The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

I can see why this book was a highly praised classic. It’s a good book that skirts the edges of hard sci-fi, particularly with concerns like relativity. It’s a great soldier’s eye view of the world–though the details are sometimes a little shortcut, it makes the book a compact and powerful read.

There’s some very nice sleight of hand with society and its changes in the background, allowing only the nearest future to be clearly defined, but the remainder to give a strong impression.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Another excellent book; it’s the first one written, and the one that A Closed and Common Orbit follows. There are a number if differences–primarily in the number of POV.

The big point of overlap between the two books is Lovelace; in this book Pepper is a minor character who crosses their paths twice. The Wayfarer is the center of this book. It’s a great mixed race cast, with subtly alien aliens. Everyone has motivations and ties that bind and quirky histories that come out over the course of the book. It’s only as I write now that Firefly’s crew comes up as a comparison. The tech is different, but the primacy of a small crew’s interactions is a common heart.

Spread over the extra characters, it feels less introspective and philosophical–but it’s still more about getting along with others in a strange but tolerant and friendly universe.

It’s a great book, and the overlap with A Closed and Common Orbit is minor enough that reading them in either order will work out well.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

A very interesting world, slowly revealed and deeply complicated. It’s incomplete–the book creates great forces, reveals how intertwined they are… then runs out of pages. If you’re in for the trilogy, though, it’s a fascinating future– foreign feeling, with strange holdovers and tremendous differences from a “future” imagined from today’s society.

The ties of Mycroft to the beating heart of everything feel a little too neat and tidy… the world feels oddly constrained or contrived to be so subtly steerable by so few. Hopefully the next books will expand on why a bit.

I enjoyed it and can see why it bowled people over. I’m certainly interested in reading on.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

This book is set in an interesting future; one with aliens and friendly compatibility, but also humans chasing profit and breeding children because they’re cheaper than machines.

The POV characters are great–very distinct windows into the world. The legal structure, the holes and “we can decide better than politicians” really comes through, but not in a libertarian dystopia way.

For most of the book, we’re navigating the current day with Lovelace, alternating with flashbacks to Jane’s childhood and teen past. It becomes apparent at some point that the Jane of the past is who Lovelace is crashing with… and just how much Jane must have gone through to get to the present that we see.

There’s a lot about picking your future, the nature of AI, thinking about the mind/body duality, friendship… it’s a book filled with interesting people making hard choices. I really liked it.

Evidently, this is book 2, parallel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, or at least somewhat overlapping. It was good enough that I’m going to seek out 1… and probably 3, if it’s in the pipeline.

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

A cool, cynical tale of first contact with the complexity of modern politics and international relations.

I really liked the characters, both human and alien. Our POV character is a minor middle aged geneticist, suddenly and surprisingly catapulted to the big time–though at terrible cost.

Her relationships with her three children are well done; even the naer-do-well kid has interactions and relations that feel authentic from a trying, striving but failing, effort.

Plus, the twist at the end is awesome and deserved.

Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen

An interesting short story collection; all well told and interesting without requiring buy-in from previous works. There’s a lot of twisted fairy tales, but a number of other great story styles too.

The Traveler and the Tale
Snow in Summer
Speaking to the Wind
The Thirteenth Fey
Granny Rumple
Blood Sister
Journey into the Dark
The Sleep of Trees
The Uncorking of Uncle Finn
Dusty Loves
The Gift of the Magicians
Sister Death
The Singer and the Song
Salvage
Lost Girls
Belle Bloody Merciless Dame
Words of Power
Great Gray
Under The Hill
Godmother Death
Creationism: An Illustrated Lecture
Allerleiruah
Sun/Flight
Dick W. and His Pussy – A brief, fun farce
Become a Warrior – An interesting tale about being left behind when war comes… and making your own terms for dealing with it.
Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn – A fun little story about giving wishes back and commitment
A Ghost of an Affair – An odd time travelish story, with great place feel
Sister Emily’s Lightship – An interesting episode from a quiet life, very influenced by the author’s location and exposure to Emily Dickinson.

Moon Flights by Elizabeth Moon

A neat collection of short stories; all well crafted and relatively uniform in length. They’re mostly books from her universes.

My reaction to stories mostly corresponded to the exposure to the source books. The one short story about the composer who hastily signs a contract was good and memorable — and unfamiliar to me. The stories in universes that I already liked (Paksenarrion), were cool additions to the universe — not required, but new slantwise reads on the way things are. The Vatta series came out well–I really liked “Say Cheese”, and may have to track down the novels that go with it. (The short story about the musician in Sparta was also interesting, but relied on familiarity with the culture (and maybe the hero) a bit too much for me to love it. The Ladies Arms short stories were humorous, but didn’t really grab me.

In the end, it was a fun read–and no clunkers.

Reread: League of Peoples novels by James Alan Garder

I recent reread the League of Peoples novels by James Alan Gardner, beginning again with Expedables It’s been almost 10 years since I last read it–and it was completely compelling, despite remembering the broad strokes. The technique of short punchy sections makes it feel like a popcorn book. The setting is great, as is Festina. If you need someone to do the impossible, call in an Explorer.

Vigilant is an interesting continuation of the world. It’s again a single world, and our Faye is messed up, but not in the deliberate way of Festina. It’s an odd world, with the plague casting an appropriately horrific shadow over everything.

Hunted follows Edward, whose mere presence leads to death and disruption around him everywhere. His Dad is a total dick.

Ascending is told from Oar’s perspective. Her naivete sometimes grates, but the Pollisand’s interference is interesting. We start to learn about the interference of the “higher” races; he walks the line a bit with pointing out cultures corrupted by laziness; the ties to our time were a bit transparent. Still, it’s a fun journey with great payoff–but you’ll really want to have read at least Expendables first.

Radiant finishes off the series. The Unity is a great addition to the universe, with different but comprehensible reactions to Earth and the technologies they were gifted. The trio (Ramos, Youn Sue, and Tut) play off of each other very well. It turns a bit philosophical; Youn Sue’s struggle against the Balrog is fascinating throughout.

The end is a bit ambitious and ambiguous–the Balrog explains the structure and purpose of the explorers and their role. It’s implied that their meddling is having great effects that we should expect to continue… which makes it ironic that this was the series end.

Radiant will spoil key elements in Ascending, so I suggest reading it as the finale. I enjoy Commitment Hour and Trapped, but they’re in a separate sequence–they’re about the “left behinds” of old Earth, not the League and Explorer Corps.

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.