space opera

Diversity in “Ascension”

ascensionAscension by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Masque Books, December 4th, 2013 (Science Fiction / Space Opera)*
My rating: “Vacation by the beach” doesn’t really qualify, since it’s a more thinking book than that, but I give it the equivalent 3 stars. I probably will go here again. 4 stars. (3.5?)

As just about everyone knows by now, Ascension is about a queer woman of color who is a struggling sky surgeon (starship engineer/mechanic). She has a debilitating immune disorder that causes crippling pain without medication. By making an impulsive choice to stow away on a starship that visits her repair yard in search of her sister, she jumpstarts her transformative voyage from lonely, selfish, planet-bound surgeon to accepting, loving member of an odd but familial starship crew.

I liked this book. And that’s about all the enthusiasm I can muster. I really enjoyed stepping outside the traditional science fiction (genre fiction) characters and relationships. It even stretches the familiar space opera framework. However, the setting and worldbuilding were vague, and although the characters are intriguing and complicated,  I never found myself wholly absorbed in their story.

Where this book shines is in its diversity and the relationships between characters. (more…)

Holiday adventuring and the cornucopia of books

cornucopiaHappy holidays, lovely readers!

I hope you’re enjoying your holiday season – and staying warm (or cool) wherever you are! I love this season, with its hot drinks, warm layers, parties and family gatherings, its lights, garlands, decorations, and of course, books! Although I love books in every season, obviously.

You know the cornucopia, right? The horn of plenty that holds inexhaustible fruits, produce, and other tasty goodies? Yeah. I have that in bookshelf format. A shelf that holds an  inexhaustible number of books waiting to be read. And it’s glorious. And also intimidating.

This season has started out on a very busy note. I find myself with a long list of books from the library (books and e-books), the bookstore, and the review list. I’m having trouble keeping track of them all. Every time I go to the library, I walk out with my arms full of more books than I can read. I recently ended up at the bookstore, by accident, I swear! And walked away with most of the books in one of my favorite series (Mercedes Thompson by Patricia Briggs, in case you’re curious) because I needed to revisit those old friends. And then, whenever I check the review sites to see when the books I’m reviewing are published, I end up requesting more.

And that’s how I end up with a never-ending list. Most of them are still science fiction and fantasy, but I’ve also tried some historical mystery, historical romance, and nonfiction.

The ones I’m most looking forward to?

Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel What Darkness Brings (Sebastian St. Cyr) Autumn Bones (Agent of Hel #2) The Bone Season Trade Secret (Liaden Universe) Down These Strange Streets Cordelia's Honor (Vorkosigan Saga) A Study in Ashes

So, you can see I have a lot of reading to do. What’s on your reading list?

For all that I love being able to put my hands on (so many) books from such varying sources, I often have trouble keeping track of deadlines and due dates. I use a calendar on my phone, but in addition to phone problems, the format is difficult to read. I need a monthly calendar to keep track of regular deadlines like review dates and library due dates, and my phone doesn’t have that view. Because I don’t have a paper calendar, I end up writing dates on Post-It notes and stashing them everywhere (including inside my e-reader cover).

Do you keep track of publication dates, review deadlines, library due dates? How do you do it, and what works for you?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to reading.

A Reader’s Map for Science Fiction Romance Reads

For a fun twist on read-alikes, I have created an interactive Spicy Node that will allow you to navigate around a web (remember the brainstorming webs you drew in primary school? It’s kind of like that) to find books that are related to one another by various features. The node centers on a book I reviewed earlier, The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. Every book in the web has something in common with that book.

To view the Node, click on the image below.


Navigate by clicking on the bubbles, and scroll down for synopses. Drag the background to move the bubbles around.


Classics: On Basilisk Station

on basilisk station On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Publisher: Baen Books
Date (original): April 1993
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Series: Book One of Honor Harrington, Honorverse
Sequel: The Honor of the Queen
My rating: I’d go there again!

This space opera opens as Honor Harrington, a commander in the Manticoran Navy, transfers to her new command. Her ship is small and old, but still space-worthy, and she settles in to her new position optimistically, even though the ship’s armaments have been completely re-vamped, and not in a promising way.

Unfortunately, her ambition is blocked by an Admiral trying to avoid losing face after a radical but disappointing demonstration in the ship’s first wargames. Harrington and her ship get sent to the back of beyond, a place called Basilisk Station, which is the place Her Majesty’s Navy sends its screw-ups and oddballs to rusticate.

The plot thickens when Honor’s superior officer, nominally in charge of the fleet at Basilisk Station, excuses himself (and his ship) from duty on claims that his ship needs repairs. This leaves Honor with too many responsibilities and not enough hands to fulfill them. Nevertheless, she tackles the problems with determination and courage.

Basilisk Station, although neglected, is in fact a valuable hub for hyperspace travel, and the People’s Republic of Haven, a neighboring and warmongering system, is eager to find new sources of revenue. Fortunately for the Manticore system, Harrington is determined to do her job, and do it well, even though Basilisk Station has had a succession of incompetent and uninterested naval officers stationed there.

Harrington and her crew muzzle smugglers, conduct customs inspections, and work closely with the local government on station and on planet. The situation heats up when her vigilance leads to the discovery of a nefarious and mysterious plot.

The villains are never in doubt, not even in the characters’ minds, but this doesn’t harm the story. In fact, the mystery is in what exactly the villains have planned.

The story is so complex, with detailed intra-Manticoran and interstellar political intrigues that affect Harrington’s position and her ability to do her job, the plot development on-planet and on-station at Basilisk, the descriptions of space physics, that it is very dense reading. For all that, the book is well-paced with very few dull moments.

Additionally, the interpersonal conflicts and tensions, as Harrington struggles to lead a demoralized crew, are fascinating. In particular, the difficult relationship Harrington has with her first officer adds interest and draws sympathy from readers, but I found myself very interested in many of the secondary characters as well. Harrington herself is an impressive role model, only slightly imperfect (I love how the author, when using some of her crew as narrators, hints that they think she is perfect, and then when it switches back to Harrington’s narration, the reader sees how imperfect she thinks she is.)

The action builds smoothly to a page-turning chase scene climax.

Caution: the violence is graphic. Very gruesome, but very evocative of the dangers of (space) warfare.

Sometimes I found myself confused by the technical descriptions of the physics behind space travel, and the mechanical descriptions of malfunctioning ship parts. Otherwise, this book was exciting, well-written, and fascinating on so many different levels (politics, battle, interpersonal relationships). I look forward to continuing the series.


Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon  Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro    Grimspace by Ann Aguirre    Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair