Friday, July 21, 2017

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in the Broken Earth series, and was nominated for at least the Nebula and the Hugo this year.  I really enjoyed the first book, The Fifth Season, and was looking forward to this one also.  It did not disappoint.

Our protagonist, Essun (once Syenite--that gets confusing, I don't think I ever figured it out from the first book) has gone in search of her daughter Nassun, but has pretty much given up on that quest and is trying to settle into Castrima, a comm (community) where orogenes are welcomed and have been summoned.  Essun tries to fit in, but it isn't really working.  Especially because her mentor, Alabaster, is dying there but trying to pass on his knowledge to her.  We also get to see some development of Nassun, who survives a journey with her father to an orogene colony in the Antarctics.

There is some real and fascinating progression in the plot, more than enough to keep the story very enjoyable.  We learn more about the very alien Stone Eaters.  It took me awhile to remember where the Stone Eater Hoa fits in--might be worth skimming the previous volume as Jemisin doesn't spend a whole lot of time reviewing the previous book.

I think it's a contender for a sweep this year, though All The Birds In the Sky and Borderline will give it a run for the Nebula.  I give a narrow edge to Borderline but Jemisin is better known and may be the favorite.  This book is four stars, and I'll look forward to the last one.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway is the first book in the Wayward Children series, and the last of the novellas nominated for a Nebula that I'll be reading this year. 

McGuire is a very competent and prolific author.  I am familiar with her through her Newsflesh trilogy (here is one of my reviews) which was aimed more at adults, but a lot of her work is aimed at teen girls.  Every Heart a Doorway is one of those.

The story is fairly basic.  Our protagonist is one of a number of girls thought to be kidnapped, but actually having visited an alternate reality through one of many fairy-tale type doorways that open up to those who look for them.  There are a few boys, but mostly it is a girl thing.  The girls sometimes return from these alternate realities, willingly or unwillingly, and are thus reunited with their families, but are permanently changed by their experiences.  They don't fit here anymore, and the ones sent to Eleanor Wilson's Home for Wayward Children want to go back to their alternate worlds.  The actual plot in this book is a murder mystery--the girls are getting killed one by one--but mostly it illustrates the alternate worlds.  It's all pretty orderly--there are major and minor axes for the types of worlds.  There are a few plot inconsistencies that cause grief in this orderly universe--the worlds the girls discover "fit them well" and they want to go back, but there's also a mention of another home for those who hated their alternate world experience and don't want to go back.  Oops.

So this is another fairly well executed, not overly original book by McGuire.  If you like the rest of her stuff you will like this.  3 stars.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning is one of the Hugo nominees this year.  The awards seem to be back on track, and we've had strong entries so far in All the Birds In the Sky and Ninefox Gambit.  This is another worthy entry.

I'll say up front, though, that it takes some work to read and appreciate this book.  The setting is several hundred years in the future after the Church Wars nearly wiped out humanity.  What has been settled on is a system of Hives, approximating old political regions and tightly interlocked.  There is freedom of belief, but preachers and proselytizing are no longer allowed.  In their place, we have sensayers, people who help interpret your beliefs and educate you about others.  They seem like a mild parody version of Unitarian Universalists.  People live in 'bashes, extended group homes for both life and work.  The focus of the story is the Saner-Weeksbooth 'bash, in charge of the entire network of self-driving cars.

The story is told mostly by Mycroft Canner, currently a Servicer--someone who has committed a crime severe enough to warrant forbidding all material possessions and working only for meals.  Canner is an incredibly talented fellow so his services are much sought after, at the highest levels.  Canner has discovered a miracle--a child who can himself perform miracles--and has brought it to the S-W 'bash for assistance.

The first half of the book is a dense slog through scene-setting.  Awkward combinations of ethnic names, acronyms, and characters slowly sort themselves out.  The Saner-Weeksbooth 'bash is weak, having lost its senior members in a freak rafting accident, and now they are trying to deal with a miracle as well. 

Perseverance pays off, as things really pick up in the second half of the book.  One is by turns horrified and rendered thoughtful, and then those get blended.  It's a fine piece of work, and I won't say anything about the second half to avoid spoiling it.  I will say that the book does not stand on its own--it is the first of the Terra Incognita series, and has a cliffhanger ending.  In the end I enjoyed it and it edges over into 4 stars.