Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

A fast moving book about regret and missed opportunities–but in action, not reflection.

Jason Dessen is the hero of the story; a smart professor who has settled into a comfortable life with his family, teaching at a local college. Then it all goes sideways.

Jack was wise when he recommended it to me without much detail, just an enthusiastic recommendation to read it. I’ll say the same, mostly to avoid spoilers.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

This book was such an interestingly different future that after a few chapters I had to pause and check–was this a fantasy? Soldiers marching and formations that almost magically shield their members… I thought that we might have slipped into fantasy or an “indistinguishable from magic” space fantasy. But after Cheris calls in artillery and returns to the starship, some of the technology begins to feel familiar. It’s still not all familiar–there’s real invention, and not limited to any one field. One cool aspect is that on the fly mathematical calculations are required to tweak formations, and that math and geometry continue to perform important roles… despite never bogging the reader down in the equations.

Cheris is soon caught up in intrigue, promoted to terrific responsibilities… and saddled with a ghost. The world makes sense and flows with a strong semblance of order; it’s the way it is for tedious reasons that would bore us. Except that those tedious underpinnings often prove to be less stable and more interesting than you’d think.

It turns out that this is the first book in a series; I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer

The conclusion to the trilogy. For this book we abandon the single POV and get a series of overlapping and parallel stories. Some of the story continues on from the Biologist and Control at the end of book 2, though we now see some of the action from her viewpoint.

We also have interesting chapters running alongside that deal with the beginning of Area X–before it was even a separate area. Plus we learn about the S&SB (though only indirectly), get more theories about Area X and its relationship to “the normal world”, etc.

It’s a more straightforward book, despite the many viewpoints and multiple timelines. It’s interesting to see the overlap and weirdness, and to find out more. An intriguing conclusion to an interesting trilogy.

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer

A new character, Control, brings a new viewpoint in the wake of Annihilation.

This book is largely about the organization that “manages” Area X, from the POV of a brand new director. Even on the “right side” of the border, everything is odd. As the book goes on, we learn more about the conditioning techniques that were applied to the expedition members.

In the end, it’s a sequel in topic–but with a new vantage point and different focus. In the background Area X still looms… but we now get hints as to the dysfunction that was involved in running it, the effects of being near the border, etc.

If you enjoyed the aura of mystery in Annihilation, you’ll probably enjoy the continuation of the story in Authority.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

The world ends before our eyes–not in a hazy before time, but as we read. Harper is our viewpoint character, and she’s very engaging. While her love of Mary Poppins may be going a little far, she’s exactly the conscientious neighbor we all want, or person we want to be. She does a good job of being selfless, but not in a fake feeling way.

The disease that’s killing everyone is tragic–and it’s clear that the old world is mostly over. Fortunately, it’s mostly over in a believable way, instead of a YA shortcut to societal dissolution. The limited viewpoint makes what’s obvious (and hidden) not always what an omniscient observer would find obvious, which is nice. Harper finding Harold’s notes is a nice way around their limited perceptions.

It’s also a more rugged tale of survival; the book covers about a year, not a deadly weekend. Old norms fall fast… but after watching our panic over Ebola in the west, it’s not that hard to imagine society failing to overcome the challenges of this much deadlier spore.

I look forward to reading more books by the author, though this story is done enough for me.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

The novel is well written, about a group exploring a strange area that doesn’t quite conform o the world’s rules. While their minds aren’t wiped, they are subject to oddness–particularly in their perceptions. It pairs nicely with our strategically unreliable narrator.

Things fall apart very quickly and continue getting worse. The exploration is very well done; it’s not hard to imagine ourselves in the unnamed narrator’s shoes. (That’s one bit of interesting story building: the conscious avoidance of names–of the exploration crew, but also for just about everything. It makes the timelessness and undefined seem strategic…

Anyway, the rest of the trilogy also sounds interesting, so I’ll add them to my library queue.

The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper

After a slow start, The Margarets does a great job of showing a plausible future. It has a strong ecological backbone and a quieter but sometimes obvious resistance to everyone-succeeds initiatives. You can almost see the real world spark that kindled the book.

As the book picks up its pace, its never about running gun battles, but it’s very good at making the many forms of conflict engaging. The Margarets are distinct but kin; the differentiation is handled well and didn’t stumble that I noticed.

While it’s sci-fi in setting, it’s much more like a LeGuin novel–the colonies are different takes, but recognizably close to human. The first chapter feels like a misstep–it elevates a very minor storyline that doesn’t fit the rest of the book for two-thirds of its length.

It does a good job of making unusual heroes interesting; I look forward to reading more of her backlog.

Exo by Fonda Lee

This was a very strong, engaging YA book. Pages flew, time zipped by. The lines are a little less clear than most YA novels–the “bad guys” aren’t twirling their mustaches, and you can understand their resistance.

The heart of the book is being caught between, and our Donovan gets this again and again. His “aw shucks” high status would feel little cheap, but it works well in YA. The tech is fun, the aliens feel alien…it’s quite enjoyable.

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

This is overall my favorite Kameron Hurley book; while it’s wild and weird, there’s a little more handholding–and somewhat more sympathetic characters. (Not that Nyx isn’t awesome.) These characters suffer from caring too much, too irrationally–even through circumstances that would break most of us.

The story builds steadily; Zan’s amnesiac and learning the world at our side–but events don’t pause for a leisurely catch up. Jayd is the schemer, and it’s never quite obvious which setbacks are unforeseen and devastating, and which she can roll with–she’s compelled to roll with them all.

Zan’s story is fun, weird and strange–since we’re learning alongside her, there’s tension and terrible risks taken. Jayd’s life is subject to huge upheavals, but her struggles are mostly on a political plane.

Very enjoyable; I recommend it to anyone who like action, adventure, and science fiction. The world building is alien, but in a more inviting way the Mirrors or Umayma. Though blood and fluids are not spared….

Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez

So far, it’s an okay but not great book. I’m glad that I checked it out from the library; while it’s not great, it’s fun. I suspect that I hopped in at book 2 or 3… but I’m not really inspired to go dig up book one.

It’s a quirky book with a world like ours, but subject to visitations by beings from other dimensions–who sometimes get stuck. It’s lightly humorous not a pun-a-minute, but there’s a lot of slice of life elements… and an answer to what you do when you’re granted great cosmic power. By the end, it was enjoyable–but still not so much that I’m going to seek out more of the series.