Martha Wells, Network Effect (2020)

Author: Martha Wells

Title: Network Effect

Format: E-book

Pages: 350

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #5

Network Effect is the first and only Murderbot entry to date that had managed to achieved the novel length; the previous 4 were novellas, and the subsequent one, Fugitive Telemetry, which will be published on 27 of April and which I’ll review next week, also reverts to this format at meagre 176 pages.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like novellas. I like them a lot. I’m just not a fan of a serialized novella format. To me, it just doesn’t make any sense. If you have so much to say that you need 4 or 6 novellas to do it, why don’t you just write 2 or 3 novels instead?

With Network Effect, I finally got my wish: 350 pages of one story, undivided. And I must say I enjoyed it quite a lot, definitely more than some of the previous novellas as well as (spoiler alert) the sequel. In Network Effect, Wells gets to create a more elaborate and meaningful plot, full of the ugly f-word (feelings, for those who hadn’t met Murderbot yet) balanced by significant amounts of action. We also get ART (an AI from the second novella, sorely missed since) back, and that in itself is a point in favour, as ART’s overbearing know-it-all disposition and authoritarian tendencies always make for a good counterweight to Murderbot’s gloomy Eyeore personality.

Network Effect also manages to fill out a significant chunk of the world, barely sketched before. The evil megacorporations ruling the known part of the galaxies have not always been there to order people around – there had been a time when corporations were small and vulnerable, and colonists had a say in their decisions, or at least weren’t necessarily treated like slaves. That time had ended badly for everyone involved, however, and many of those colonizing corporations went bankrupt, the colonists and their colonies more often than not becoming not-so-valuable chips in a trade war. Some of them were forgotten, or purposefully omitted from financial reports, and were rediscovered, hundreds of years later – and as the megacorps are more interested in the planets and remaining equipment than those poor wretches who may have or have not survived in their budding colony without a helping hand, reclamation efforts are as intense as they are clandestine. And so, when a sudden attack of a vessel recognized by Murderbot as its supposed friend ART finds the SecUnit’s human clients scattered, scared, and in a lot of danger, well – the game is afoot.

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Izumi Suzuki, Terminal Boredom (2021)

Author: Izumi Suzuki

Title: Terminal Boredom

Format: E-book

Pages: 240

Series: –

Other: Short Story Collection

Don’t let the publication date fool you: Izumi Suzuki committed suicide in 1986, at the age of 36, and her SF dystopian short stories were all written in the period between mid- 1970s and mid-1980s. Her works were both highly controversial and influential, diametrically different from mainstream, and the publication of Terminal Boredom, a collection of seven of her most famous stories, is a good opportunity for the English-speaking readers to get acquainted with Suzuki’s world. A nice introduction has been recently published in ArtReview – Daniel Joseph, one of the stories’ translators, succinctly but informatively presents both the author and her career here.

Suzuki creates a very intriguing world, indeed. Deeply dystopian, populated by unhappy people bound in equal measures by the societal norms, their own fantasies and their fears, it features green-skinned aliens, potent drugs, elaborate medical procedures designed to deal with very mundane relationship and psychological problems, and even a post-apocalyptic matriarchal society where men are held in prison-like structures, kept alive only for procreation purposes, like drones in a beehive. No one is truly happy; some have forgotten what happiness even means. The suffocating mood of ennui seems to arise from a number of moods and feelings: social constraints, regrets, inability to feel empathy, bad life choices haunting the present and the future, and the overwhelming boredom all conspire to create a nauseating lack of will to live. The mood, the feeling of these stories is prescient: four decades on, we deal with the very issues so clearly intuited by Suzuki – from the crippling emotional numbness among individuals to the aggressive, grasping behaviour of societies.

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R.J. Barker, Call of the Bone Ships (2020)

Author: R.J. Barker

Title: Call of the Bone Ships

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Series: The Tide Child #2

Phew, this one has been waiting for its review for a good while now, about three months, give or take a few weeks 😉. I blame NetGalley, the reviews for NG books usually have a “best before” or a “best by” date I need to abide by… But I’m also responsible – to put it simply, I enjoyed Call of the Bone Ships a lot, but still less than book one, The Bone Ships. The reasons for this development are many, but the most important of them all is the worldbuilding. It seems to me that the author did all the heavy lifting already in the first installment, creating a unique universe filled with le Guin-inspired world of islands and seas, gender-reversed roles, tall ships and dragons. As a result, the second book is focused predominantly on character and plot development, and while both are laudably consummate (oh all right, character development more than plot, but more on that later), nevertheless the lure of the uniqueness can no longer apply and the new worldbuilding details are too few to keep the mood of discovery afloat.

But ab ovo: in Call of the Bone Ships the crew of the Tide Child must deal with the revelations left in wake of the first installment. And here I must insert the unavoidable spoiler alert, because the second book grows organically from the first, building upon the foundation formed in The Bone Ships, and there’s no way to talk about Call of the Bone Ships without mentioning The Bone Ships (well, there’s a hint in the title) 😉. So, the arakeesians swim the seas again. In the never-ending war between Hundred Isles and Gaunt Islands the sighting of a water dragon whose whole body can be disassembled and used as a source of various lethal weapons, from ships to spears, is a call for a hunt. Whoever finds the means to kill the dragons and get their bodies will obtain a staggering advantage over their enemy – one that can end the war for good with a crushing defeat of one side. No wonder then that both sides scramble to action, absolutely convinced both of their own righteousness and the truth of the old adage that ends justify all means. Blood flows freely, unspeakable atrocities are committed in the name of greater good, and the noose around the Tide Child gets increasingly tighter. And for the Tide Child’s crew, caught between the warring sides, the whole situation just gets a whole lot more complicated – and deadly.

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Joe Abercrombie, The Trouble with Peace (2020)

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Trouble with Peace

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 506

Series: The Age of Madness #2

The Trouble with Peace is the second installment in Abercrombie newest trilogy, The Age of Madness – playing out approximately two decades after The First Law trilogy in the Circle of the World. I’ve read the first installment, A Little Hatred, back in 2019 – but never gotten around to reviewing it. Suffice to say, it was pretty good: slicker and sharper and funnier than The First Law, with the added benefit of hosting a less likeable crew of protagonist – which, in Abercrombie’s books, is actually a real benefit, as most of them will most probably meet their gory, humiliating and depressing ends long before the trilogy’s conclusion. I rated A Little Hatred 8/10; and I’m happy to say The Trouble with Peace is even better.

The First Law trilogy was written with the ingenious leading thought of “What if Merlin was evil?” The Age of Madness continues to build up on it and I’m very encouraged by the signs of an equally pitiless Nimue in sight. But most importantly, with his Age of Madness series Joe Abercrombie seems to be stepping into Sir Terry Pratchett’s shoes – if (and that’s a big if) Pratchett were cynical to the core, ruthless, and constantly angry. Sure, at the moment these shoes are still way too big, and at times clearly uncomfortable, but I’m pretty certain Abercrombie will grow up to fit them quite well.

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Adrian Tchaikovsky, One Day All This Will Be Yours (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: One Day All This Will Be Yours

Format: E-book

Pages: 192

Series: –

After a couple of disappointing books by Tchaikovsky I approached this novella with certain trepidation. After all, one can become too thinly spread, “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread,” even without One Ring (unless you want to confess, Mr Tchaikovsky?) I needn’t have worried, tough – this novella is short and sharp and scathing, with long pointed teeth and unrelenting snarkiness that brings to mind the best that stand-up comedy has to offer.

And this novella is indeed written very much in the style of stand-up comedy, with the protagonist wound up to the extreme, never shutting up, venting his anger and misanthropy in an unceasing torrent of words. It’s funny, it’s rabid, it’s sarcastic – but most of all, it’s to the point. You see, in Causality Wars the unnamed protagonist is the veteran of the humanity – and history – ceased to exist. With the onset of time travel rewriting the past became the favorite pastime of governments and agencies, and all the innumerable, contradictory changes to the history carried out by time soldiers resulted in shattering the past and erasing the present. It was still salvageable, more or less – until Causality bombs destroyed the substance of time. And so now, at the end of times, in the one stable point of a glorious indeterminate amount of time, our protagonist treasure hunts the sharp shards of the past, gathering farming equipment, growing veggies and killing random time travellers who inexorably land in his garden, in the farthest possible future. Until travellers from the actual, future, future turn up on his porch and call him Gramps. The gall! Gramps is not happy; he’s a nasty mean old geezer and wants to stay this way forever, so obviously the only thoughts he spared for his bride-to-be are how to most efficiently kill her before they can produce any of that horrible offspring.

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