#FridayReads: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

cover for Annihilation, showing an alien-looking flowerWhen Annihilation came out in 2014, the cover caught my eye. It’s pretty and creepy! The trailer for the movie (starring Natalie Portman) ran before The Last Jedi, so I thought what the hell and put the audiobook on hold at the library.

The book is short (only six hours long), but I’m not sure that’s an asset in this case. I didn’t hate Annihilation, but I certainly didn’t love it, either.

The concept is interesting enough. A small team of female scientists is heading into Area X to do research on a supposed “environmental disaster.” Of course weird shit happens almost immediately and the expedition falls apart within days of arriving in Area X. Personally, I’d have preferred a little more buildup and actual discovery before things fall apart.

For most of the novel, I did want to know what was going to happen next, but I never felt satisfied with the answers–when answers were provided at all. Normally I love ambiguity in literature, but this time I was frustrated. The ambiguity didn’t feel like mystery to me. It felt more like the author was purposefully hiding things to get me to keep reading. That gets on my nerves, but I guess it worked, because I kept reading.

The point of view character (who is unnamed and referred to only as “The Biologist”) is a scientist, and yet does almost no science during the expedition. She relies on what she sees and feels to draw her conclusions, which is very un-scientist-like.

(But, you could argue that the weird, apparently sentient fungi in Area X make science hard, if not impossible, and you might be right, so that’s not a total deal breaker.)

The writing itself is functional and leans to the sparse side, but VanderMeer has a tendency to overuse certain words. I think “brackish” appeared 20 times in the first hour (that’s an exaggeration, but it was a lot!).

This is part one in a trilogy, so it’s possible some of my frustrations will be addressed in future volumes. And ultimately, the concept is probably strong enough to carry most people through the trilogy. Despite my lukewarm reaction to the book as a whole, I’ve already put the second volume on hold, because I really do want to know what happens.

#FridayReads: The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie

cover for Ancillary JusticeJust yesterday I finished reading the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie. I enjoyed every second of it, and am excited to learn that a new entry in the series comes out in September, right after my birthday!

I’ve felt a bit out of the sci-fi loop for not having read this series since it made the awards circuit in 2014–and all of them are well earned, that’s for sure.

Science fiction has been asking the question, “What makes us human?” since its earliest days, and this trilogy continues that tradition with its own take. It also explores themes of colonization, empire, class, and gender.

The trilogy consists of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. In this universe, military spaceships and space stations are run by powerful, intelligent, and emotive AIs. Many of these AIs have ancillaries, which are human bodies essentially wiped of their consciousness and tied into the AI’s consciousness. It’s a brutal process that involves the death of the person inhabiting that body.

cover for ancillary swordThe leader of the expansionist Radch empire, Anaander Mianaai, has hundreds of clone bodies and has ruled Radch space for thousands of years. Several incidents with various alien species has caused her to split into multiple factions, which leads to the destruction of the ship Justice of Toren, minus one ancillary, who now goes by Breq.

The Radchaai language doesn’t distinguish genders, so all characters are referred to as “she” throughout the books, and we learn (some of) their genders through interactions with people who speak languages that do distinguish gender. Interestingly, we’re never explicitly (that I remember) told what gender Justice of Toren’s last remaining human body is. It doesn’t matter, though, and that, I’m sure, is Leckie’s point in concealing the gender.

cover for ancillary mercyBreq has set out on a mission to kill Anaander Mianaai, and thus sets in motion the trilogy’s plot. Leckie balances the demands of writing an overarching plot for the trilogy while also giving each book a true beginning, middle, and end. There’s a lot of internal tension, which balances well against the bursts of action and violence. This is definitely intellectual science fiction more than action-adventure-type sci-fi, though there’s plenty of action.

The trilogy is all about revenge, but I appreciate that the revenge Breq exacts involves out-maneuvering rather than outright killing the Lord of the Radch–which would be almost impossible, because of her many many of clone bodies (though Breq does try to kill as many bodies as possible anyway, and who can blame her?).

I could probably write at LEAST half a dozen critical essays on the way Leckie handles class, colonialism, and humanity in general, but I’ll leave this review here: If smart, well-written, character AND plot driven science fiction is your thing, you’ll enjoy these books. I can’t wait for the next one!

#FridayReads: After the Crown by KB Wagers

Picture of After the Crown by KB Wagers

This year, I’ve decided to pick a specific reading theme: women authors of science fiction. That doesn’t mean I’ll only read female SF authors or only SF, but that’s going to be my primary focus.

After the Crown by K. B. Wagers is the second book in the Indranan War trilogy, the first of which is Before the Throne. The third book should be out this winter, but I’m not excited about having to wait almost a year for it to come out!

The Indranan War trilogy so far is a fantastic sci-fi adventure with a strong female lead, diverse characters throughout, and an interesting setting. The Indranan Empire is made up of the descendants of Indian space travelers from centuries ago, and they have more or less kept the Hindu belief system and what amounts to a less strict caste system. The twist is that a disorder called space madness affected men more than women, leading the original patriarchy to become a matriarchy.

The main character is Hail, the last member of the royal family left alive after an attempt to take over the throne. Hail ran away from home after her father’s death and became Cressen Stone, a hardened gunrunner. But two Trackers find her and bring her home to her dying mother.

Reluctantly, Hail steps back into the role of princess, and of course that’s when all hell breaks loose. Things escalate in After the Crown, and I’d highly recommend this series to anyone who loves space opera starring women, including Star Wars and Anne Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy.