Sunday, March 31, 2024

Review of Reviews: March 2024


It's time for another Review of Reviews! Since it's the last day of Women's History Month, I figured I'd include reviews of books by women authors. Is it too cheesy to call it "Women's Future Month" as I have before? I'll let you decide. Anyway, here are my reviews of The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson, Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse, Houston, Houston Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr., and Primary Inversion by Catharine Asaro.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between Worlds has a fascinating premise, but I admit I found the execution a bit of a slog at times, which for all I know may be my own fault (at least in this universe). I love the idea that you can visit alternate universes, but only those in which there is no other you, and that are close enough to your universe that the other you had to have died in most cases. I also love the idea that it is usually more socially and economically marginalized people in one universe that are able to visit other universes. And of course the very idea of alternate universes is science fictional fun in itself, one that opens up all sorts of philosophical fun about causality, determinism, free will, character, the nature of time and existence, and more. This novel is built around a really cool idea, although I can't say I followed much of what was going on until it sort of came together at the end. But your mileage may vary depending on where you are in this or other universes.

See also my Goodreads review.

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse

I still love the world building inspired by Pre-Contact North American and Mesoamerican cultures, but this sequel didn't grab me like the first one did

Maybe I had forgotten too much of the first one or maybe this suffers from a bit of "Game of Thrones syndrome" where there are so many factions it's hard to keep it all straight. Maybe another issue is that the first book had a countdown, which gave the plot more direction, whereas the sequel seemed a bit aimless at first and then it becomes obvious it's setting things up for the third volume. Maybe I just wasn't in a fantasy mood right now. Or maybe I missed something? 

The dramatis personae at the beginning helped me a lot, although I did have trouble remembering what all these different factions wanted and why they were scheming and killing and carrying on. Even my favorite character Xiala is a bit toned down here, although maybe that's due to her growth, just like other characters from book one like Naranpa and Serapio (both of whom also become a bit terrifying in interesting, magical ways). I also still enjoy Iktan, devious though xe may be.

Honestly at times Fevered Star was a bit of a slog, but I'm glad I pushed through. Criticisms aside, there's still a lot to love about this book and the world Roanhorse has created: sorcerers and giant corvids and giant eagles, oh my! I did really like the ending (it's probably the deepest idea in a book that's largely about political scheming, but I won't spoil it here). 

And above all I still really love and 100% support fantasy that's not a rehashing of Tolkien or based on Medieval European history and literature. The fantasy genre can be a lot more than that, and Roanhorse is still doing some of the best work toward making the genre a lot more interesting.

See also my Goodreads review.

Houston, Houston Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr.

For a relatively short novella, Houston, Houston, Do You Read? raises huge issues about gender, hierarchy, violence, religion, and more. A lost spacecraft with a male crew emerges far into the (or a?) future, where they encounter only women. How deep does patriarchy run as an organizing ideology, what might it take to move beyond it, and what might a society without patriarchy look like? I've read this one before but it was just as impactful this time, if not more so. Tiptree (aka, Alice Sheldon) is never shy about raising difficult questions or suggesting difficult answers, and she is at her best here.

See also my Goodreads review.

Primary Inversion by Catharine Asaro

I enjoyed Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro. It's a fun space opera with a bit of hard science fiction and a bit of romance. Nowadays some people would probably call the protagonist a "Mary Sue" for being a smart, beautiful military general from a royal bloodline (oh, and she has psychic powers, too), although this was published in 1995 when such criticisms were less common, or at least less boring, than in the age of mindless culture war social media "criticism." Our heroine does have some depth, though, and even if you don't agree with all her decisions, it's interesting to watch her make them (I might add a content warning for sexual violence, at least in flashback form). She, like a small number of people in this universe, has psychic powers, which interface with something like the internet (or at least a cyberpunkish vision of what people in 1995 thought the internet might become). 

I liked the hard SF descriptions of space travel and battle, even if I didn't completely understand them. The romance was mostly nice (and occasionally mildly steamy), although keep in mind my caveat about the reader's feelings about her decisions. Without giving too many spoilers, I can say that she ends up in the middle of a war between three interstellar empires. 

It's interesting to see a mixture of space opera, hard SF, and romance. And philosophically it's interesting to think about whether our "enemies" might be more and less than we think and for all the space opera tropes, there does seem to be a sense that all this interstellar war might be, like wars here on Earth, good for absolutely nothing in the end. I may pick up more books in this series just to see how it all goes.

See also my Goodreads review.

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