Review: Double Star

Friends, I’m still trying to read all the Hugo Award Winning winners for best novel, and I will be for the next few years.  Well, I will be forever, since there’s likely to be a new one each year.  But right now, I’m trying to get caught up on past ones.  I’m currently at 11 read, so I have 54 to go… bof.

Anyway, I recently got my hands on Double Star by Robert Heinlein.  Heinlein has won the Hugo for best novel 4 times – I think he’s tied for the most?  Or he technically has the most if you count Retro Hugos?  Anyway… not important to this discussion.  Heinlein has won many times, but Double Star was his first.  Here are my thoughts.

Double Star was pretty classic pulp fiction.  When I think of sci-fi from the late 50’s/early 60’s this type of story is what comes to mind.  It’s a romp, with an unlikely crew of people thrown together in unlikely circumstances.  The plot could have taken place in any society or culture, really, but aliens were thrown in for an extra level of mayhem.

It was a fun, quick read that didn’t require much thought at all.  The end was pretty predictable, and even though I didn’t love any of the characters, I finished Double Star with a pretty good impression.  I’d say my view of Robert Heinlein (which was really high after The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and was lowered by Starship Troopers) was redeemed a bit.  I’m excited to read his other works.

Review: Lirael

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review of Sabriel, a YA fantasy novel by Garth Nix that I read as a preteen and re-read recently.

Welp, I just couldn’t stay away.  I just finished Lirael, the sequel to Sabriel, and let me tell you, it was a good one.

The story picks up 14 or so years after the events in Sabriel.  One thing that I remembered from the first time I read this book when I was in junior high was that I was disappointed that it didn’t take place immediately after the first book and that Sabriel wasn’t the main character.

This time, though, that disappointment didn’t last long.  Lirael gives us a different view of the Old Kingdom, exploring places and peoples that we didn’t get much of in the first book.  We get to meet Lirael, who deals with different struggles from Sabriel and has a much different journey.  We get to learn so much more about the Old Kingdom and its history.  We get to spend time exploring a humongous library with Lirael and her awesome friend, the Disreputable Dog.  So good.

Lirael contains much of the real-feeling magic and world-building the Sabriel did, with Garth Nix fleshing much of it out.  Nix has a great knack for dealing with very real issues (depression, suicide, racism, and more) in a fantasy story, and for the most part, he does this flawlessly.

The one negative thing I’ll say about  Lirael and its sequel, Abhorsen (which I’m reading right now), is that they’re a bit long.  I think it’s fine that they’re two books, but each of them could be shorter in themselves or maybe even condensed into one novel.

Other than that, Lirael is a fun yet serious, fantastical yet believable story of a girl who’s trying to find herself and trying to save the world at the same time – something that I think most of us can relate to.  She humorously manages to dodge romantic advances, she gets way in over her head often, and she has to make solutions up as she goes along.  If that’s not a reflection of real life, I don’t know what is.

Overall, I would say I enjoyed Lirael slightly more than Sabriel.  I’ll let you know soon what I think of Abhorsen!

Review: The Vor Game

Remember my quest to eventually read all the Hugo Award winning novels?  Well the next stop on that train was the The Vor Game, the sequel to The Warrior’s Apprentice that I read last summer.

I was much more prepared for this book, unlike The Warrior’s Apprentice which I’d never even heard of before it was gifted to me, which left me skeptical.  But after loving my first Lois McMaster Bujold experience, I was excited so check out more.

The Vor Game delivered.  It was fun, full of adventure and mystery.  The story takes place a few years after The Warrior’s Apprentice, so we get to see a slightly more mature Miles – which I love.  He still has a lot to learn, but he’s grown.  He still makes mistakes, but they’re not the same ones he made when he was younger.

We get to see a few of the same characters from the first book, but we also get to meet new characters.  I personally am a big fan of Gregor and Simon.  Here’s to hoping they’re in the subsequent books in some capacity!

Overall, The Vor Game met my expectations.  It made me laugh and made my heart ache; it easily held my interest and was often hard to put down.  It was believable and imaginative – just great science fiction.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next novel in the series, Cetaganda!  I’ll let you know what I think of that one as well 🙂

Review: Sabriel

Ohhhhhhh, friends.  Oh, friends.

As you may have read, I was gifted the first three books from the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix for my birthday because my husband pays attentions, remembers, and knows me oh so well.  I could hardly wait to dive into Sabriel, which I haven’t read since I was 13 or so.

I devoured it.  Sabriel completely sucked me in, and though I’d read it before, nearly everything felt new to me this time (thanks 14 years…).

Garth Nix is a master at creating a fantastical world that feels completely real.  The magic that happens feels so believable and effortless – perfect for me who doesn’t LOVE fantasy.  I was instantly drawn into the story by the mysterious prologue, especially juxtaposed with the seemingly normal first chapter (it didn’t stay that way for long).

The world that he built was complex and fascinating, but Garth Nix didn’t let his writing get bogged down with too much detail and background.  Sabriel is fast-paced, tense, and an easy read; it’ll have you begging to read just one more chapter before you have to hit the lights for bed.  Add wonderful characters to the mix, and you have quite the young adult fantasy gem.  I can’t wait to read its sequel, Lirael!

Review: They’d Rather Be Right

I’ve shared in the past about my quest to read all the Hugo Award winners for best novel.  Welp, I recently checked out and read They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley – the second winner of the award back in 1955.

They’d Rather Be Right was a short science fiction classic.  The premise was incredibly clever, though I was confused by the main characters motivations – why did Joe care about Bosssy?  Was he only trying to make someone like him?  What made him think Bossy could do that?  How did he figure so many things out that other characters couldn’t?

Lots of questions.  But for me at least, those hardly made reading They’d Rather Be Right less enjoyable.  I know that many others haven’t had the same experience – some have even called this work by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley the worst Hugo Award winning novel in the history of the award.  Many of the critiques I’ve read say that Clifton and Riley were lazy – they didn’t do the work to make the science in the story believable.

I guess I see where they’re coming from.  As hard sci-fi They’d Rather Be Right doesn’t do it for me.  But as soft science fiction: I loved it.  The simple idea that a person’s pride is their downfall, that someone’s need to be right is what prevents progress, is so good and done very well in this work.  I also enjoyed the commentary on social classes and on scientific responsibility.

Other than that, all I have to say is it was a quick read, and there many of the characters were endearing.  Could it be better?  Yes.  Did I enjoy it?  Yes.  Did I love the questions it asked?  DEFINITELY YES.

Birthday Books

Somehow I missed my birthday.  Not in real life; plenty of celebrating happened.  But in blog-life, I just kind of skipped over it.

So, three weeks late, I want to share with you the books that I got for my birthday:

  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • Lirael by Garth Nix
  • Abhorsen by Garth Nix
  • Love, Lies, and Clones by Joynell Schultz
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

My husband, being the book-loving, intentional, and thoughtful man that he is, has been looking for the Old Kingdom boxed set for months, and he finally found it.  I’ve mentioned these books to him a time or two (I read them when I was younger and loved them), and he’s been planning on getting them for me ever since.  I can’t wait to read them again!

Also, I have a tradition with the 10-year-old girl that I mentor: on the Wednesday between our birthdays, we go to a used book store and each pick out a book to buy.  She just discovered The Series of Unfortunate Events, and happily picked out book 1.  I found a compilation of old science fiction short stories.  🙂  I love this tradition, and I hope we continue it for years to come.

Do you have any fun birthday traditions?

Review: My Enemy, My Ally

I love Romulans.  Maybe someday I’ll share all the reasons why with you.  But for now, just know that I love Romulans.  Unfortunately, though, Romulans are – in my opinion – under-utilized in the Star Trek series and books.  So when I stumbled upon the Rihannsu series (by googling “Star Trek books about Romulans”), I had to get my hands on it.  The fact that it was written by Diane Duane (who also wrote the So You Want to Be a Wizard series, which I loved when I was younger) was a huge plus, too!

After searching for a long time, my husband and I finally found most of the series at Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore (aka my heaven on earth – seriously, if you’re in the Twin Cities, check it out).  I just finished reading book one this week, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

My Enemy, My Ally started off a little weak for me – mostly because it started off from the Romulan perspective.  Now, that in itself isn’t a bad thing; it’s a pretty typical literary device to kick off a story with a short scene featuring the antagonist.  My issue with this, though, was that the dialogue (and even some of the inner monologue) was in Romulan.

I don’t read Romulan; unlike Klingon, there’s not a movement to learn the fictional language.  It’s not a huge deal to include a language that I don’t read – as long as it’s minimal and really easy to understand given the context.  But it wasn’t.  I was really confused by the first chapter, and the inclusion of so much of an unreadable language really bogged it down.  I almost put the book away and started a different one.

But.  I’m glad I didn’t.  After that first chapter, the book got SO MUCH BETTER.  Duane did a great job of giving us a believable insight into this other Trek culture that hasn’t been amply explored.  I got just what I wanted – more screen-time with Romulans.

The plot was exciting and suspenseful, and I was very unsure of who to trust and who to believe.  The characters from The Original Series seemed very consistent with what we’ve seen elsewhere, and while it was still fun and playful at times, the writing wasn’t too campy like some of the other Trek novels I’ve read.

Overall, I was very pleased with My Enemy, My Ally, and I’m looking forward to reading book two of the series: The Romulan Way.