Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

This was me during the majority of this novel:



Packed with science and humor Project Hail Mary makes for a thoroughly entertaining high-stakes interstellar adventure. I’ve never read anything by this author nor have I watched the film adaptation of The Martian…the reason why is because I thought I would find them boring (yeah yeah, boohoo away). So imagine my surprise when I found myself immediately captivated by Project Hail Mary. One of the novel’s strengths lies in fact in its narrator and protagonist, Ryland Grace. He wakes up on an empty spaceship, with two dead bodies and no memory of who he is and how he got there. As he pieces together the puzzle of his identity he recalls the purpose of his mission: to save humanity (easy peasy right?).
Interspersed throughout the narrative are flashbacks that provide a backstory to Grace and the various stages preceding ‘project hail mary’.
In space, Grace faces a seemingly never-ending series of life-or-death hurdles. But, lucky for him, he may not have to do so alone. What follows is a clever and heart-warming storyline about survival (what one is willing to do for the ‘greater good’) and friendship. Speaking of, my favourite aspect of this story was the friendship between Grace and Rocky.
The narrative is chock-full of science & maths & other stuff that went way way way over my head. To be honest, after the ‘what’s 2+2’ question that occurs in the first few pages, well, I was lost (i am not joking). Still, through Grace’s narration, Andy Weir manages to make all these complicated facts, theories, and scientific terms far from boring. Grace’s enthusiasm for science is catching so I found myself just rolling with whatever he was saying or whatever was happing. Something that I could follow more easily was the language aspect of the story, which I found very ingenious.
I usually would give more details about the story but here one of the narrative’s biggest appeals is that we don’t really know what is going on so I advice prospective readers not to read too much about its plot.
Overall this was a highly enjoyable read. The humor, the ideas, the bond between Grace and Rocky, well, they make Project Hail Mary a book worth reading.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

 

“Trust is not an endlessly renewable resource. Loyalty might be. For longer.”

With A Desolation Called Peace Arkady has achieved something quite rare in a sequel. In fact, I liked A Desolation Called Peace so much so that, when I looked back to my review for A Memory Called Empire, I found much of my criticism unfair. In my review, I describe AMCE as a case of ‘great concept, poor execution’ but now I wonder whether I just read it at the wrong time. All of this to say that for those worried that A Desolation Called Peace may suffer from ‘second book syndrome, I say, fear no more. A Desolation Called Peace was an exhilarating and wonderfully inventive read. Arkady’s world-building is phenomenal, the stakes are even higher than in AMCE, and we follow multiple characters, most of whom are plotting against one another. Political scheming abounds within these pages, each character has their agenda, no one is trustworthy or necessarily ‘likeable’. But I liked how bold Arkady is when it came to characterisation. She does not resort to easy ‘evil/good’ dichotomies and repeatedly challenges her characters’ ideas and views.
While much of AMCE was dedicated to introducing us to this world and learning of the Teixcalaanli Empire through Mahit’s Stationer eyes, A Desolation Called Peace provides a ‘first contact’ scenario. Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is fighting against a terrifying and unknown enemy, and requests the assistance of someone from the Information Ministry and it is Three Seagrass who takes on the job. Before making her way to the fleet Three Seagrass is reunited with Mahit who is not only struggling to reconcile herself with her imagos (of a young and old Yskandr) and who has more than one enemy at Lsel Station. Mahit’s linguistic skills make her an asset in this ‘first-contact’ situation so she finds herself tagging along with Three Seagrass. The narrative follows Three Seagrass and Mahit, and their feelings for each other, which are complicated by the fact that Three Seagrass views Stationers as ‘barbarians’, Nine Hibiscus, who not only has is engaged in a war against an unknown enemy but is aware that someone is conspiring against her, and 11-year-old Eight Antidote, who is a clone of His Brilliance the Emperor Six Direction and heir-apparent to the Sun-Spear Throne of Teixcalaan. Eleven years old, and is being pulled in different directions at court. I found each storyline to be deeply engaging and, to my surprise, I probably found Twenty Cicadas to be the most in The tension between the characters, who always seem to be assessing each other’s words and actions in an attempt to gauge their motivations and intentions, gives the narrative a fantastic edge.
Another central aspect of this novel is, of course, language. Arkady demonstrates incredible knowledge and originality when it comes to linguistics. The words her characters use have such nuance and meaning that it enhances any exchange they have (so we can just how much words matter in every discussion or conversation they have). Arkady incorporates many other interesting themes in her storylines: the fraught relationship between coloniser and colonised (which complicates any relationship Three Seagrass and Mahit may wish to have with one another), xenophobia (and, in some cases, its opposite), identity (especially with Mahit and Eight Antitode), memory, and ethics.
This novel certainly made me think, and re-think. Arkady has created a stunning world and her prose is as sharp as a knife (or dare I say, even badass?). As I wrote above, I liked this novel so much that it made me re-value my less than warm feelings towards its predecessor (something that happens…very rarely indeed). Perhaps this is because I started learning more about languages or maybe this time around I was able to connect with her story and characters because I read it at the ‘right’ time, but, in any case, I would definitely recommend this to fans of AMCE. The only thing I had trouble with is Teixcalaanli names (part is due to the fact that numbers come to me in my mother tongue and not in English). I read an arc that sadly did not come with a glossary and I had a hard time keeping their names straight. Ideally, I would also have liked to have re-read AMCE before sinking my teeth in A Desolation Called Peace. But, overall, this novel elevated my feelings towards this series and I actually look forward to re-reading it (and I hope that Arkady will write more!).

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

This basically was The Breakfast Club but with aliens.

Die-hard fans of the Wayfarers series will probably appreciate The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. While I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet I was not as taken by its sequel nor by this rather anticlimactic conclusion. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within follows a somewhat basic premise: a bunch of strangers from vastly differentiating backgrounds are forced into close quarters due to circumstances out of their control. Over the course of a few days, they bond and discover that they are not so different and they learn to push aside their prejudices and preconceived notions of ‘Others’. The fact that they belong to different species does give this scenario a fresh new angle but ultimately Chambers incorporated the same kind of simplified discussions about social & cultural differences. Chambers often dumbs down potentially interesting arguments so that many of the discussions arising around relevant social issues lack nuance.
The story follows Pei, an Aeluon, Speaker, an Akarak, and Roveg, a Quelin. They all end up grounded at the Five-Hop One-Stop which is run by Ouloo, a Laru. They have all lead distinctive lives and they also necessitate differentiating things given that they belong to a different species. Oxygen, for example, would be lethal to Speaker. At first, they view the others as mere aliens but the more time they spend together—picnics and get-togethers—the more they begin to see the others as individuals in their own right. There is some conflict due to Akarak not being considered a sapient species and therefore they are not part of the GC. They were colonized by another species and are now regarded with distrust. Pei is fighting for the Aeluons against the Rosk (whom, if I record correctly, they had previously colonized).

While Chambers can be creative when it comes to language (they all happen to mention untranslatable words that are emblematic of their species’ culture) the gender angle is a bit more tired. In fact, it does not hold a candle to some species from our animal kingdom. It was a bit weird that so many alien species had a gender and I found myself wishing for some genderless aliens. Ouloo’s child uses xyr/xe pronouns but after puberty, xe will be either female or male….which, why not have a species that is exclusively not gendered (as opposed to having species where you can be female, male, and or agender)?
Similarly, it seemed weird to me that all of the characters’ thoughts and felt in similar way (even if Aeluons express themselves through the colors in their cheeks). Why do they all feel the same type of emotions? That they all spoke as if they were therapists made them blur together in spite of their alleged differences.

Most of the scenes included in the narrative seemed to try hard to be cute or sweet or heartwarming but I found them unbearably cheesy. And on the topic of cheese, that whole discussion about how weird cheese is was so necessary, the same goes for that discussion on shoes (they are like clothes for feet, ahah, so funny). Given that they have all interacted with or have knowledge of other species it seemed weird that they would go on about cheese and shoes as if these are flabbergasting concepts.
Although I appreciated Chambers inclusion of diverse languages it would have been interesting to learn whether contact between so many different species and the predominance of Klip as a spoken language, had resulted in language death for certain species. At one point the narrative seems to imply that Laru is spoken no longer but later on (if I remember correctly) this information is contradicted.

The story is slow and consists of these characters bonding and widening their mindsets. Explorations of serious and potentially topical issues, such as reproductive rights, are approached with simplicity (“Because I didn’t want to. And when it comes to a person’s body, that is all the reason there ever needs to be,”). Similarly, the whole Pei/Speaker confrontation results in both making ‘valid’ points.
The most interesting thing about this novel is the fact that it concerns non-humans but, to be honest, their experiences, desires, fears, and arcs felt a bit too ‘human’.
I’m sure that Chamers aficionados will be able to love this in a way that I wasn’t but if I had to be completely honest with myself, reading it felt like a waste of my time.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson

Although I enjoyed the premise of this one, it kind of lost me halfway through. A Complicated Love Story Set in Space follows Noa, an American teenager, who one day just opens his eyes to find himself in space. On the spaceship, named Qriosity, with him are two other teens, DJ and Jenny. I thought that this would be more a mystery, possibly even a murder mystery, but the story is more intent on exploring Noa’s state of mind. Not knowing why they woke up in this empty spaceship and what will happen to them Noa, DJ, and Jenny all find different ways of occupying themselves. Noa himself understandably does not cope well with the situation. As he spirals into depression he finds comfort in the presence of DJ. Alas, DJ’s kindness and selflessness are also a source of discomfort to Noa who after a particularly bad relationship (his ex is a real piece of merda) does not trust others easily.
The action sort of picks up towards the end but prior to that there are many weird events that felt rather superficially explored. A few interesting threads (the murder, the alien) have little to no impact and a lot of the ‘action’ happens off-page.
The ‘truth’ behind the Qriosity and our characters’ circumstances left me a wee bit disappointed. While I do appreciate the author’s message it just didn’t work for me. The few answers we get are rushed and I was left wanting a more in-depth explanation. The story is, as the title suggests, a love story. The relationship between Noa and DJ, although certainly sweet, wasn’t particularlycomplex’. Perhaps this is because the characters themselves weren’t very layered. Noa is kind of typical. His angst and selfishness, however, understandable given the situation he was in and his past, were a source of frustration. While I recognize that DJ and Jenny call him out on his behavior, his actions and thoughts were still irritating. It would have been nice to have DJ’s or Jenny’s pov as they end up being very one-dimensional. Jenny is the classic female secondary character who appears in YA m/m romances. She’s strong-willed and a feminist…and that’s about it.
Still, why this novel did not hit me in ‘the feels’ like Hutchinson ‘s At the Edge of the Universe, I am sure that YA aficionados will find it more A Complicated Love Story Set in Space more rewarding than I did.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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Starsight by Brandon Sanderson — book review

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Starsight takes this series in an unexpected direction. This instalment is perhaps even more action-driven than Skyward: from the opening chapters to its explosive finale, Starsight is full of spectacular fight scenes.
Whereas Skyward had a narrower scope, Starsight presents us with a far more complex story in which the stakes are higher then ever. Brandon Sanderson’s intricate world-building is populated by many interesting, and richly rendered, alien species. Sanderson’s aliens very much reminded me of Becky Chambers’ ones in Wayfarers, or even Mass Effect, in that we are given a lot of information regarding the way the look, behave, express themselves, reproduce themselves, communicate with others, their role in their society.
Spensa is as hot-tempered as ever, and once again finds herself getting into trouble thanks to her ‘act first, think later’ attitude. While in Skyward Spensa struggled with notions of ‘cowardice’, in this volume she doesn’t really have a lot of spare time to herself. She’s still unsure of her cytonic powers and of what they make her.
In many ways this is a military soap-opera. Spensa finds herself engaged in numerous battles.
This being a novel by Sanderson, there is quite a lot of humour. M-Bot is as hilarious as ever.
While I recognise that Skyward‘s plot was much more ‘simple’, part of me preferred that. At times Starsight was repetitive and confusing. Also, I just missed a lot of the characters from Skyward.
All in all this was an interesting sequel and I look forward to discovering where Sanderson takes this series next.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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Skyward by Brandon Sanderson — book review

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I more or less inhaled this book.

“You get to choose who you are. Legacy, memories of the past, can serve us well. But we cannot let them define us. When heritage becomes a box instead of an inspiration, it has gone too far.”

This is easily my favourite book by Brandon Sanderson. A few years ago I read and was deeply impressed by his epic-fantasy novel Elantris…so I can sort of understand why some die-hard Sanderson fans might not find Skyward to be as intricate or as profound as his adult fiction.
Personally, however, I found Skyward to be a pure blast.

Within the first few chapters I fell unabashedly in love with this novel. This is undoubtedly thanks to Spensa Nightshade, also known as Spin. Her first-person narration is completely unreserved and utterly entertaining.
Growing up as the daughter of “the coward”, Spensa is desperate to prove herself. The planet in which she was born and raised is constantly under attack from the Krell. To survive humans have built communities underground. Pilots, who are considered to be the elite of this new society, train and live on a base on the ground surface of this planet where they try to defend themselves, and the rest of humanity, from the Krell’s attacks.

To become a pilot is no small feat. Many are killed or leave before their training is complete.
Spensa however is keen to fly and kill some Krell. Her reputation however makes her a persona non grata at the base so not only she has to catch up to the teammates who were raised by pilots, and have been training since they were born, but as the daughter of “the coward” she also has to put up with many other disadvantages. Time and again she struggles between wanting to prove to others and to herself that she is no coward and surviving. In a community which glorifies self-sacrifice and violence it isn’t easy to reconcile oneself with notions of courageousness and cowardice.

Spensa was an extremely likeable character. Her propensity for dramatic and grisly declarations (such as: “When you are broken and mourning your fall from grace, I will consume your shadow in my own, and laugh at your misery”) might make her seem somewhat ridiculous but we soon realise that being constantly seen and treated in the light of her father’s actions has made her this way.
She was funny, brave, and surprisingly vulnerable. Sanderson does a great job with her character arc. Spensa soon realises that to be a pilot is not all about being brave.
The dynamics she has with the rest of her team are compelling and entertaining as I found all of the characters to be just as nuanced as Spensa. Sanderson reveals some of the fears and desires that have shaped or are shaping who they are and what they want. There are no good or bad people and being a hero is not all that’s cracked up to be. Some characters retain a sense of mystery, which makes them all the more intriguing.

The action is more or less non-stop. It vaguely reminded of certain mecha anime (except we have ships instead of giant robots). The fight scenes, which were intense and adrenaline-fuelled, kept me on the edge of my seat.
The world-building and society imagined by Sanderson are interesting and richly detailed. He keeps quite a few card close to his chest, so that readers, alongside Spensa, are always left wanting to know more about the Krell and the circumstances that landed a human ship on this planet.

Perhaps my favourite thing about this book was the relationship Spensa has with a certain M-Bot. Their conversations were a pure delight to read. I was also pleasantly surprised by the sort of friendship she forms with a certain Jerkface.

The only thing I would have liked to have been different is a certain revelation towards the end. Part of me wishes it could have been more showing and less telling. Still, that was a very minor thing in an otherwise faultless novel.

Final verdict:
I loved this novel and I have already bought a copy of Starsight as I can’t wait to be reunited with Spensa&co !

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.5 stars (rounded up)

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A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Review of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

★★★✰✰ 3.5 of 5 stars

It’s taken me awhile to pick this up. I tried reading it more than a year ago but ended up returning the book to the library so I thought that the audiobook version would be more easy to get into.
Chambers has created a very charming universe. There were time where I felt really enchanted by her story….however, I think that The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was a much more engaging novel, one that offered a more defined storyline and a more complex cast of characters.
51L6eLkiIDLA Closed and Common Orbit follows an Sidra – formerly known as Lovelace the AI of the Wayfarer – who has to adjust to a new human looking “body”. Thanks to a reboot Sidra is no longer Lovelace, and struggles to understand why her previous installation would ever want to inhabit a body that is so constrictive. Piper, a friendly engineer, is one of the few people who know that Sidra is not human. She attempts to help Sidra adjust to her new form but she doesn’t really appear that much in Sidra’s narrative. Sidra makes friends with Tak, a gender-shifting Aeluon, who is also a tattoo artist. And….nothing much happens.
The novel also focuses on Piper’s unusual past. The dual timeline creates a parallel between Sidra and Jane (aka Piper). Jane’s story is perhaps a bit more eventful, her growing awareness and her relationship with an AI called Owl were more fleshed out, however, her narrative uses a stylistic choice that could be a bit annoying: the writing reflects Jane’s vocabulary which isn’t very vast. Her chapters overuse “real” a lot: “real good” “real bad” “real weird” and so on and so forth…which is a pity.
By the end both Sidra and Jane have a slightly better understanding of themselves and their place in the universe…but their journeys felt somewhat flat. I also felt that the relationship between Sidra and Piper wasn’t at all there. Each narrative focused on one relationship: it was either Sidra and Tak or Jane and Owl. That made the whole story feel rather one sided, underdeveloped. There are few interactions between Sidra and Piper and I don’t understand why that is. The novel doesn’t really go out of its way to depict different types of relationships and each chapter left me wanting more….more did not come.30653753
It was still an enjoyable read but it all felt very….easy? Where was the conflict? I expected everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya…
Chamber still makes a few interesting observations and the universe she has created remains interesting but not enough to make up for her plot and characters.

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Luna & Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

LUNA

A review by The Guardian of Luna perfectly captures the novel’s content by calling it a ‘cut-throat soap opera in space’ in which ‘Mafia-style mining families’ clash with one another. 

Ian McDonald’s has written a vicious and intense story populated by an array of brutally fierce families that compete against each other to exploit lunar resources. 

Luna focuses on the Corta family, originally from Brazil, who are ruled by a dying matriarch Adriana Corta. Adriana is forced to choose one of her children as new head of the family: eldest Rafa who is both charming and volatile; Luca, the cunning second son; Ariel, the only daughter, who is a lawyer in the moon’s court; Carlinhos, who works directly on the family’s mining operations and Wagner, the youngest and family outcast. While initially the large cast of characters is rather overwhelming, as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that each and every single character serves a purpose. 

McDonald throws the reader into his complex – and often brutal – ‘world’. He does not resort to any overt world-building preferring to offer explanations only if needed within the context of the scene. Which would usually result in a convulse and confusing setting. Except it doesn’t. McDonald is able to push these ‘formalities’ aside: we immediately see his world for what it is. As a review on Tor remarks Luna’s setting ‘so brilliantly built and deftly embellished that buying into it isn’t ever an issue’.

And similarly to its inhabitants, it is a rather bloodthirsty place. It is made clear by the very first chapter that life on the moon is not easy: a person has to pay for every single breath they take. Add to that McDonald’s decision to have no criminal law but only contracts law, which makes every aspect of the moon’s inhabitants lives negotiable, makes for a very intriguing setting.

The Corta family – which purposely pays tribute to the Corleone’s from The Godfather – is made by mostly blunt and authoritative people: family disputes and jealousies are interspersed throughout the story. Each has a personal agenda and yet – from the very beginning – we know that they consider ‘family’ to be their number one priority. 

It is perhaps largely because of having such strong personalities that makes Luna’s characters so endearing. Wherever they are being proud, melodramatic or charming, they are undoubtedly passionate people, which is why it is so easy to like and root for them.

These morally questionable characters are as vivid as their background. Spectacular fighting scenes, steamy love affairs and a lot of backstabbing made Luna a pageturner. 

Luna is an incredible visual novel. The story and its characters, even the writing itself, are – in more ways than one – incredibly graphic. As once again The Guardian accurately notes that Luna is ‘as gripping as it is colourful, and as colourful as it is nasty’. 

The direct prose, the razor-sharp dialogue, the edge-of-the-seat plot combine together into an exceptionally rich and unique experience.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOLF MOON

In 4 entire pages a character talks about cakes. Just about cakes.
Bonkers? Yes.
Did I love every moment of it? Absolutely 100% y-e-s.

A great follow up – and hopefully not an epilogue – to Luna: New Moon. It includes a huge cast of characters and it feels even more action-packed than its predecessor. ‘Stuff’ just keeps happening to all of the characters. Betrayals, scheming, blood feuds: Wolf Blood has it all.
McDonald toys around with the society he has created, playing with their moral codes and ideologies. He makes a lot of interesting point which give this novel a lot of hidden depth. He writes of violence, sex, power and freedom.
In Wolf Moon, war endangers all of the characters. Basically: nobody is safe. McDonald keeps us turning pages in order to see wherever our favourites make it out alive. I especially loved Robson, who amongst his deadly ambitious family, was just plain adorable.
With non-stop action, sharp dialogues and graphic scenes, Wolf Moon is a tour de force.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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