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….

Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

You know what’s great? I remix version of a bunch of great essays that you read at the time, but retold and gathered.

It’s a great book, in a convenient format to press on people who don’t spend a lot of time reading online–or those who don’t have the time to read essays.

It was a fast read for me, probably due to the familiarity in part. There are some surprises, and it’s always interesting to see how she approaches media–both those that I’ve also encountered, but also stuff that I’ve only heard about. Similarly, her articles about Requires Hate feel very different now, instead of in the middle of the internet’s shock and horror.

Sadly, her asides about her grandmother growing up in Vichy France are even more pointed; her ability to deal with and dismiss abuse hurled her way seems too like a minimum qualification for being an outspoken woman on the internet these days.

If you’re interested but want a sample before you commit, her Hugo winning essay is here: We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative. (her blog)

The Heart is Eaten Last by Kameron Hurley

“The Heart is Eaten Last” by Kameron Hurley is a Nyx novella, set between the first two books. Among other things, we meet Kaos.

It’s a fine novella, and I find myself in the same space as ever with Nyx–appreciating her confidence and determination, but sure that we’d never enjoy a drink together. Her sister is subtly drug in and seems reasonable, and the mystery that they’re solving is right up Nyx’s alley.

As always, it’s well written–it feels lived in, not exotic, despite the alien nature of everything. It’s just technology, it just works, you just shout for your bug-people to do it and it gets done. I’ll be interested in turning back to it again and seeing what I think on reread. Unlike most of her novels, this story doesn’t feel like I need a reread to appreciate it–it was enjoyable, almost light in comparison to the novels. Which is a quirky, interesting place to be in Umayma.

Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

The second book of the Worldbreaker Saga. This book adds a few new POV characters, including Kirana, the invasion’s leader.

There’s a lot less learning everything from scratch in this book, which made it an easier read. Similarly, the plots and actions by everyone seem much more straightforward. There’s some leveling; Zezili is back after her mauling and ready to kick butt. Roh (and new POV Luna) are engaged in arctic survival, Lilia is coming down off her end of book 1 high, with the impossible demanded of her.

Three of the new POV characters are rulers; Kirana for the invading empire, but also the king of Tordin and Saiduan’s power behind the throne. They are interesting people, all with tough choices to make. Time seems less compressed; the book covers about a year of the conflict, instead of only a few months.

By the end of the book, we’ve killed some of the POV characters, so we should be back to five-ish in the next (last?) book of the Saga. The strife is terrible, but feels less shockingly bloody than before. It read much faster than book 1; perhaps in part because I was fluent in the characters from just finishing the Mirror Empire.

The next book has some big plots to finish; I look forward to it!

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (reread)

My first read and review was here: Quick reviews to catch up. The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 by is an ambitious book grounded in multiple worlds shoved into violent collision.

We have a lot of appealing characters from several empires and social strata. Most of the characters with face time (POV chapters) are from the primary world; all are grounded in the primary world’s struggle. A time of change is upon us; the wandering satellite Oma is powering channelers of its own; the other three satellite’s devotees are mixed in their ability to handle Omajistas–and almost all expect another 20 to 100 years before they’ll have to deal with it.

By “change”, I mean that terrible destruction is predicted–last time, thousands of years ago, much of a continent was sunk into the sea and strange life poured over the land, permanently changing things. Like a lot of carnivorous plants and trees are everywhere now, requiring special protections for settlements.

There are fiveish major POV characters. We start with Lilia, who is immediately appealing–abandoned by her mother, she’s left to become a drudge at a monastery. While she had a lot of missteps, her story felt like a good coming of age tale. She’d make a good YA protagonist, though the world she’s trapped in is more relentlessly oppressive than most.

Taigan comes next. A bit of a helper, a bit villainous–the chapters of Taigan make you wonder if you’re supposed to root against them. Lots of interesting details come out, slowly–but you’re distracted by the interactions with Lilia most of the time and only come to understand what makes ’em tick later.

Ahkio’s story is political, revealing the complexities of Dhai as understood by adults. He’s deeply enmeshed with steering the country, and hard times won’t wait…

Roh’s story feels like an outgrowth of Lilia’s, since he starts at the temple with her, but soon he’s off to foreign lands–very foreign to him. He’s kept in the dark, mostly, which makes him a good viewpoint character for learning about the world beyond the temples and Dhai from a Dhai’s point of view.

Zezili flips us over the border to Dhai’s enemies, as they see themselves. She’s a successful and powerful general; from her eyes we see Dorinah. It’s a compelling, dark, realistic feeling matriarchy.

The overall plot is confusing, since none of the five are very clued in. But each figures out more and more about what’s really going on as the book progresses. No one has it easy; Lilia struggles across multiple worlds, striving and trying–she’s almost a perfect incarnation of perseverance. Her price–like everyone’s–is steep.

The book came much easier on reread. I was ready for confusing names and got to enjoy Taigan’s joke on the world from the start this time. The world is truly alien… which is a great reason to read this book. It’s not five heroes questing together against the dawn; it’s five messy, painful stories in a tough time.

October & Early November Books: Quick reviews to catch up

Sagan Diary by John Scalzi. I liked the idea of this, but didn’t enjoy the novella much separated from the remainder of the series. It’s an interesting experiment, and it’s so positive in outlook that it stands apart. Writing positively about love seems much tougher than hate, vengeance, and action-y revenge. So for a story on the skew, it’s well done. I want to read it alongside a reread of the series–I bet it works better when the characters are fresh in our minds.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. This is as large and bold as everyone’s been saying. It’s fantasy world building that explicitly turns away from medieval European influences, and it’s vibrant for it.

There are a lot of protagonists; sometimes the queue for transitioning to a new character left me a little confused, getting up to speed over the first page of the chapter. That’s probably due to the sprawling cast and many POV characters.

I’m very much looking forward to rereading this. I suspect that having paid the price to adjust to the world (and fight off my default assumptions), the next read will allow me to focus more on the characters, their story arcs and adventures.

Randall Munroe’s What If is culled from his excellent What If? website. I really like the way that he approaches the questions, and there’s enough science transmitted to me that it checks some of my gut-feeling level assumption. (The rocket fuel/exhaust velocity relationship from the golfing to propel a ship question really illustrated something I’d never thought much about.)

Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising is a great near future adventure. It’s a bit fish-out-of-water, in that Anika is a pilot, but her challenges are up close and personal. It builds into a mystery that coheres (until it reaches peak Bond Villain, where it’s suddenly quite fantastic). The world building in the background feels all too realistic–particularly the competing powers in the arctic waters, the need of the navies to justify themselves, and so on.

All in all, it was well written and interesting. I’ll be checking out the sequel, Hurricane Fever, soon.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercombie. This is a great low-fantasy world, very divided–much like Renaissance Italy, with neighboring powers influencing the local situation, shifting alliances, and mercenary bands.

Monza’s a driven anti-hero, well drawn, engaging, and I could identify with her despite her villainy and willingness to embrace horrific practices in her revenge. The book balances a number of things; Monza’s gather allies are each unique and have a healthy regard for themselves.

One of the great, very subtle things that emerges as the story advances is that Benna gains real heft. We see Monza encounter person after person who challenges her “avenging my innocent brother” story, and we see her flashback to the past with a new read, changing how we see both Monza and her brother.

I just finished Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. I wasn’t a huge fan, mostly for subject and attitude, but did appreciate the pacing and world building. Ironically, as I sat down to write this below Best Served Cold, I realized how similar the plots are. (In each, the protagonist swears to kill their betrayers one-by-one.)

Stark didn’t click for me as well; I suspect looking deeper would be valuable. Quickly thinking about it: Monza begins hale, is broken, and we endure her painful recovery. Stark is better than ever, cocky and confident.

Stark is also consciously posing, almost from the first moment he steps on stage. As the book progresses, we figure out that his pose conceals pain, but it’s a heavy load of snark before it starts coming through. While there’s more to it, that’s what quickly comes to mind. (Though: his magic making things “too easy” might play into the same difference in feel between the Sandman versus Monza.)

Long story short: it was well written and kept me engaged. I read it quickly and mostly enjoyed it. But I’m not going to hunt for its sequels.

The beginning of several book series

I recently re-read God’s War, by Kameron Hurley. The first time I read it, I finished feeling a little flat and disappointed in myself. The main character, Nyx, is an earthy, pungent, no-nonsense mercenary–much more Black Company than the high fantasy mercenaries who always fight for good. The world building was very interesting, but the world’s fully immersive, so there’s a lot of wondering at the strangeness and trying to keep afloat at first on a first read.

On reread, I enjoyed the book much more. I remembered some of the good that Nyx shows later; that helped me empathize with her up front, before she gives you much reason. On reread, I also remembered more of how the world worked, so I was able to spend more time appreciating the elements–and noticing how everything, from the economy, roles, and everything else hangs together so very well. Long story short, this is a book well worth reading twice.

The series continued in Infidel; I rolled into it immediately following God’s War. There’s a jump in time and teams that makes sense. Everyone is older and more successful in their own ways, at least as the book begins. Tirhan turns out to be an interesting society on its own; it’s more than a blend of Nasheen and Chenja. It feels so much more like a first world society, rather than one collapsing from the weight of depopulation and war.

Faith continues to be important, and I liked the new characters for everyone; Rhys’ boss and wife are each interesting to discover, and Nyx’s new team has two well developed characters. The lingering impact of Nyx’s past gets explored, and the Bel Dame history gets brought to more light.

I ended this book very interested in finding out what’s next for this poor world.

Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance was a very interesting “brilliant kids remake everything” book. (It’s much more than that, but that’s the broadest hook. That societal backdrop–kids who were a step ahead evolutionarily–made me first think of Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain. Writing this, Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear also came to mind.)

Cooper makes a great, conflicted, lead for the book. He’s one of the oldest Brilliants, someone raised before the Academies became common. He works for the DAR, specifically Equitable Services–which is as Orwellian as you suspect. It’s a grim vision of adaptation to the new reality of “kids” who dominate every field they touch.

His relationships, the shifting sands of his understanding of the world, his interaction with his mentor, with the gifted whose paths (and gunfire, and…) he crosses, and the world at large all feel right. He’s deep in a clandestine game, which makes it feel very spy-thriller at times, but the brilliant/gifted angle keeps it close to sci-fi.

I picked it up from the library because of the big idea piece for the second book, A Better World. Which, now that I’ve read Brilliant, looks even more interesting.

For a different dystopic future, I turned to Clean by Alex Hughes. It’s a partners in the police force book, with the primary POV as a telepath. The world building is very interesting; there are flashes of very cool future elements, but a notable lack of computing. As the book progresses, we learn more about both the Telepath’s Guild and their relations with the rest of society, and the Tech Wars, which are the cause of the uneven technology of this future.

The crime part of the novel gives the book a familiar feel, but the first person POV does a great job of embedding us in this Atlanta. It’s a mess, of course, but the history that’s led to the current society makes more and more sense and hints and explanations are dropped. It looks like another couple of books are already out, so I’ll pick them up and see how everyone deals with the drama of the last quarter of this book.