of this book.

stuff I read

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

42996336._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

I bought This is How You Lose the Time War in hardcover when it came out this summer but didn’t get to it right away. Then I saw the audiobook – which was getting raves – available on the ICPL Overdrive site so borrowed it.

This is an endlessly inventive time-travel novel but if you’re looking for hard SF/nuts-and-bolts time travel you’ll want to look elsewhere. Time travel across multiverse and millennia is the feature but the real point of this book is the relationship between Red and Blue, rival, skilled operatives on opposite sides of a war. Blue opens a daring, mocking correspondence in the aftermath of a bloody battle, Red counters, grudging admiration and challenge. Soon, they are confiding secrets in an ever-more dangerous exchange until they cannot extricate themselves. Without giving away the ending, I have to say that I kept thinking of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as well as the letters of Abelard and Heloise.

The audio production is indeed superb. The two narrators are perfectly chosen for their respective parts and the reading speed was just right.

Dear FTC: I bought this in hardcover and listened to the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive.

stuff I read

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb #1)

42036538Summary from Goodreads:
Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.

So, the Bookternet started screaming about Gideon the Ninth back in, oh, February? and Tor was nice enough to hook a girl up with a digital galley which I inhaled immediately. The hook for this book was “lesbian necromancers in space” so I was like “YES PLEASE NOW HOW DOES THIS WORK.”

Caveat: they are in actual space for about 5 pages (going from one planet to the other) and I wasn’t quite sure about Gideon’s or Harrow’s sexual orientation until about two-thirds through the book (I was sure Gideon would have shagged anything not wearing Ninth House-Goth robes if it meant getting off that planet and Harrow I had down as asexual, since sexual desire is more of a fleshly (read: human) thing and not within her exalted purview as an exemplary bone witch and the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House) but yes, so many necromancers. And is necromancy an art, or magic, or a science? Depending on the House specialty in this world, it could be any of those three.

My review: WHAAAAAAAATTTT IS THIS ENDING AND WHEEEEEEEEEERE CAN I FIND THE NEXT BOOK *cries in Why Are Trilogies*

I mean, Gideon is now my favorite snarky, ginger, trashweasel and I loved how Muir played Gideon and Harrow off each other. They take strips off each other for fun – Harrow is better at this than Gideon – but at the end of the day they really have only each other. The supporting characters were so fun (my heart, the Pents). I loved Muir’s world-building with all the many different types of necromancy. Also: swordfighting. I wouldn’t want to live in this world (ew, so many reanimated skeletons) but it was so much fun to read.

I do have a trigger warning for a discussion of suicide in the past. And it goes without saying that a necromancer’s world is full of all the ways one can die violently and be brought back to life, so this is a violent book at times.

And now I must wait until Muir finished the next book. *plots*

Gideon the Ninth is out today!! Go, go, go! Pick one up from your favorite bookstore.

Dear FTC: I inhaled this galley twice – thanks Tor – and then preordered a copy because BLACK-SPRAYED EDGES.

mini-review · stuff I read

Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess

40611197Summary from Goodreads:
Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States—an alternate timeline—she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts—a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback—and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.

But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel’s efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. And when the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost.

I came across Famous Men Who Never Lived through the Tin House Book Club (you put your name in the hate for advances every once in a while). I didn’t get lucky this time, though, but I liked the premise of the book enough that I requested the galley on Edelweiss.

And it’s a really, really good premise – using the idea of two divergent Earths and their histories to explore the idea of forced migration and Otherness, “belonging” to a group, grief, and mourning. It has some interesting parallels to the plight of migrants from the Middle East and Central America. Where I struggled with the book was when the sections of the fictional book “The Pyronauts” from Hel and Vikram’s world were included in the narrative – the technique was distracting here and didn’t work as well as it did in a book like Station Eleven.

Famous Men Who Never Lived was published last month.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.