Book Review: Redshirts

by John Scalzi
Science Fiction
317 pages
Published 2012

Some books are surreal suspensions of disbelief. Some books just make you go “WHAT the FUCK” every couple of chapters when a new twist is revealed, and this is one of the latter. Just – what the FUCK.

Imagine your average sci-fi space opera TV show on cable television with hand-wavey science and half-assed special effects – take those characters and make them realize they’re IN A TV SHOW. Let them realize all of their woes are due to shitty writing, and see what they do with that knowledge. THAT is this book, and it is crazy and hilarious and weird and eye-roll-inducing.

Between the time travel, the Box that does magic science behind the scenes so things work out on-screen, the Narrative taking control and making people say and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do – this book is wacky and just full of what-the-fuckery. It’s fun, though, and if you can keep yourself from groaning out loud every few pages, it’s a pretty good read.

From the cover of Redshirts:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more thrilled to be assigned to the ship’s xenobiology laboratory, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Live couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranked crew member is invariable killed.

Unsurprisingly, the savvier members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

Book Review: The Wrong Stars

the wrong starsThe Wrong Stars
by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction/Space Opera
396 pages
Published 2017

I’ve watched my fair share of Space Opera (Firefly, Dark Matter, Farscape, Star Trek, Star Wars – don’t try to tell me those last two aren’t Space Opera, THEY TOTALLY ARE) – but I haven’t read much of it. I picked up The Wrong Stars mostly because reviews said it had a demisexual main character, rather than because it’s a Space Opera. Regardless, I am SO GLAD I DID. The book is excellent.

First off, the diversity! Over the course of the story, we meet people who are, in no particular order, gay, bisexual, demisexual, asexual, transgender, and non-binary. The story is set 500 years after Earth sends out its first colony ships, and in that time, culture has evolved. Marriage is not common, but contractually-bound relationships exist. Promiscuity and non-monogamy aren’t viewed any different than monogamy, and in the same way, the distinctions between gay, straight, and bi don’t carry any negative connotations. It’s not a complete utopia – it’s still a capitalist society, and there is still scarcity – but socially, at least, it has definitely evolved a lot from the present!

Elena, one of our main characters, was a biologist sent out on one of the first colony ships. Stocked with seeds, crude replicators, and cryo-sleep pods, a small crew was sent out, in stasis, on a five-hundred year journey to a system with probable life-supporting planets. They were called Goldilocks ships, in the hope they’d find a planet that was “just right.” What humanity didn’t expect was that in the intervening five hundred years, they would make contact with an alien species and be given the means for true space travel via wormholes. Some of the ships arrived at their destinations to find human colonies already thriving on their target planets! Elena, however, found something quite different, and it’s a very disconcerting difference. She is rescued by the motley crew of the White Raven, and they quickly get drawn into the mystery.

I really enjoyed the world-building and characterization in The Wrong Stars. The science of it made sense to me, but I’m not very versed in science, so I can’t really say how realistic it is. It was at least pretty internally consistent. I’d like to learn more about how the AIs are created, though. Luckily, there is a sequel coming! The Dreaming Stars should be coming out this September, and I’m DEFINITELY going to read it.

If you like Dark Matter, Firefly, or Farscape, you should definitely read The Wrong Stars. There’s a little bit of light romance threaded into the larger plot, and one fade-to-black sex scene. It’s definitely not the focus of the book. There is some violence, but nothing incredibly graphic. I would put it at about the same maturity level as Star Trek.

From the cover of The Wrong Stars:

The shady crew of the White Raven run freight and salvage at the fringes of our solar system. They discover the wreck of a centuries-old exploration vessel floating light years away from its intended destination. When they revive its sole occupant, she wakes from cryosleep with excited news of First Alien Contact.

The crew break it to her that, in the many years that she has been in stasis, humanity has already met and made an alliance with an alien race. But she reveals that these are very different extra-terrestrials . . . and the gifts they bestowed upon her could kill all of humanity, or take the human race out to the most distant stars.

Book Review: The Empress

the empressThe Empress
by S.J. Kincaid
Fantasy Space Opera
378 pages
Published 2017

The Empress is an excellent follow-up to The Diabolic; Tyrus and Nemesis have claimed the throne, but now they have to keep it. Due in part to ancient machines, that is harder than it sounds. Despite Nemesis’ cold practicality, she is also somewhat idealistic. She picks freeing the servitors (slaves, basically) as her big goal for when she becomes Empress – with shocking results.

Tyrus’ and Nemesis’ combined goal is to bring science back to the people; in the first book we were introduced to the concept of ruined space – space that had been torn apart by hyperspace jumps and now consumes everything it touches. But since the Helionic religion had banned all science, no one knew how to do anything about it other than avoid it. Their solution is to go to the head of the religion itself and talk him into reversing that decree. In doing so, we learn a lot more about why the empire is floating out in space, and why the decree was given.

It’s always hard to talk about middle books in trilogies without giving too much away about the first book, or the plot as a whole. So I’ll just say that, like the first book, this kept me guessing, and the twists of the plot came as incredibly shocking surprises. S.J. Kincaid has an amazing ability with plot twists. And the end of this book – oh man. I do not want to believe that things truly are as bad as they seem. I want this to be a redemption story. But at the same time, things have been done that can’t be undone.

If you read and liked The Diabolic, you should continue the trilogy with The Empress. However, while The Diabolic ends in a way that could leave it as a standalone, The Empress ends on a clear cliffhanger. The third book has neither a title nor a cover yet, but is supposed to release this fall? I’m guessing that will be delayed, which is bad, because I NEED IT.

From the cover of The Empress:

An Empress is GRACEFUL.

An Empress is a PARTNER.

But most important, an Empress is HUMAN.

It’s a new day in the Empire. With Tyrus on the throne and Nemesis at his side, they can find a new way forward – one without hiding or scheming or bloodshed. They can form a galaxy where science and information is shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. There are those who have no intention of letting this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who’s considered a mere killing machine, rule without a fight.

In order to protect Tyrus, Nemesis must prove her humanity to the Empire. But if this means she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning?

Friday 56 – The Empress

the empressThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week my quote is from The Empress, the second book in the trilogy started by The Diabolic. The main character, Nemesis, is talking to the Emperor, who also happens to be her betrothed.

I’d feared he was reckless. Insane. Suicidally stupid. But he’d been underhanded, and he was even underhanded with me. And not without reason. I had posed a genuine threat to him. The part of me that wished to be his partner seared with the knowledge he hadn’t trusted me, and yet the part of me that scorched with love for him knew this was the instinct that would preserve him.

“Tyrus,” I finally said, my thoughts growing clear. “it vexes me. I’m offended you clearly don’t trust me. I resent knowing you are underhanded and a liar with me at times and I’m also . . . I fully understand why you do it. I believed Cygna’s fabrication. I believed her – and not you. I was foolish. So . . . so what am I to say? I’m glad you keep yourself alive and safe. Even if it’s against me. I’ve warranted your mistrust.”

This trilogy continues to be excellent, and I’m looking forward to book three! (My full review should be up next week.)