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Book Review | Blighted Stars by Megan E. O’Keefe

From the publisher: Stranded on a dead planet with her mortal enemy, a spy must survive and uncover a conspiracy in the first book of an epic space opera trilogy.

The Blighted Stars is an enemies to lovers story, although it takes a bit of patience to get there. It’s the future. Earth and many other habitable planets have been “shrouded” by a lichen that consumes everything in its path, turning green worlds into grey ones. Humans have developed technology that allows them to die and be reprinted (like on a 3D printer – yeah, I found this concept hard to wrap my head around).

Powerful families rule humanity. Family members have guards, called Exemplars, who are printed with extra pathways that give them strength and skills. Humanity needs a rare substance called relkatite to enable the current way of life. A rebel group believes that the search for relkatite is tied into the ruination of the habitable planets.

Tarquin Mercator, the son of one powerful leader, goes on a mission to claim a planet for humanity, but upon arrival he and the other crew members find the planet is already shrouded. Guarding Tarquin is an Exemplar who appears to be a woman named Aera Lockhart but who is in fact Naira Sharp, his father’s former Exemplar. A member of the rebellion, she was caught, tried, and “put on ice” so she can’t be reprinted – but who has been printed in the body of another for reasons unknown even to her. Although she served Tarquin’s father for many years, she now has reason to hate the whole family.

It’s actually hard to summarize the plot of this book. There is a lot going on, and it goes on for too long before the real action begins about halfway through the book. I found the first couple hundred pages very slow moving. The 3D printing thing is weird. Depending on when you were backed up, you may or may not remember what happened lately if you die. So if, for example, you fall in love with your enemy and are killed before you are backed up, you won’t remember that. Also, if you are killed violently, your neural map “cracks” and you lose your mind and cannot be reprinted. Stuff about the reprinting doesn’t make sense to me (like how a violent death can cause you to crack, and how you can be reprinted in someone else’s body).

I found the plot confusing but also intriguing. There’s a lot of vocabulary that helps with the world building but that needs figuring out. Naira Sharp is a very confident woman. Tarquin Mercator is a bit of a naïf, kept in the dark by his family, an academic who blindly has faith in things he shouldn’t have faith in, but he’s attractive and a nice guy. Their relationship is definitely the highlight of the story, and I’ll probably continue the series just to see what happens there.

I read an advance reader copy of The Blighted Stars. It will be published in late May and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

Book Review | Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton

From the publisher: Summer has come to Niflheim. The lichens are growing, the six-winged bat-things are chirping, and much to his own surprise, Mickey Barnes is still alive—that last part thanks almost entirely to the fact that Commander Marshall believes that the colony’s creeper neighbors are holding an antimatter bomb, and that Mickey is the only one who’s keeping them from using it. Mickey’s just another colonist now. Instead of cleaning out the reactor core, he spends his time these days cleaning out the rabbit hutches. It’s not a bad life. It’s not going to last.

Antimatter Blues is a sequel, and although you probably can read this book without reading the first, I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll get a lot more out of Antimatter Blues if you’ve read Mickey7. In the first book, one man (Mickey) is an expendable. This means his consciousness is downloaded so that when he is killed doing something dangerous, a clone can be produced and his consciousness uploaded. This is not a popular job, and by the end of book 1 Mickey has managed to retire from being an expendable. But space is a harsh place. Various people trying to inhabit various planets in both books have learned that the hard way. In Antimatter Blues, new perils and an unsympathetic commander complicate and endanger Mickey’s life.

There is a sentient, intelligent species already living on the planet that Mickey and friends are trying to colonize, and we learn a lot more about them in Antimatter Blues. I personally love meeting intelligent alien species who don’t immediately want to vaporize humans. This book was a lot of fun, and while some things were predictable, it kept me guessing. At one point I surprised myself by putting the book down for a breather when things got a little tense. There’s some humor and some romance, Mickey is a likable narrator, and the dialog is realistic and the banter snappy. Maybe it’s not treading new ground, but I like going over old ground sometimes. (That’s why I enjoy watching all the Star Trek series!)

Is there going to be another book in the series? It seems like there is plenty of room for growth with this cast of characters and their struggle to survive on a hostile planet, but Antimatter Blues also wrapped up very neatly. If there is another book in the series, I will eagerly read it.

I read an advance reader copy from Netgalley.

If you are looking for something to read while waiting for the next book in the Murderbot Diaries, you might enjoy Mickey7 and Antimatter Blues. The Galesburg Public Library owns Mickey7 in print, digital, and audio and will own Antimatter Blues in the same formats when it is published in March.

Book Review | Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country by John Jackson Miller

From the publisher: When an experimental shuttlecraft fails, Captain Christopher Pike suspects a mechanical malfunction—only to discover the very principles on which Starfleet bases its technology have simply stopped functioning. He and his crewmates are forced to abandon ship in a dangerous maneuver that scatters their party across the strangest new world they’ve ever encountered.

Strange New Worlds: The High Country is a pretty darn good Star Trek novel. I’m a huge fan of Star Trek TV series and movies, but I don’t read a lot of the books. I’d say I’ve found more of them to be disappointing than satisfactory.

This is the first book in the Strange New World series and I enjoyed it. Author John Jackson Miller does a good job of presenting the new crew of the old Enterprise. The characters we see most are Captain Pike, Lieutenant Spock, Lieutenant Commander Chin-Riley, and Ensign Uhura. The best parts of the novel are when two or more of them are interacting. My one complaint about the book is that there is an overly long stretch when they are separated, and we spend way too much time watching Captain Pike build towers and ride horses and cowboy it up while trying to get along with the local people (who we don’t know and will probably never see again). Yawn.

The book opens with the four mentioned above in an experimental shuttle. It’s quite a stretch to have Pike AND Number One AND Spock all leave the Enterprise at the same time, but the author does the best job he can explaining that away. I love Uhura on the new show; the actor is terrific, and the author of this book does a good job capturing how Uhura is portrayed. She has a wonderful storyline with a new species that involves some creative communicating. It really spotlights what Uhura brings to the table.

The plot is complicated and has a lot of throwbacks to previous Star Trek incidents. Many of the plot devices are familiar ones; I would have liked a bit more originality in terms of how the species running the planet behaves behind the scenes. But overall, I felt the novel did a good job portraying the characters we know from the series. There’s a good chance I will read a second Strange New Worlds novel.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country is available now in print and as an ebook from the Galesburg Public Library.

Book Review | Critical mass by Daniel Suarez

From the publisher: A group of pioneering astropreneurs must overcome never-before-attempted engineering challenges to rescue colleagues stranded at a distant asteroid—kicking off a new space race in which Earth’s climate crisis could well hang in the balance.

Things I liked:

The plot. This book has a terrific story. Climate Change is ravaging the Earth and its economy. Some far-thinking individuals are able to start mining an asteroid for materials and to begin a new way of achieving wealth that helps the planet.

The characters. As is currently true in space explorations, individuals from many countries are involved in the building of a space station near the moon, and I liked the three main characters, who survived a disaster and hope to rescue two colleagues who didn’t make it back from the asteroid.

The setting. The transition of a shell to a bustling space station is a vision I’d like to see happen. Also humans figuring out a way to save the planet before it is too late.

The thing I disliked:

The science. OMG the science. I watch a lot of Star Trek and am used to technobabble, but this story had so much hard science that I did not follow. I’m guessing that it is true or mostly true or theoretically true, so if you are an actual scientist you may love the science. I am not a scientist and was lost in the long descriptive passages about stuff I did not understand. Still, one can skim the science.

This book is the second book in a series, which I did not realize when I chose to read it. The first book is called Delta-V. Reading Delta-V first no doubt would have explained some things, but I don’t think reading it first is required. If you like Andy Weir and don’t mind even more science than is found in his books, you may enjoy Critical Mass.

I read an advance reader copy of Critical Mass from Netgalley.

The book is scheduled to be published on January 24, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it and the first book in print and as a digital ebook and audiobook.  

Book Review | Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

From the publisher: From idyllic small towns to claustrophobic urban landscapes, Mallory Viridian is constantly embroiled in murder cases that only she has the insight to solve. But outside of a classic mystery novel, being surrounded by death doesn’t make you a charming amateur detective, it makes you a suspect and a social pariah. So when Mallory gets the opportunity to take refuge on a sentient space station, she thinks she has the solution. Surely the murders will stop if her only company is alien beings. At first her new existence is peacefully quiet…and markedly devoid of homicide. But when the station agrees to allow additional human guests, Mallory knows the break from her peculiar reality is over….

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Book Review | Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change forever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

Klara and the Sun topped many “Best Books of 2021” lists, including ours. One should expect no less from Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. I loved reading this book very much: like many of Ishiguro’s novels, Klara and the Sun suspended its sense of mystery until the very end, even beyond it. I found, however, that the novel didn’t pull me in in the way that many of Ishiguro’s earlier works do…

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Book Review | Census by Jesse Ball

From the publisher: When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.

Jesse Ball writes, as a prologue to his novel Census, of his late brother, Abram, who had Down’s Syndrome. Ball explains that his novel Census is, in part, an effort to create a character very like his brother, to render a relationship very like the one he had with his brother, which was almost that of a father and son…

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Book Review | Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

From the publisher: One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

“Jeevan was crushed by a sudden certainty that this was it, that this illness Hua was describing was going to be the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through…

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