Book Review: Autonomous

autonomousAutonomous
by Annalee Newitz
Biopunk
301 pages
Published 2017

Autonomous is an interesting story that poses a lot of moral questions. It doesn’t really take sides; both the pharmaceutical pirate and the agents tracking her down are painted in sympathetic ways, as if we’re meant to like them all. We see why Jack is a pharmaceutical pirate; medicine is only available to those rich enough to pay for it, so the poor stay poor and sick and short-lived. She wants to change that. She reverse-engineers drugs, manufactures them, and distributes them to the needy through her associates.

Meanwhile, Eliasz is a conflicted military agent who is sexually attracted to robots. Or at least to his partner, Paladin, though a flashback shows what might have been the start of his attraction to robots. Paladin is probably the single most interesting character in the entire book, as she muses on the nature of being indentured, and searches through her memories and the internet for information about her situation.

The book does have LGBT content – Jack is bisexual, and Eliasz is – robosexual? Is that a thing? Paladin could be called nonbinary or trans; she repeatedly mentions that gender isn’t a thing to robots, but because she’s a military robot, most people call her a he at the beginning of the book. She learns the brain inside her is female, and to make Eliasz more comfortable with his attraction, she decides to use female pronouns. Eliasz does use the F word to refer to himself being attracted to the robot at the beginning, when they were using male pronouns. This puzzles Paladin for a while, causing her to search the term and figure out what Eliasz meant by its use.

There’s a lot of complex world-building in this book that is barely brushed past. From the corporations who own patents covering everything, to the system of indenture that covers humans as well as robots, to the bio-domes that cover cities (but it’s livable outside the biodomes, so why are they needed?), to the new federations that cover continents that used to be divided into several countries – there’s a LOT going on. And there’s not just robots, but also some pretty advanced cybernetics implanted in humans as well as an everpresent network of data that can be tapped into with implants that everyone has.

Ultimately, for as complex as the world is, and cohesive as the plot is, I’m left wondering who, if anyone, was in the right in this story. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be happy with the ending or not. I’ve seen other reviews saying Neuromancer was a way better book in a similar vein, and I actually have copy of that waiting to be read. So we’ll see.

From the cover of Autonomous:

When anything can be owned, how can we be free?

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, a pharmaceutical Robin Hood traversing the world in a submarine, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack leaves a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, repeating job tasks until they become insane.

Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his partner Paladin, a young indentured robot. As they race to stop information about the hacked drugs at their source, they form an uncommonly close relationship that neither of them fully understands, and Paladin begins to question their connection – and a society that profits from indentured robots. 

Book Review: Seafire

seafireSeafire
by Natalie C. Parker
Young Adult/Fantasy
374 pages
Published August 2018

First, Caledonia Styx is an AMAZING name, and the Mors Navis is another fantastic name. I had to google it – it basically translates to Death Ship. Possibly Ship of the Dead. Something to that effect.

Seafire is the first book in a trilogy, and it’s very well done. The main goal in the first book was achieved, but we can definitely see the story arc that they’ve set themselves on for the trilogy.

The world of Seafire is post-apocalyptic, though so far post-apocalypse that the old world has faded into myths and stories, and all that’s left is a mish-mash of old technology, like solar power and electricity, used on more primitive objects, like boats and rope-and-pulley lifts. Most ships are equipped with sun sails – sails covered in tiny solar panel scales to provide energy to the ship’s propulsion engines. If you’re limited to wind power, you can’t hope to escape or fight the powered ships. Instead of grappling hooks for latching onto an enemy ship, there are giant magnets. It’s an interesting mix of old and new tech, but a believable one in this context.

The geography is also fascinating; there’s a sea of constant storm bordering the known lands, and the known lands are mostly sea themselves. Caledonia and her crew are women and girls she’s rescued from the grasp of Aric Athair, the warlord who controls pretty much all of the seas. He does this by forcing boys to serve him and getting them addicted to a substance called Silt, which encourages loyalty. The threat of going through withdrawals from Silt also encourages loyalty! We never actually see Aric on-page in this book, but I have no doubt he’ll show up in the sequels, which I am anxiously awaiting. Aric is ruthless, killing those who defy him as Caledonia’s parents did. She only survived because she was off-ship gathering food when the attack came.

I realize this review is a little disjointed, but the book is a bit hard to explain. The world-building is complex but makes perfect sense, and the plot is fast-moving. The blurb compares it to Mad Max: Fury Road, and I definitely get that vibe from it. I can’t wait to see where the next two books take us, but they don’t even have titles or publication dates yet!!

There is a little bit of LGBT content in the book as well, with relationships forming between girls in Caledonia’s crew.

From the cover of Seafire:

The first in a heart-stopping trilogy that recalls the undeniable feminine power of Wonder Woman and the powder-keg action of Mad Max: Fury Road, Seafire follows the captain of an all-female ship intent on taking down a vicious warlord’s powerful fleet.

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all . . . or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Book Review: What If It’s Us

what if it's usWhat If It’s Us
by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Young Adult Gay Romance
437 pages
Published October 2018

This was a super cute gay romance that I read for YA_Pride’s Twitter Book Club. The authors have separately written some pretty popular YA books; Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Albertalli) and They Both Die at the End (Silvera), neither of which I have read yet, so I had no idea what to expect with this one!

The book alternates viewpoints between Arthur, a Georgia boy in New York for the summer who recently came out as gay but has not yet gone out on a date with anyone, and Ben, who recently broke up with the boy he lost his virginity with. The difference in experience between the two is a plot point, as is the temporary nature of Arthur’s visit to New York.

There is SO MUCH in this book. These are complex characters, and the romance between the two is simply the frame that the rest of the book revolves around. Arthur is still coming to terms with what being out means for him; he thinks his friends are being weird about it, his parents are fighting all the time, he’s never dated and doesn’t really know how to go about doing so. Ben is recovering from heartbreak with his first boyfriend. He’s Puerto Rican but can pass for white, so people forget and think he’s white, and that upsets him. His break up, and his best friend’s, has splintered up their friend group and he misses the group, and his best friend seems to have moved on and doesn’t have time for him anymore. He’s in summer school, with his ex, and is struggling to pass so he can continue to his senior year of high school, while Arthur is an amazing student who’s probably getting into Yale. All of this is set against the glittering backdrop of New York, seen as wondrous and new through Arthur’s eyes and boring and old through Ben’s. There’s just SO MUCH going on.

I did have to double-check a few times who was narrating the chapter I was reading, but Twitter said the audio book actually has separate narrators for Arthur and Ben. So if you like audiobooks, that might be the better way to go for this book.

I loved that this book didn’t just explore the romance between the two boys, but the friendships they had with each other and the people around them. More than a romance, I think this is a book about building your own family. People who will be there for you whether you’re dating them or not.

Twitter also mentioned that the book could be disappointing if you were reading it for either of the author’s signature styles. No one dies, and it’s not completely happy fluff. So definitely set aside any expectations based on their previous books. I hadn’t read them, so I enjoyed it for itself.

The next YA_Pride book club pick is This Is Kind Of An Epic Love Story, and we’ll be talking about it on Twitter at 8pm Eastern Time on Thursday, November 29th, using the hashtag #YAPrideBookClub. Join us!

From the cover of What If It’s Us:

ARTHUR
is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

BEN
thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway show?

But what if it is?

Best friends Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera combine their talents in this smart, funny, and heartfelt collaboration about two very different boys who can’t decide if the universe is pushing them together – or pulling them apart.

Book Review: Like Water

like waterLike Water
by Rebecca Podos
YA LGBT Romance
312 pages
Published 2017

I’m always interested in queer young adult books, and this one especially caught my eye with its mention of “performing mermaids.” Because y’all know I love my mermaid books! So Savannah isn’t a real mermaid, she just plays one at a water park. But it was enough to make me pick up the book, and it’s a good book. Young adult books about discovering your identity are always needed, and this book is about Savannah realizing she’s bisexual.

Much of the angst in this book comes from Savannah not knowing if she has the same disease her father does, and she’s not sure if she wants to know. Altogether, in this book we have chronic illness, hispanic teens, bisexual, lesbian, and genderqueer teens, small-town angst….there’s really a LOT of demographics covered in this book.

I like Savannah, but I don’t like her love interest, Leigh, very much. Leigh does NOT have her shit together, and between drinking and doing drugs, all while underage, she poses a very real threat to Savannah’s well-being.

I’m a little nonplussed by the ending of the book. It leaves a few questions unanswered, but not in a cliff-hanger-y way. It’s more of a possibilities-left-open kind of way. Which makes sense for a “first love” romance. It’s not necessarily a “true love” story. It reminds me of John Green novels in that way.

So – it’s a great book for representation, but don’t expect a tidy, wrapped-up ending. You won’t find that here.

From the cover of Like Water:

In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck – but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person threatens the walls Vanni has carefully constructed to protect herself and brings up the big questions she’s hidden from for so long.

With her signature stunning writing, Rebecca Podos, author of The Mystery of Hollow Places, has crafted an unforgettable story of two girls navigating the unknowable waters of identity, millennial anxiety, and first love.

Book Review: Heart of Thorns

heart of thornsHeart of Thorns
by Bree Barton
Fantasy
438 pages
Published July 2018

I almost bailed on this book. It’s not bad, exactly, it’s just – mediocre. Mia discovers that she is the thing she’s been taught to hate, discovers that maybe they’re not all bad, that what she’s been taught is probably wrong, but, y’know, maybe not entirely wrong – it’s just one trope after another. It was rather predictable.

And there’s this problem with the world. If every woman is suspected of being a witch, (sorry, Gwyrach) and they work their magic through touch – how is anyone having kids? Sure, women are required to wear gloves in public, but – the touch-magic doesn’t keep men from abusing women. Not like in The Power, where men start getting actually scared to touch women for fear of what could happen.

The only character in this book that I actually LIKED was Prince Quin. And maybe Dom, the flirtatious gay boy. Mia was rather thoroughly unlikable. First she blindly accepts that she should hate and kill Gwyrach, then is appalled to find out she (and her mother) are/were Gwyrach, and refuses to accept that because of course she can’t possibly be one of those reviled women. She refuses to take Quin into her confidence, despite him showing blind trust in her for most of the book. What does he have to do to prove himself to you, woman?

I’ve read much better feminist dystopias. This is oppressed-women-finding-their-hidden-powers-and-fighting-back clothed in a fantasy instead of a dystopia, and it’s not nearly as good as it could be. Despite ending on a cliffhanger, I don’t care enough about these characters to read the next book.

From the cover of Heart of Thorns:

Mia Rose wants only one thing: revenge against the Gwyrach who killed her mother.

In a world where only women can possess magic – and every woman is suspected of having it – the half-girl, half-god Gwyrach are feared, reviled, and hunted. After training under her father and his infamous Hunters, Mia is determined to scour the four kingdoms and enact the Hunters’ Creed: Heart for a heart, life for a life.

But then her father announces a quite different future: She will marry Prince Quin, heir to the throne. Just like that, smart, headstrong Mia is thrust into the last role she ever wanted: pretty, wifely bauble to the future king.

So on the eve of her wedding, Mia plots a daring escape, only to discover the unimaginable: She has magic. She may be a Huntress, but she’s also a Gwyrach.

As the truth comes to light, Mia must untangle the secrets of her own past. Friends darken into foes and logic begins to fray – as do the rules she has always played by. If Mia wants to survive, she must learn to trust her heart . . . even if it kills her.

Book Review: Summer Bird Blue

summer bird blueSummer Bird Blue
by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Queer YA
373 pages
Published September 2018

This is the second YA_Pride book club chat I’ve participated in – the last one was The Summer of Jordi Perez and the Best Burger in Los Angeles. (Which was great.) Summer Bird Blue was just as good, but where Jordi Perez was a lovely, lighthearted beach read, Summer Bird Blue is a tearjerker that you’ll want to read in private so you can sob the entire way through the book. Or at least that’s what I did.

Gorgeous and evocative are both words that could be applied here. Rumi’s grief over losing her sister is profound. She feels abandoned by her mother, sent to live with the aunt she barely knows in Hawaii. Rumi has absolutely lost everything – her sister/best friend is truly lost. She feels like she’s lost her mother, her home, any semblance of normality, and her musical ability. It’s a lot for a kid to deal with.

In the middle of all that, she’s trying to figure out her sexuality – she might be ace or demi; she spends most of the book questioning and trying to make sense of it. As we discussed in the Twitter chat, even if she doesn’t come to a conclusion on what her sexuality is, even having “questioning” as a sexuality is so important in YA books. Showing that you don’t need to have everything figured out is really important.

I loved Rumi’s relationships with the neighbors, both Kai and Mr. Watanabe. I wish Rumi had been nice to Mr. Watanabe in the beginning, but she comes around eventually. And she was dealing with A LOT, so I’ll give her a little slack. She was beginning to try my patience near the end of the book, though.

The one real disappointment I had with this book is that while Rumi is portrayed as this awesome musician whose lyrics and melodies are really good – the other characters say so – I don’t like her lyrics. Of course I have no way of knowing what her melodies sound like, but I just don’t think her lyrics are that good.

Other than that little quibble, this book is really, really good. But also really, really sad. Prepare to cry.

From the cover of Summer Bird Blue:

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of – she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends Rumi away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music from her life. With the help of the “boys next door” – a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago – Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

Aching, powerful, and unflinchingly honest, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.