Book Review: The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter

Rating:  ★★★★

The Seep is an interesting little book.  It’s about a transgender woman going through a painful… um.. divorce?  Aliens invade every aspect of Earth life, connecting us all to each other, making us all high on love.  They’re in the water.  They’re in your food.  They can make you into anything you ever wanted to be.

This was a fairly unique story.  I loved the idea of benevolent aliens who’ve come to “help.”  It’s not really an idea I come across often.  The word invasion typically has a negative connotation.  The Seep usher in a new era in which people can live forever.  Don’t like your face?  Change it!  Don’t want to adult?  Become a child!  Want to be happy all the time?  It’s cool- have this drink spiked with Seep!

Which is where I think the social commentary comes in.  The Seep, despite their insistence that they are only there to help, they only want what’s best for the planet, they only want you to be happy- aren’t really giving you much of a choice in the matter.  On the surface they bring utopia, but beneath it all, they are colonizing Earth in their image.  Sound familiar?

It definitely has a surreal, dreamlike sort of quality to it.  I wasn’t sure how much in-book-time was supposed to be passing.  Sometimes it felt like years, others only months.  There are some weird moments that will have you scratching your head, a bear cooking soup, a woman eating fish and crying about it because she can feel their pain as she eats them.  A friendly face missing the way their fingers turned neon orange when eating Cheetos.

I did become a little frustrated with the protagonist, Trina, at times.  Due to her divorce she spends a lot of time wallowing in self pity and drinking her sorrows away.  She wasn’t the kind of person I’d want to hang out with in real life and she’s not the kind of character I enjoy reading about.  (For reference, I had a similar complaint about The Girl on the Train).

Luckily the book is short, it’s easy to read, and kept me interested until the end, even if I didn’t always understand what was going on.  There were things that I would have loved to know more about if Porter ever wrote a full length novel set in this world.

The Seep releases on January 21, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for sending an advanced copy for review.

 

 

Book Review: Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett

Gamechanger L. X. Beckett

Rating:  ★★★

This turned out to be a frustrating read for me.  Mostly because I wanted so badly to love it, and because there were so many brilliant ideas.  Ultimately, I found it chaotic and unsatisfying.

We’re given all these awesome ideas- immediate and public social justice, a world that seems relatively free of judgement concerning race and gender, cool tech, small jobs and volunteer work on the fly, virtual assistant AI, gaming, world wide democracy, etc.  The world building in Gamechanger is almost as impressive as another personal favorite of mine: Too Like the Lightning.

But the plot has way too much going on, and none of it ever seems to come together into a cohesive story.  While I was trying to jot down some thoughts after finishing, I counted about nine separate plot lines, with only about four or five of them being tied together.  I think ultimately it was a book that just needed more planning and a tighter editing.

The conclusion is rushed and messy. I kept waiting for that Aha! Moment to pull all those separate plot lines together – but it never happened.  There never felt like a good reason to have all these separate stories being told together in the same book.  I wanted some clever reveal, the curtain drawn back, the wizard revealed.  Instead we’re left with some silly fairy tale “And they all lived happily ever after” nonsense with no real explanations given.

The world building was definitely my favorite part, but I also wanted to mention it is #ownvoices with queer representation.  If you think you’d like to give it a try, Gamechanger can be found on Goodreads or Amazon.

Three Quick Book Reviews

I’ve actually finished several quick books the past week or two and I’ve been avoiding reviewing them because they were just the sort of books I didn’t have much to say about afterwards.  So I’m going to just give quick impressions here.

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Rating:  ★★

Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis (or: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” my tag line, not the book’s.) This is the review I’ve been dreading most because I wanted so badly to like it and just couldn’t connect with it at all.  It’s a collection of bizarre short fiction mostly incorporating some kind of romance and/or alien contact.

With a title like Alien Virus Love Disaster– I was expecting something weird, yes, but also something funny.  Like the Stephanie Plum of alien books.  And it was just dark, depressing, despairing.  There isn’t a single shred of hope in the whole darn book.  Not one tiny story.

I gave it two stars instead of one because on the upside, the stories are unique and inclusive.  I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like them, and I can see how they would be right for someone, just not me.  I wanted to laugh, I wanted to be uplifted, and instead I ended up dragged down in a way I wasn’t prepared for.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Rating:  ★★★★

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (abridged, narrated by: Rupert Degas):  I know what you’re thinking.  “But Sarah, didn’t you just completely rip apart the last book you read by Cormac McCarthy just a few short weeks ago?”

Why yes, blogger friends.  Yes I did.  But I rewrote that review three times because I couldn’t get Blood Meridian out of my head.  And to me, the hallmark of a good book is one you can’t stop thinking about. (It’s the best 2 star book I ever read, lol.)  So I borrowed this on audio on a whim from my library.  Unfortunately all they had was the abridged version, so I can’t tell you what I missed out on, but I can tell you I would give this a go eye reading the full version.

The narrator, Rupert Degas, did a phenomenal job (except for his girly voices, which are weird, but only a small part of the book).  His voice is perfect for this kind of grim, desolate, post-apocalyptic world.  Hearing it instead of reading it solves a lot of McCarthy’s style choices.  The narrator was able to convey dialogue and made the issues I had with a lack of punctuation almost nonexistent.  I think audio is a good way to be introduced to McCarthy.

Anyway- our two MCs are Man and Boy.  They are traveling The Road to get South.  America’s population has been decimated by some kind of sickness.  What’s left are the good guys and the bad guys.  Man and Boy are “good” guys, as good as good can be in this world anyway.

The environment itself is the biggest challenge, lugging around supplies, enduring weather, falling trees (I got the sense the trees were all dying).  And when they encounter bad guys, it gets grim and dark real fast.  The message of the book is that hope and beauty can still be found in even the darkest places, I think, because despite all the many, many low points, there were still some significant high and happy points.

McCarthy’s writing really is beautiful and often reads like poetry.  I wasn’t glowing or gushing when I finished it, but I didn’t find my mind wandering too frequently when I listened, and that’s usually a challenge for me.  I’d definitely recommend this if you enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction.

Trigger content: again, if you have them I sort of must insist that you avoid McCarthy at all costs.  Nothing is off limits for him.

Stephen Kings N. by Marc Guggenheim

Rating:  ★★★★

Stephen King’s N. by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Alex Maleev – This is a graphic novel adapted from Stephen King’s novella of the same name found in his collection: Just After Sunset.

I enjoyed this- the art work was great and dynamic, and the mystery sucks you in right from the start.  It starts with a letter from a woman to an old friend talking about her brother’s death.  From there we flash back to where it all started.  The brother was a psychologist working with a patient who developed OCD after visiting Ackerman’s field in Motton, Maine.

It wasn’t quite a full five stars for me because the whole story is pretty ambiguous, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and will definitely check out the novella.  If you decide to pick this up, don’t skip the foreword.  Guggenheim pays a beautiful tribute to a good friend and makes clear his fondness for King and his excitement over this project.  I’d love to see more of King’s short stories adapted into Graphic Novels turned into Graphic Novels.

 

 

Book Review: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads): Sally Jensen–once a famous astronaut–thought her days in space were over. She was wrong.

The object entered our solar system, slowed down off the rings of Saturn, and began a steady approach towards Earth. No one knows what its purpose is. It has made no attempt at communication and has ignored all of NASA’s transmissions.

Having forsaken manned flight, the space programs of the world scramble to enlist forcefully-retired NASA legend Sally Jensen–the only person with the first-hand operational knowledge needed to execute a mission to make contact.

With no time to spare she must lead a crew with no experience farther than mankind has ever traveled, to a visitor whose intentions are far from clear…and who, with each passing day, gets closer to home.

The Last Astronaut doesn’t waste too much time getting to the heart of the issue, which I loved. it maintained a pretty quick pace throughout the book, alternating between bouts of action and bouts of discoveries about this alien object. The setting and tone are consistently dark, grim, desolate, and lonely. The image of lights on a space suit cutting through a misty darkness were used repeatedly, which is perfect for this kind of book.

Which is why it baffles me that I didn’t love it more than I did? Unfortunately, and this could just be the mood I was in, I found it really easy to pick this book up, but I also found it really easy to put the book down. I never dreaded picking it up again, and I definitely wanted to finish, but I wish it had compelled me a little more, kept me up late at night because I just had to see what happened next.

I will say the last 25% had me glued to the page so it ends much stronger than it started. If I had to pinpoint where I struggled with this book I can point to two factors, one of which is a spoiler, but the other of which is the characters. I did like all of them, but I think the character I connected to most, Sunny Stevens, the guy who kick starts the whole book, is absent from the 2nd half. He is the comic relief, he is the character that feels most alive to me. All the other characters are serious, grim types. Which is fine- most scientists probably are that way, but I really needed his jolt of personality to keep me caring about the events of the book. The other characters all feel human enough, I wouldn’t say any of them feel shallow or flat, but they just weren’t characters I connected to. Your mileage may vary.

The writing is great. Descriptive enough to give you the idea and convey the tone without lingering too long on it or slowing down the pace. The length also feels just right. At 400 pages, we’re given just what is needed to tell the story, it’s not bloated but it doesn’t feel like any details were left out either.

The format of the book is that we are reading an in-world book that has been written about these events after they have happened. It’s interspersed with little side snippets of what I thought of as confessions or transcripts from the characters themselves talking to (who I presume) is NASA. I personally enjoyed the format, and it definitely added a layer of impending doom to many of the scenes, but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

The ending is perfect, and I won’t lie, it made me tear up a little. Overall a good read that’s well worth checking out if you like a good alien, sci-fi horror mash up. Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for providing me with an eARC for review.

The Last Astronaut releases on July 23, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Pride Month: Books on my TBR!

Last week in celebration of Pride Month I talked about some of my favorite queer characters in fiction.  This week I want to talk about some of the books on my TBR featuring more LGBTQIA+ characters.  I’m going to start with a few that have already been released and I’m hoping to catch up on, but I also have some exciting future releases too.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (and the rest of The Machineries of Empire series):  I am really scared to start this because I feel really confident that I’m going to love it and it will end up a new favorite read.  I am also scared to start this because I have a tendency to form expectations and then let myself down.  It’s supposed to be super complex and I’m hoping to see some elements that remind me of another favorite series, Terra Ignota.

tld_cs

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling:  My favorite genre mashup of all time is always going to be Science Fiction and Horror, and The Luminous Dead looks like the perfect combo of both.  I think space lends itself so very well to all kinds of horror situations.  Whether you’re just trying to survive the freezing desolate landscape of an undiscovered planet, being chased by alien creatures, or you’re adrift in a derelict space ship with no one to call for help, chances are, things will end badly.  I already have a buddy read planned for this one in September and I can’t wait!

Annex by Rich Larson

Annex (The Violet Wars #1) by Rich Larson:  This is a YA book about an alien invasion that somehow or other, leaves the world without adults.  At first, Violet and her friends think it’s pretty great to have so much freedom… but then the invaders come back.  One of my regular buddy readers enjoyed it and said it has trans rep (and that the character was one of her favorites), so I’m very excited to check it out. (PSA: this is currently $1.99 in the US Kindle Store as of 6/13.)

Love beyond body, space & time anthology

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson: This is a collection of indigenous short fiction all featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  It’s a pretty quick read (125 pages according to GoodReads) and I picked it up on sale awhile back.  Indigenous authors seem to be severely underrepresented in not only speculative fiction but fiction in general, so that makes this doubly exciting.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne: Meena lives in futuristic Mumbai, but feels she must return to Ethiopia, her birthplace.  She’s not sure what’s waiting for her there, but she decides to cross using a forbidden energy bridge that spans the Arabian Sea.  Mariama, a girl from another time, is fleeing to Ethiopia from across the Saharan Africa in hopes of finding a better life.  It’s described as melding the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern, and it’s been on my TBR for way too long.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch:  This is a Joan of Arc retelling in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscape.  Do I really need to say more?

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (releases September 24, 2019): I talked about this one not too long ago, but I love the idea of lovers being villains together.    This is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated fall releases.

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

Overthrow by Caleb Crain (releases August 27, 2019): I stumbled across this on Edelweiss, and everything about the description had me falling in love.  The blurb is too long to summarize here, but buzzwords that caught my attention: telepathy, tarot cards, poets, the 1%, and utopian spirit, all featuring a m/m relationship that will be put to the test in a dystopian world that sounds similar to Orwell’s 1984.  Viking denied me the ARC, but luckily, August isn’t that far away.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim (releases January 7, 2020):  A gender flipped Count of Monte Christo retelling with Ace and Bisexual rep in space.  I have a feeling this will be huge when it finally hits shelves.  Right now, January feels very, very far away.

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter (releases January 21, 2020): The Seep is about an alien invasion that brings new technologies, dismantles hierarchies, destroys capitalism, and introduces utopia.  The story follows a trans woman after her wife, seduced by Seep-tech, leaves her.  I really wish utopian stories had the same popularity as dystopians.  Mostly because I’m curious what others imagine utopia to be and how human society could ever get there.  I’m super excited for this, but have been holding off reading it until closer to release day.

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (releases January 7, 2020):  I am reading The Queens of Innis Lear now, sheerly in preparation for this book, which I added entirely for the title without realizing that Hotspur is a character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  Fiery lady knight falls in love with a female military commander known as the Wolf of Aremoria?  I need this in my hands like, yesterday.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (releases September 10, 2019):  From GoodReads: “Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.”  To that I say, sold!  I’m already in love with the personality of Gideon from that one line alone.  Necromancy is usually not my thing, but if a character is well written I’ll read just about anything.  It’s already getting rave reviews and thank goodness I don’t have to wait until 2020 for this one!

That’s it!  I’ve already seen a few Pride Month TBRs floating around in the blogosphere, but please let me know if you have any additional recs- I’d love to hear them!

Book Review: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating:  ★★★★

Release Date: May 28th, 2019

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 105 pages

I absolutely loved this novella from the moment I picked it up to the moment I put it down. It starts out very light. The protagonist is a funny guy. He’s lost on an alien artifact humans have been calling “the Crypts.”

The story is told in two timelines, present and past. The past timeline outlines how he came to be lost in the Crypts and tells us a little about the state of the world before he left earth. In the present, he’s wandering the Crypts encountering all manner of alien life.

The writing was very good. I enjoyed the stream of consciousness style here, and that isn’t always my thing. Tchaikovsky employed it very well. This was a context in which it made sense, and it was easy to follow. Another note about the writing, the present timeline is written in present tense. I know for some readers that can be an issue, but I enjoyed it and thought it brought an added level of excitement to the story.

The pace, initially, is ambling. There are a few exciting things happening, but what drew me in was the humor. Gary Rendell is just a guy you want to hang out with. There are some definite elements of horror, but they were balanced well with the humor. As we near the end the tone becomes darker and darker. Nothing is what it seems.

I have a feeling some of the science in this science fiction has no foundation in reality (disclaimer, I know nothing about physics), but there were several fun little nods to biology. Rendell comments on the way the various aliens are formed and how and why they might have developed that way and I thought it was a nice way to flesh out the MC. There were also a few nods to human psychology, and those passages were some of my favorites.

Overall I thought it was inventive and creative. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy elements of horror with their science fiction or fans of Tchaikovsky’s other work.

Thank you to NetGalley and Solaris for providing me with an eARC to review.

Walking to Aldebaran can be found on GoodReads and preordered on Amazon.