Book Review: Necessity by Jo Walton

Hello friends!  I’m rounding out my last couple Throwback Thursday posts with a review of Necessity, the third book in Jo Walton’s Thessaly series.

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Rating:  ★★★★

This is a really beautifully told trilogy, and the trilogy I’m giving 5 stars. It starts sort of slowly and without much action in The Just City, but ends on a high note with what is known as The Last Debate. It gives the reader lots of philosophical questions to consider. The action in The Philosopher Kings increases overall, but there are still plenty of philosophical questions to chew on.

We end here, with Necessity, which gives us almost nothing philosophical to consider, yet provides us with plenty of laugh out loud entertainment and an excellent conclusion to the overall story.

We get to meet some new characters and we are reacquainted with some old ones. Apollo is our constant of course. Then we have Crocus, who finally gets to tell us his side of the story. I wasn’t head over heels in love with Crocus’s story, even though I adore him as a character, he just seemed disconnected from the action this go around. The same is true for our other POV character, Jason. He’s not a bad character, but he is a third party observer. He really has very little to do overall with the main plot lines of the book or the trilogy. I found myself questioning the choice to include them as POVs.

Lastly we have Marsilia, Simmea’s granddaughter. Her chapters were my favorite to read. The dynamics between her and her sister Thetis were very well done. Each having or being something the other sort of maybe desired but always ultimately loving to each other.

So what was it that held this back from being a 5 Star read? Well like I mentioned, I didn’t feel like two of the POVs were all that relevant. I wasn’t sure why we were being fed those stories. Crocus’s were sparse enough and gave enough insight to his part in the past two books that I didn’t mind their inclusion, but I really just felt like Jason was an odd choice. He even says at one point: I have no idea why I’m here. Well Jason, I don’t know either. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike him and I thought he was a well done character, but it was like he was included for the sake of having a narrator.

The second reason this wasn’t quite a 5 Star read was that the chapters are told “out of time”. We already know what’s happening or what to expect and then we cut to Marsilia who’s doing something with Hermes that earlier in the story seemed as if it was already done. It was just sort of confusing and jarring to follow.

Everything else I loved. The ending turned me into an ugly crying mess because these characters just grew on me so much through out the trilogy.

These are fantastic, quick books that I would highly recommend to fans of both fantasy and science fiction (as it started in what felt like fantasy and ended firmly in the science fiction department).

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

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Rating:  ★★★★

In November I hit a really, really bad reading slump.  It was a combination of things, work, stress, other hobbies catching my interest (I waited eight years for Red Dead Redemption 2- I earned some game time), and of course, the holidays.   But now I’m finding it super hard to get back in the habit of reading.

I was worried a short story collection was going to be too easy to pick up and put back down (and therefore walk away from) but I shouldn’t have.  This is a truly beautiful collection of stories and I am so grateful to have read it.  (And it only took me five days- progress!) If you are a fan of Jemisin’s, or if you’ve ever been interested but haven’t taken the plunge, this is a must read.

I was iffy about The Fifth Season.  I didn’t see what people loved so much about it.  I was upset at the treatment of children in the book.  But so many people love The Broken Earth trilogy, that my feelings toward it made me question if I’d read it wrong.  The jury is still out, but I’ll definitely give it another chance.

First, I want to say that Jemisin’s creativity and skill as an author really shine in this book.  There are some running themes, but every story felt unique and different.  The characters felt distinct.  The book starts with a phenomenal and heartfelt introduction about the struggles she faced as a beginning author, so if you tend to skip intros, don’t, this one is quick and well worth reading.

It opens with: “The Ones Who Stay And Fight”, she says is a response to a LeGuin story (Omelas?). I had not read LeGuin’s story and so I don’t think I understood this one very well, and I’m having a hard time recalling any details about it now. “The City Born Great” comes next. It was a little more on the abstract side and as a story I just didn’t love it. The writing was phenomenal though.

“Red Dirt Witch” stands out as being one of my absolute favorites. Following the first two stories it really showcased her versatility as a writer because it definitely had a folk tale type feel as opposed to the frenetic, urban feel of the prior story. The ending was killer.

“L’Alchemista” was another favorite. It’s about food and love of food, and felt very rustic. It also made me super nostalgic for my mom’s cooking. Aside from that it was just really fun. “The Effluent Engine” comes next, and while an excellent story, it reminded me a lot of “The Black Gods Drums”. Nothing wrong with that- I loved the TBGD, but it maybe felt a little too familiar and I was left wanting a little something more.

“Cloud Dragon Skies” delves a little into the sci-fi realm, but the world in it evoked a lot of the same feeling that I got from reading “The Fifth Season”, an overarching threat of doom, grim tone, etc. I enjoyed this one and especially the ending. “The Trojan Girl” is also more sci-fi than fantasy, but also one of her more abstract pieces. I liked the overall message, but wasn’t crazy about the story itself. “Valedictorian” is another SF/dystopian piece that definitely has a haunting message.

“The Storyteller’s Replacement” I actually can’t recall very well, but I remember thinking that I thought it made for a good interlude in the book, which makes me think it wasn’t a very strictly structured short story. “The Brides of Heaven” is about a group of women who land on a planet that seems to be killing all the males. It’s an open ended story (which aren’t my favorite) but in this case, because the time investment wasn’t significant, I was okay with it. The feelings it evokes are definitely sort of eerie and spooky and it will stick with me for awhile.

“The Evaluators” I loved. Jemisin mentioned in the intro she enjoyed writing short stories because it gave her an opportunity to experiment and I think this piece is one of those. It’s told through a series of memos/logs and was precisely the kind of sci-fi/horror story that I love. “Walking Awake” also ventures into horror (content warnings for child trauma/violence) and wasn’t a favorite for me although again, I loved the message.

“The Elevator Dancer” is a quick story that almost felt like it could have been a spin off of Orwell’s 1984. I liked this a lot more than I liked 1984.

We shift gears back to fantasy with “Cuisine des Memoires” and it stands out as another favorite in the book. Kind of a love letter to the power food can have in our lives (or at least in our memories). I kind of also got the message that food is one of the oldest ways in the world to show you care for someone. Whether just by sharing it or by putting your heart on a plate.

“Stone Hunger” is a prelude to The Fifth Season that I actually enjoyed a lot more than the book itself. I sort of wish I’d read it first because I think I would have appreciated what came next much more.

“On the Banks of the River Lex” was very reminiscent of Gaiman’s American Gods and not in a bad way. I absolutely love the concept and love the way she portrayed Death. “The Narcomancer” was just meh for me, but I liked the ending.

“Henosis” is another experimental story told non-linearly that worked really well in short story format. The ending is another ambiguous one but I liked the format enough not to care. It also draws some interesting conclusions about celebrity in America.

“Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” is a sci-fi story with a super original concept that I thoroughly enjoyed (the title is a hint). “The You Train” is another abstract piece but again I loved the message. The Nike slogan “Just Do It” comes to mind, and I also found it super relatable because if I didn’t have a child at home, I think I’d board The You Train myself.

“Non-Zero Probabilities” was about exactly that, non-zero probabilities. It was definitely interesting, but coming at the end of so many other fantastic stories, not a standout to me. We close with “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters”. This was a favorite, and one of the only stories that made me really care about the characters. It’s about some (fictional) odd happenings during and after Hurricane Katrina, and while that storm and it’s destruction were no joke, I found the story itself really hopeful, and the overall tone fairly light (probably gross misunderstandings on my part).

I think each story had something to offer and all of them were well worth reading. Jemisin is a master at evoking tone and feeling with her writing.  Even in the stories I didn’t love, she still managed to make me feel something, and I think that’s especially difficult to do in short stories.

Null States by Malka Ann Older

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Rating: ★★★★

Null States follows Roz primarily into Darfur. Darfur is a previously Null State (where there were no Information feeds and no microdemocracy existed). They need help getting some of their feeds set up and ensuring the microdemocratic process is running smoothly. On the first day, their head of state is killed in an explosion as Roz and her team are looking on. Roz stays to investigate and assist with a second election for a new head of state.

Meanwhile- Heritage is still reeling from the after effects of their naughty behavior in the previous election. They threaten to secede from the system, at which point the centenals they did win would all become Null States. Mishima, who is doing freelance work, independent of Information, is pulled back in to spy on Heritage.

There is so much more going on in this plot! I don’t want to give everything away so I’ve focused on what I felt were the two primary points.

The feel of this book was much different from Infomocracy. I liked that Older did not stop to rehash the details of her world building (and for that reason I also recommend reading them as closely together as you can).

The action was fairly non-stop. Personally- this detracted a bit from the book for me, and that isn’t something I say often about action oriented books. I will say I think a lot of my feelings about the plot had to do with my mood and the chaos of my work life right now. My wonderful buddy read group absolutely loved this one, but for me it felt like too much to include in a single book. Sometimes the plot threads and the clues were difficult to keep track of.

The characters were excellent. Mishima is the “consummate badass” and her parts were definitely my favorite to follow. We don’t see much of Ken this time around- but I also enjoyed his parts towards the end. He’s presented as almost the exact opposite of Mishima. He doesn’t know any martial arts. He doesn’t carry weapons- but he’s still valuable. He can see things where others might not.

But Roz is the character we spend the most time with. I liked her from book one and was happy to see her in book two. All of these voices feel distinctly different. They all have their own unique personalities and quirks. Where Mishima is cool and confident- Roz often puts on a cool confident face but seems unsure of herself on the inside. I’m excited to see how they come together in State Tectonics.

For the setting- this is less of a world hopping adventure than the first one- but we were taken to places we didn’t get to see in the first book and I liked that we were given the opportunity to see what the world looked like without Information feeds everywhere.

I highly recommend this series for anyone looking for something that feels new and original.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

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Rating: ★★★★

This book was not quite what I expected. I mean it’s all there in the plot summary: environmental extremists are running around the globe trying to cause or amplify “natural” disasters. Peter Evans, lawyer for billionaire and environmental enthusiast George Morton, is unwittingly sucked into the race to expose the bad guys and foil their plans.

Usually climate fiction strives to warn people of the dangers of global warming. I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s, New York 2140 this year, which imagined a New York underwater. In Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, the world outside the walls of a Navajo reservation is drowned in rising tides.

Crichton, interestingly enough, argues not that there is no such thing, but that it doesn’t pose the dangers we think it does, and that even if it does, we have no idea how much of global warming is caused by human behavior and how much of it is caused by natural climate cycles. The media has put the civilized world into a “State of Fear” based on random, targeted, singular research studies, conducted perhaps by scientists whose funds are granted via organizations who have a stake in global warming.

I’m not saying I agree or disagree here, but I do think his argument is one worth examining. It is worth noting his bibliography is 27 pages long. 27 pages. In the author’s note he claims he studied climatology for three years. He has footnotes, charts and graphs littered through out the text. Having read the book, it’s really hard to just ignore that. Clearly- he knew more about the topic than I did.

As for the book itself- I won’t lie. The plot felt pretty ludicrous, almost to the point of being comical. Poor Peter Evans is caught in life or death moments every five chapters. But it was a fun thrill ride, and the settings were awesome. We get to see the jungles of New Guinea, the desolate landscape of Antarctica, the majestic Sequoia forests of California. The conspiracy isn’t exactly twisty turny. The one twist there is you do sort of see coming.

The characters were great. I have a lot of respect for the way Crichton wrote the women in his novels. I mean… I haven’t by any means read all his work, but The Lost World gave us Sarah Harding, and here we get Jennifer Haynes and Sarah Jones. Neither ever plays the damsel in distress role, and spend a good deal of time being braver than the men. I absolutely love that about his female characters.

It wasn’t a full five star read for me- I did think it was a little slow in places, too caught up in the details, and the ending was mildly unsatisfying. An epilogue would have fixed the ending right up.

I definitely recommend this for fans of Crichton, or anyone interested in climatology.

Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older

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Rating: ★★★★

This is a political science fiction thriller set in a future world where countries are replaced by units of 100,000 people called centenals. This is referred to as microdemocracy. Each of these centenals is able to vote on their own form of government, and the government with the most centenals (known as the supermajority) acts as the intergovernmental peacekeeper.

Ken is working on the campaign for Policy1st, who believe that you should vote for them based on policy, and is unique from other governments in that policy rules, not a singular particular person.

Mishima works for Information. Information has replaced TV, radio, and internet. It’s built into handhelds and visual chips. You use it to pay for things, see the history of various objects around you, read news feeds, watch advids. Basically, Information is working to give the people all the information they could ever want. I saw them as truth keepers.

Ken and Mishima are brought together by the circumstances of their pre-election work, and kept together by a twisting turning election conspiracy.

This was a world hopping adventure. We get to visit Tokyo, Lima, Paris, the Adapted Maldives. The settings were kept interesting and worked well with the plot given that country borders aren’t really a thing anymore. I also enjoyed the world building, the tech and gadgetry were cool, but it’s most definitely the societal and political structures that stole the show.

The characters were fun and fairly diverse (more diverse than most books for sure). I adored Mishima right from the start. She’s a no nonsense, don’t take no crap from nobody, kind of character that I couldn’t help but respect. Ken took longer to grow on me I think because he’s sort of just a go with the flow kind of guy. It was hard to know where he really stood on anything.

The plot definitely kept me guessing. It takes right to the end to see how everything fits together, but the ending is the part that I had the most issues with. It felt very rushed, and it sucks because we’d been treated to such a high level of detail prior to that. It was almost like her publisher gave her a word count she couldn’t exceed and as she neared it she just cut chunks out of the ending instead of trimming earlier parts of the novel and balancing it all. Those last two chapters just didn’t fit with the rest of the book.

I still have some burning questions about other details too. A lot of it has to do with the tech. Mishima uses some different tools for her work that are given some misleading names (e.g. crowd cutter?) and I couldn’t piece together what they were or how they worked.

But I mostly enjoyed it and never found it difficult to pick back up or wanting to put it off, so 4 stars for me. I will definitely pick up Null States.