Modern Classic: Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota 1) by Ada Palmer

This tour de force has easily become my favorite science fiction book of the 2010s, and it restored my faith that classic literary science fiction would thrive in this century. Don’t get me wrong: I have other favorite authors, from Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson and Alastair Reynolds, to Catherynne Valente and Becky Chambers, all of whom produced some incredible books in the past decade, but in my opinion, Too Like the Lightning stands head and shoulders over any other books I’ve read from that time period. It combines an intriguing story, elaborate worldbuilding that meshes the past and the future, as well as powerful writing, into a very dense and complex work that may not suit everyone, but which fit my literary tastes like a glove.

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Book review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

As far as modern retellings of classic fairy tales go, Harrow’s take on The Sleeping Beauty is quite original, emotional, and featuring one of the most efficient writing I’ve seen among this year’s Hugo nominees. The characters are highly relatable, and unlike so many recent works I’ve read, they have their own agency. And in addition to all this, the title is a work of genius. Seriously, try to say A Spindle Splintered five times in a row, without injuring yourself.

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Book review: Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children 6) by Seanan McGuire

Another year rolls by, and another book in the Wayward Children series gets nominated for the Hugo award. Unfortunately, as time goes by, the series seems to have lost its spark and became somewhat stale. This title digs itself into an even deeper hole: it takes place in the same universe as the previous books, but completely sidesteps the existence of Eleanor’s Home for Wayward Children and its inhabitants, and instead acts as a standalone story of a girl and her doorway. And so, instead of having something that is more of the same and in dire need for a fresh spark, we get something of more of the same, in dire need of a fresh spark, but without the continuation of the overall story arc of the children, their interaction, and their quest to find their worlds again.

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Book review: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

For an epic fairy tale, this story is exceedingly personable and nuanced. It features interesting characters with strong arcs, but also vast empires in exotic locales and cultures. Add to it a little bit of magic, some more faith in fate, and you have a mixture that is a pleasure to read. There are a few rough spots, which I hope will be ironed out in the sequels, but overall, I’ve had fun reading this book.

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Book review: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

With three stories crammed into a very small novella, extensive hints at worldbuilding, dialogue that is often incomplete and confusing, this book is a mess to read. The setting is tantalizingly exotic, some of the plot offers interesting parallels to historical events, but there’s simply too much going on for sufficient development. I usually like de Bodard’s work, but this title left me bewildered.

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Book review: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Chambers has set a new trend in science fiction storytelling. Her works are usually very comfortable, inoffensive, full of hope, and light on technical details. She may not have been the first, but other writers are already being compared to her, and new terms, such as “cozypunk” are being thrown around her stories. This novella is no different. If anything, it feels even more pleasant, less burdened by realistic social sciences and technology, and a little more meditative.

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Book review: Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

A feel-good book that does its best to juggle multiple plot lines, Light from Uncommon Stars is best enjoyed when the reader leaves all preconceptions behind, before turning to the first page. Even though the book has been nominated for the Hugo Award, and the description reads like a mashup of fantasy and science fiction, the link to the speculative aspect of the story is so tenuous that it can be completely ignored. Ryka Aoki’s novel is best read as a travelogue and appreciation of music, rather than speculative fiction.

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Book review: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

Very few modern authors have the knack for presenting serious issues with so much light-hearted, yet insightful flair as Catherynne Valente. Her easy flowing prose is entertaining, inventive, and yet insidiously indoctrinates the reader into the author’s way of thinking. I can’t help but love her works, and The Past is Red is no exception.

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Book review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

With his inventive worldbuilding and spectacular visuals, P. Djeli Clark has become a mainstay of the awards circuit in the recent years. His blend of alternative history, magic, urban fantasy and exotic locales resonates with me and many others, and his first novel-length work is no different. Taking place in a pre-World War I Egypt, the book is a wonderful throwback to pulp adventure paperbacks of the old, and to fantasy movies that have no right to be forgotten. Unfortunately, the novel also shares the same shortcomings: weak characters without agency and very predictable plot.

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Book review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A quick, entertaining read, Elder Race may appear fairly formulaic at the first glance.  Tchaikovsky’s idiosyncrasies in his writing style further enhance this perception.  However, the novella still includes a few hidden layers, which push it from a light evening read to an insightful work, which may present a few ideas that will stick with the reader for a while.

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