REVIEW: The Test

There are very few companies that I have complete and utter faith in, but one of the companies lucky enough to have my trust is Tor Books. The novellas this publisher puts out are always so original, so out there, and so entirely amazing. I’ve honestly yet to read one that I haven’t liked.

Wanting something quick to read this week, I picked up my copy of The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. It is an understatement to say I was not prepared for it. The novella tackles a citizenship test in the not-so-distant future of England. Idir is the one taking the test on behalf of his whole family, saving his wife and his children the pressures of it, and keeping their chances high (only one in three people actually pass this test). But Idir may have signing on for more than he expected when the test goes from questions about football to a choice of life and death.

Not only is this novella very timely given the world’s political climate being more and more radicalized in terms of xenophobic propaganda and hate breeding propaganda, but it is so wild of a ride, it puts you right there in the room with Idir as he is forced to choose who lives and who dies. Reading it gave me the same emotional confusion as the film adaptation of the Stanford Prison Experiment did. It is raw and intense, pulling biases and aggressions towards anyone who is “other” to society that one might not even think of right away. It’s more than a story about racism and the way it unfolds so quickly makes for some serious edge-of-your-seat reading.

This is my first time reading Sylvain Neuvel’s work and damn do I look forward to reading more of his work. As uncomfortable as I felt at times while whipping through this novella, it was so strong and powerful that I hope to hear more of Neuvel’s voice in his other works.

REVIEW: Rogue Protocol (Murderbot Diaries 3)

It is recommended that reading the previous two Murderbot Diaries reviews and/or books before reading this latest review.


The third Murderbot book marks the end of the second act of this arc of Murderbot’s life as it travels to the outskirts of society where an abandoned facility that was under the control of GrayCris needs to be investigated. The lawsuit back in the Corporate Rim is gaining steam and this facility hopefully holds the remaining information PreservationAux needs to put away this terrible corporation.

This one read a little bit more like what I was initially expecting out of this series (as I’ve said many times, I often go into books mostly blind to avoid unfair expectations). It was really a deep-space thriller as Murderbot needs to – once again – help some humans around this GrayCris facility while they’re being attack by who-knows-what that was left behind in the abandonment. Although the point of the book is for Murderbot to collect data that’s needed, and this does come across.

I was less taken by the new characters than I was in the second book. I didn’t particularly care for the humans, and while Miki was sweet enough, it wasn’t enough of a character for me to connect with. I was honestly much more interested in Murderbot’s reaction to it than any of their interactions.

While this wasn’t my favourite of the books, it was still phenomenal and the psychology behind how robots are treated by everyone individually is really interesting – and that was a strong point of this part of the story. I can’t wait to read the final book but am also putting it off so I don’t have so long to wait until 2020 when we’re supposed to get book five.

 

REVIEW: Artificial Condition (Murderbot Diaries 2)

This review may contain spoilers for the first Murderbot Diaries book, All Systems Red.


Since finishing the first Murderbot book, I have been very seriously itching to get my hands on book two. With my library coming through for me, I was very excited to see where Murderbot was heading to.

When we left Murderbot at the end of book one, it was on it’s way to the spaceport to get away from it’s team of friends and find out more about itself. We as readers know that at one point, Murderbot killed a few dozen humans in a mine and that resulting in it hacking it’s own governing system. But did Murderbot hack the system in order to kill the humans? Or did something go wrong and caused it to kill everyone, thus making the hack a preventative measure? This is where Murderbot’s trip back to the mine begins.

We got a few new characters in this book, the best one being ART (a sentient transport ship that Murderbot dubs, Asshole Research Transport). ART is vaguely threatening, blunt, and straight forward in a way that makes me love it as much as I love Murderbot for being the awkward, tv-loving ball of sarcasm that it is too.

I loved seeing Murderbot have another robot friend and I loved seeing both of them come to care for the new humans in the book to the point of risking their “lives” to help them. I loved the mystery of this novella and the idea that Murderbot has been the target of some shady people for longer than it may think. This book made me laugh and it got me as far away from the world as I could possibly get.

It’s come to my attention that I find Murderbot comfortingly relatable and this series is relieving anxiety in a way I didn’t think books could actually do. I feel calmer while reading and calmer after finishing. Do I know exactly why I feel this way about this books? Not really, but at this difficult part in my life, I don’t really care. However, I think it might be something similar to what Tor.com’s Anya Johanna DeNiro wrote about these books. I am not a trans woman, but I’m masculine leaning genderfluid and she makes a lot of really valid points that resonate with me.

At the end of the day, I loved Artificial Condition as much as I loved All Systems Red and as of writing this review, books 3 and 4 in the series have arrived for me at the library so I will definitely be diving into them soon.

PS. Please read this series.


Note: You can find Anya Johanna DeNiro’s posts on All Systems Red here and for Artificial Condition here.

REVIEW: All Systems Red & The Future of Work (Murderbot Diaries 1 & 0.5)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read a serious sci-fi book that wasn’t Star Wars so when I kept seeing these Murderbot Diaries books everywhere I turned, I just had to pick up the first book from the library.

All Systems Red starts off with Murderbot telling us how it would rather watch television dramas than be a murderer and how boring it is to be a security unit. It’s so done with everything around it until all systems go haywire and the story goes from a silly narrative from a bored robot to a self-hacked robot trying to save everyone from their own system that has gone Hal 3000 on them (for those who don’t get it, that was a 2001 Space Odyssey reference where the ship tries to kill everyone).

I loved this story from cover to cover. Murderbot was hilarious and relatable as hell and despite not having a ton of information on the rest of the team, I really enjoyed the whole cast. Fast paced, action packed, and entertaining, this is probably one of the best original sci-fi stories I’ve ever read. An excellent start to a series I can’t wait to devour and something I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to get into science fiction without worrying about intimidatingly long books or overly complex world building.


BONUS

In seeing the reading order of the next books, I discovered that Wired Magazine actually published a prequel short story about Murderbot being stationed on a mining station. The short story gives us a little more insight into how and why Murderbot comes to care about the people it is assigned to protect and while I definitely recommend reading after the first novella, it is a great example of what Martha Wells’s writing style is like in terms of this incredible series that I highly recommend reading immediately.

You can read the story here on the Wired Magazine website.

REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide To Getting Lucky

Last summer when Mackenzi Lee’s book The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue came out, I jumped on it instantly. It was just the fun, queer story I was looking for at the time, so when she announced that there was going to be a sequel, it went on my list of books to pre-order on my birthday. Thanks to my eagerness, I was able to submit my receipt early and then recently received my copy of the novella The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky.

It may be only 53 pages long, but believe me when I say that’s more than enough time for Monty to get himself into a whole bucket of trouble.

It’s been a month since the end of Vice and Virtue, and Monty is helplessly sober and shamefully virtuous. He knows that Percy is a virgin and doesn’t want to push him into anything, but – being Monty – ends up recruiting his sister to help make a plan so the two young men have the house to themselves.

Seeing as how the novella isn’t widely available at the moment and not everyone may have it, I won’t say much more than this about the story. However, I will say that I was laughing for the entire 53 pages and cringing with the second hand embarrassment. Monty and Percy are the dumbest, most wonderful characters and this novella was such a fun story to lift my spirits once again.

REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

Trigger warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, excessive substance abuse, human trafficking, sexual assault

Normally, trigger warnings go at the end of my reviews, as I usually have enough to say about the story that I can save discuss them directly in a spoilers section. However, the triggers connected to this novella are so ingrained in the story, I felt it necessary to mention them first as the review itself may be upsetting to some.

The story is about ex-Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe and how he has become a hitman of sorts specializing in rescuing kidnapped children. After being hired to rescue a 14-year-old girl from a brothel run by the mob, the job goes sideways and Joe is determined to figure out where things went wrong.

The novella by Johnathan Ames has recently been turned in a film that received several major awards at the Festival du Cannes in 2017. Given the academic praise, I figured I would give the book a try before seeing the movie. Let me tell you one thing, I will not be seeing the movie.

The story moved at a reasonable pace, and I felt like it was action packed and gave enough information to know what kind of man Joe is. However, it was extremely graphic when it came to discussing the trafficking circles Joe used to bust as an FBI agent, and the level of violence against innocent bystanders was a little much at times. But the biggest problem, for me, was the open ending. 112 pages was more than enough for me and I wish that there had been some kind of justice or at the very least a concrete ending to the mayhem.

It was a very cinematic read, and I can see why it did so well at Cannes under the directorial eye of Lynne Ramsay (who also directed the adaptation of the very disturbing book We Need to Talk About Kevin). I can also say that as graphic as it was, it was an engaging read that was honestly reminiscent of dime store crime novels.

A solid 3 out of 5.


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Author: Jonathan Ames
Published: January 6, 2013
Pages: 112
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780525562894

Synopsis: Joe has witnessed things that cannot be erased. A former FBI agent and Marine, his abusive childhood has left him damaged beyond repair. He has completely withdrawn from the world and earns his living rescuing girls who have been kidnapped into the sex trade.

When he’s hired to save the daughter of a corrupt New York senator held captive at a Manhattan brothel, he stumbles into a dangerous web of conspiracy, and he pays the price. As Joe’s small web of associates are picked off one by one, he realizes that he has no choice but to take the fight to the men who want him dead.

DOUBLE REVIEW: The Bone Season & The Pale Dreamer

To start off this review, I just wanted to say that the primary reason I began reading this book is because one of my bookstagram idols, Lauren of FictionTea, is always talking about how this is her favourite book of all time. Although, that being said, I probably went in with higher expectations than I should have, but it was a still a fun time.

The Bone Season begins in a futuristic London where being Clarvoyant is not only considered illegal, but also as a disease. As such, an underground crime syndicate of voyants has formed, out protagonist Paige being at the centre of one of the gangs. Very quickly, Paige’s whole life changes as she is captured by Scion – the main government – and wakes up in a hellish new city to live as a slave under the ætherial race known as the Rephiam.

I enjoyed Paige’s character a lot throughout this book, especially that she never regards herself as a damsel-in-distress but also knows when it’s time to ask for help. She’s empathetic and feels it in her heart when she hurts someone. Considering she is a character who could easily be a heartless killer, the amount of heart she has really makes me admire her. Through her eyes, you really feel for the other people around her who are suffering at the hands of the Rephiam and come to feel for them, too.

When it comes to the story, I did feel a little let down. I found that the classification of the voyant types and what that even meant to the individual people was very confusing to me and I eventually just stopped wondering what the words meant and rolled with it. It took me out of the story almost as much as the confusion of the passage of time. I also felt that the details of the uprising were rather sparse. That being said, I never stopped being interested in what was happening and I truly loved Paige so she alone kept me wanting to finish the book. I’m definitely curious about what the ending of this one will mean for her in the future and I plan on continuing the series for sure.

All in all, The Bone Season gets a 3.5 out of 5 from me. And lucky for me, the edition that I bought of this book included the prequel novella The Pale Dreamer!

~~~

With The Pale Dreamer, I liked it more than The Bone Season, and felt that it answered a several of the questions I had when reading. We get to learn more about The Seven Dials and how Paige began to fit into place as Jaxon’s mollisher. Since it is set when Paige has only been in the gang for a few weeks, there’s far more information about the kind of world she lives in as well as a more details about how the syndicate works. Not only that but we get to see more of the people she works with.

Given that the story was tight – and honestly super creepy based on the ghost story involved – and how much more detail was included, I give The Pale Dreamer a solid 4 out of 5.

I really am looking forward to getting to book two in this series. It was a rocky start, but I have come to care too much about the characters to not continue.


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Author: Samantha Shannon
Published: August 20 2013
Pages: 480
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781632868480

Synopsis: 19-year-old Paige is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped. She is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.


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Author: Samantha Shannon
Published: December 6 2016
Pages: 78
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408884171

Synopsis: In the perilous heart of Scion London, a dangerous and valuable poltergeist is on the loose – and it must be caught before chaos erupts on the streets of the capital. Here, the clairvoyant underworld plays by its own rules, and rival gangs will stop at nothing to win such a magnificent prize.

REVIEW: The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion

The only way I can truly think to describe Margaret Killjoy‘s novella The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion is through this tweet I posted when I first started the book:

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The story follows Danielle as she hunts for any clues as to the cause of her best friend’s suicide, and ends up in the middle of an anarchist community on the verge of self-destruction.

At 127 pages long, the story is a fast read but so full of atmosphere and action it’s captivating. The characters a wide range of diverse people, including very strong LGBT+ representation.

To stay much more about this novella would risk giving away the magic of the story so I’m going to leave this review with: read this novella. Just do it.


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Author: Margaret Killjoy
Published: August 15 2017
Pages: 127
Publisher: Tor.com
ISBN: 9780765397362

Synopsis: Danielle Cain is a queer punk rock traveller, jaded from a decade on the road. Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious and sudden suicide, she ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. All is not well in Freedom, however: things went awry after the town’s residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner.

Danielle shows up in time to witness the spirit—a blood-red, three-antlered deer—begin to turn on its summoners. Danielle and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town—or get out alive.