Science Fiction

Armor by John Steakley - Book Review

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ISBN: 9780886773687
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Published: DAW - December 4th, 1984

Recipe for Armor: Take your typical 90s/00s space marine video game protagonist (Doomguy, Master Chief). Mix with equal parts 50s science fiction antagonists (Starship Troopers Arachnids). Add a heap of realism vis-a-vis the PTSD that continuously donning inhuman powered armor and dropping into combat again and again would impart. Plate with a framing story a couple decades later that gradually becomes the main plot. Warning: Will make it hard to see space marines the same way ever again. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis

The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag - Book Review

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ISBN: 9781501181412
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Published: Skybound Books - September 25th, 2018

The Electric State combines succinct text with expansive landscape imagery, each equally weighted in importance among the pages. Sometimes, the paintings illustrate the text; other times, they stand on their own, filling in narrative gaps that would be left otherwise empty in a text-only medium.

Set in a "future 1997", where a mid-90s Oldsmobile takes center stage among images of a dilapidated late-century suburbia yet contrasted with monumental constructs of an unspecified war - gigantic fallen gunships that litter the countryside, spherical processing centers nearly a hundred meters across and half-submerged into a hilltop - the story of The Electric State comes together like a puzzle, starting from a girl and a robot coming across the Olds after wandering the blowing sands of the Mojave desert, and piece by piece, page by page, learning more and more, ending with a nearly complete picture of Michele's life, with only the barest of details that don't matter to her directly leaving a tantalizing taste of the wider world. The paintings evoke nostalgia from those, like me, who grew up in that time, seeing that style of house is slight disrepair, of seeing cars that at the time seemed sleek but nowadays seem hopelessly boxy, and then takes that nostalgia and inserts something uncomfortable into it, something obviously not belonging to the era - or maybe the discomfort comes from these sci-fi constructs that seem to leap off the covers of 90s dollar store mass markets seeming so at home from what I actually remember from the time.

The book rewards repeat readings, as well; some pages are white text on black rather than black on white and you come to realize that it's more than just exposition - but to say more would be to rob you of that "aha" moment yourself. I look forward to reading this again, puzzling over it and finding pieces that I'd missed the first time through, and moving onto Stålenhag's other works in a similar vein. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis

The Memory Police: A Novel by Yoko Ogawa - Book Review

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By Yoko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781101870600
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Pantheon - August 13th, 2019

A woman novelist living on an unnamed island off an unnamed country notices things are gradually disappearing. Not just small items like hair clips or ribbon, but birds and butterflies. Most people have no memory of them. The Memory Police keep track of those who remember the existence of the things that have disappeared. The woman worries that her novels and her editor will be gone, so she builds a room under her floor for him. She continues with small rebellions and even has a birthday party for a neighbor. Ogawa's beautiful sparse prose enhances the chilling terror of this dark tale of life in a total police state. ~ Reviewed by Sarah Knight

A Chain Across the Dawn (The Universe After #2) by Drew Williams - Book Review

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ISBN: 9781250186164
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Published: Tor Books - May 7th, 2019

While The Stars Now Unclaimed was a fun space fantasy full of magnificent creatures, locations and scenarios, its sequel, A Chain Across the Dawn, truly improves on it. Esa is a much more emotionally resonant protagonist than Jane was in Stars, the new supporting character is a welcome breath of innocence, the antagonist is terrifying and the events that transpire are heart-wrenching. I already recommended Stars but now I must insist: on the strength of Chain alone, you must read this series. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis

Coyote (Coyote Trilogy #1) by Allen Steele - Book Review

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ISBN: 9780441011162
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Published: Ace - November 25th, 2003

With each section being told from a different point of view and narrative style, Coyote explores how humanity's first interstellar colonization effort might form its own culture and mythology when separated from Earth by an impossible distance. The entire five-book series is rich, each telling the story of a subsequent generation on Coyote and the trials they face, but this first entry is the strongest. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) by Arkady Martine - Book Review

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ISBN: 9781250186430
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Published: Tor Books - March 26th, 2019

Reading sci-fi and fantasy books usually makes me want to be the characters. Cool space marine on the front lines; master swordsman on the frontier; expert detective on a robot city murder case. But A Memory Called Empire adds one to the list I hadn't thought of - foreign ambassador to the center of an expansive empire.

Yet it somehow seems so natural. Mahit Dzmare is born and raised on a space station outside the Teixcalaanli Empire, and her job is to keep her tiny home nation's secrets and sovereignty safe. Along the way she wrestles with a malfunctioning proprietary neural implant, forms friendships with those whom she should be keeping at a distance, and struggles to retain her identity in the presence of the civilization she unabashedly loves, an Empire steeped in poetry, elevated by meter and rhyme, and... yes, enough intrigue to fill any number of epic poems. Yet she navigates it all with the poise you'd hope for and at times the vulnerability you believe, and you want to be her, wrapped up in the intrigue. Heck, I'd settle for being announced the way she was when she attends the Emperor's poetry banquet. (Yes. Emperor's poetry banquet. I want it.)

With a complicated and living setting, a central cast of characters who you can't help but cheer for, and that little machine in Mahit's head that causes her so many headaches (both figurative and literal), A Memory Called Empire is well worth the read for anyone fascinated by the workings of an imperial court. And if you're not already fascinated? You might be after reading this. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis


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