Books: 2019-03

March was … well, at least it's over. Here's to a better April.

Reading list length: 473

A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge was very impressive scifi! The scope ranges across the complete universe, complete with medieval worlds, advanced civilisations, up to god-like transcended entities, their interactions, and wildly alien races. And at the same time, the story gets up close to humans and aliens alike, and lets the reader live epic events at a comprehensible scale.

I'm particularly a fan of the non-human, weird, different aliens. Relatable, well-thought-out, and with clever bits of history and culture, … wow. Bonus points for having humans, but not-really-Earth humans. Their mythic, Earth-similar world of medieval legends was a nice touch. The human protagonists tended to be a bit on the stupid side, particularly the kids, but not unreasonably so.

A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers is the second part of the Wayfarers series. It's a good match for the first part: expanding different parts of the world, and worldbuilding, and starring characters that were not quite central to the first book. It delves into the pan-alien world and implications of sentient AI with a sense of wonder, and it's well-written, certainly. It's also … fluff, to use a fanfiction term. It's very much giving us a slice-of-life view of the world, with few to none real confrontations. It can be very calming and healing to see a world where most people just try to live their lives and be good to each other, but I'm fairly happy that I'm only reading this sort of book very occasionally, as I was kind of missing any kind of tension or overarching … thing. But as a once-in-a-while relaxation read, it performs very well.


Embassytown by China Miéville starts out as okay-if-weird scifi, with decent characters, plausibly weird worldbuilding, and appropriately weird aliens, so everything you'd expect from Miéville. It starts by following a good if generic feeling story arc, and continues like that for quite a while. Miéville continues to be great at writing about cities (Perdido Street Station!), so I felt pretty comfortable, once I had spent the first ~20% of the book figuring out how the world worked. Then, towards the end, both the action and the writing just take off in quality. Man, I wouldn't have thought that an author could get me emotional on the question of if and how the use of metaphors constitutes lies (which is kind of the focal point of the story, in the end). Brilliant, surprising, weird scifi!

Mirror Dance

Mirror Dance was yet another really good entry in the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I disliked the protagonist (mildly at first, strongly in the middle, barely at the end), and yet the book worked wonderfully for me. I felt afraid for Miles, scorn, compassion, and pity for his brother, and a whole range of things for everybody else. We get to see new and brilliant parts of Cordelia, and seeing the world from the eyes of Miles brother definitely shows a good perspective on our favourite hero (and reflects well on Miles' growth over the series so far!).

The Raven Tower

I'm not quite sure where I stand on The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. On the plus side: a fantasy story told from the perspective of a god (and with a fascinating definition of 'god', to boot), in a consistent voice (good thing I was used to second person narration from Ms Jemisin), with a not-quite predictable plot. But while I'm a fan of unusual story arcs, I found myself wanting more. The story was good, but not enough! I think this is not just me being used to Sanderson-length epic fantasy. Raven Tower has great world building and narration, but the plot seemed a bit underdeveloped.

I'm still very happy to have read it, though – a fantasy book from the perspective of a deity is very Ann Leckie, who continues to be amazing at writing non-human characters, and letting her readers fill in all the human characters from clues the non-human protagonist/narrator doesn't quite understand. A good concept, and it translates very well from scifi to fantasy.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is very "what did I just read"? It's a weird horror short story, in a way, that makes very good use of the first-person narrator. Soft and slow horror, coupled with very good information revelations by implication, and use of very Gaiman/Rothfuss-like thinking about magic. I can't even talk about the setting too much without spoiling the wonderfully slow storytelling, but I can tell you this: While it wasn't for me, I know many people who loved this story very much, and I get why. If you liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane for it's horror aspects, this book might very well be great for you.


Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias is okay urban dystopic fantasy with a critical stance towards important issues within the US, mostly concerning latinx population and immigration. It touches on these issues beautifully, but came off a bit heavy-handed in many regards – people felt magical, yet one-dimensional. It may just be that I'm at least one major ocean and culture shift removed from the intended audience, though.

Ninefox Gambit

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee was a lot of fun, but at the same time disappointing. The writing, pacing, and characters are very well done, but the worldbuilding … it's frustrating how much potential it has. With some work, this could have been a book opening up a great universe, but it felt like the author cut short all the worldbuilding work they should have done on their end, and instead substituted "what I say goes" rules for inner logic, making decisions and outcomes feel random. I like being dropped in a weird and unfamiliar world, having to figure things out on my own – but I get grumpy if it turns out that there's nothing to figure out, because the author makes up the rules as the action goes along.

Short Stories

  • Labyrinth is a scifi take on the legend of the Minotaur by Lois McMaster Bujold in her Vorkosigan saga. The novella really carries it off.
  • In The Borders of Infinity, Lois McMaster Bujold shows her series protagonist Miles Vorkosigan as a prisoner of war. It's Miles distilled to his essence.

Do not recommend

  • The Hierophant's Daughter by MF Sullivan was an advance reading copy provided to me by NetGalley. It's … dystopian cannibal vampires? I have to confess that I aborted reading the book about a third of the way in. Its mix of unsympathetic characters, bleak dystopia, random info dumps, and random remeniscing about the past did not work for me at all. Dystopian cannibal vampire empire churches take a lot to be believable – Charlie Stross could do it, MF Sullivan couldn't.
  • I read Off Planet by Aileen Erin as an advance reading copy provided by NetGalley. As dystopian scifi goes, it was pretty jumbled and disappointing. We get evil megacorp humans and sensitive aliens, a fighter girl on the run, okay world-building, stupidly emotional people, and horrible dialogue. The story arc is predictable, the writing mediocre, and the characters unconvincing. It's just very middling scifi – not bad enough to make me stop reading half-way through, but that's pretty much all I can say for it.