Un-su Kim, The Cabinet (2021)

Author: Un-su Kim

Title: The Cabinet

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series:-

Among my recent reads this novel turned out to be the strangest one; for me, it resembles mostly an early attempt at a Frankenstein’s monster: sewn together from disparate parts it ends up having three arms, one leg, and an off-color head tacked on back to front. The first 60% were highly enjoyable, but afterwards, an inexorable downward spiral got me in the end to a disheartening feeling of “wtf did I just read?”

It’s a pity, really, because the premise of Kim’s novel is quite promising, with a lot of potential: the life in modern cities became so unbearable for humans that their evolution accelerated rapidly, creating first cases of a post-homo sapiens species. The mutations don’t seem to be adaptive, at the moment, but as evolution works through trial and error, we might see some that would become highly effective.

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Nina Allan, The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories (2021)

Author: Nina Allan

Title: The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories

Format: E-book

Pages: 224

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

I am partial to collections of short stories. I very much like the format, which for me works as a beginning of a conversation between the writer and the reader. A story comes into being as an idea: it may be not fully thought through, unpolished and raw, but it’s scintillating enough that cannot be left alone; it needs to be shown to the world and elicit a reaction. I read short stories to be intellectually challenged, however minutely or extensively. There are always some good or even great stories in collections and anthologies, but sadly, the opposite is also true: rarely a collection of disparate stories can hold up an exceptionally high quality level throughout. That said, it’s the gems I hunt for among the sand, and I’m always happy to find new favorites.

I confess I requested Nina Allan’s collection on a whim; I have never read anything by her and decided short stories are a good place to start. And indeed, The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories is as varied a collection as one could wish for. The stories, arranged chronologically, span about two decades and showcase both the continuity and evolution of thought, as well as a development of skill.

As usual, I’ll present a short review and rating for each of the stories, and give an overall summary at the end.

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Certain Dark Things (2016/2021)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Certain Dark Things

Format: E-book

Pages: 272

Series: –

I’m recently jumping through Moreno-Garcia’s books: one new, one old – and let me tell you: there is a difference. Certain Dark Things is Moreno-Garcia’s second book, and it shows. It boasts of lots of great ideas, a skillfully created, moody and thick atmosphere, and an interesting plot. But the prose is clunky at times and nowhere near as polished or subtle in her later novels, and the characters, while engaging, remain early blueprints of protagonists from her other books: a sensitive, naive boy and a headstrong, wilful girl meet again and again in Moreno-Garcia’s stories, and Certain Dark Things is no exception.

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Jo Walton, Or What You Will (2020)

Author: Jo Walton

Title: Or What You Will 

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 320

Series: –

Or What You Will, marketed as “writer’s book,” was my first Jo Walton’s novel – and I reached for it thanks to the infallible Bookforager, who is guilty of burdening my TBR with kilograms of books – just ask her, I’m sure she’ll gleefully admit to it and be proud! 😉

It’s a tough book to review, and quite tough to read, to be honest. At least at the beginning, where the writer seems so focused on actively dissuading readers from reading that at some point it became quite irking. But don’t take my word for it, just read the quote below:

“I will ask you to do nothing but read, and remember, and care. If you refuse to care? If reading this so far has made you shudder and recoil? If you have no least curiosity about that apophatic pool by the rose garden, not even whether it’s a swimming pool or a pool full of waterlilies, if you don’t want to at least glance at those books on the windowsill and scan their titles? Then you are not my reader, not any of my imagined readers. Stop now, while you are ahead. Take your embodied self off to read something else, feeling grateful for your solidity, your reality, and that of the world you inhabit, go read something you’ll enjoy more, or deal with the pipes and boilers banging and hissing in your own life, and leave the rest of us here. We will do well enough without you, I dare say.” 

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Ada Hoffmann, The Fallen (2021)

Author: Ada Hoffmann

Title: The Fallen

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series: The Outside #2

I wanted to read something by Ada Hoffman for a while, as her books have been praised as  both a good representation of neurodivergence and as solidly written stories. So when I saw this at NG I jumped at the opportunity, especially because the blurb was promising some cool hard SF, AI elevated to godhood, and a brewing human revolution on a distant planet. Not once had it mentioned that it’s a sequel ;). My bad, I guess, I should have checked the specs on other websites – though to be fair, I think this is one of the sequels where I’m better off not having read the first installment; the sequel explains all the previous events in detail.

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