2023 SciFi Book Club List

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

New year, new reading list for SciFi Book Club.

The Humans by Matt Haig (Jan/Feb)
When an extraterrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a leading mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor wants to complete his task and return home to his planet and a utopian society of immortality and infinite knowledge.

He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, and the wars they witness on the news, and is totally baffled by concepts such as love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this weird species than he has been led to believe. He drinks wine, reads Emily Dickinson, listens to Talking Heads, and begins to bond with the family he lives with, in disguise. In picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there–a mission that involves not only thwarting human progress…but murder. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16130537-the-humans


Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (Feb/Mar)
An adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56179360-light-from-uncommon-stars


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams (Mar/Apr)
What do a dead cat, a computer whiz-kid, an Electric Monk who believes the world is pink, quantum mechanics, a Chronologist over 200 years old, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poet), and pizza have in common?

Apparently not much; until Dirk Gently, self-styled private investigator, sets out to prove the fundamental interconnectedness of all things by solving a mysterious murder, assisting a mysterious professor, unravelling a mysterious mystery, and eating a lot of pizza – not to mention saving the entire human race from extinction along the way (at no extra charge). https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/365.Dirk_Gently_s_Holistic_Detective_Agency


The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt (Apr/May)
Refugee, criminal and linguist Sean Wren is made an offer he knows he can’t refuse: life in prison, “voluntary” military service – or salvaging data in a long-dead language from an abandoned ship filled with traps and monsters, just days before it’s destroyed in a supernova. Data connected to the Philosopher’s Stone experiments, into unlocking the secrets of immortality.

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out.

In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60321139-the-immortality-thief


Brilliance by Marcus Sakey (May/Jun)
In Wyoming, a little girl reads people’s darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms. In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billion. In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking. They’re called “brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in – and betray his own kind.

From Marcus Sakey, “a modern master of suspense” (Chicago Sun-Times) and “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly), comes an adventure that’s at once breakneck thriller and shrewd social commentary; a gripping tale of a world fundamentally different and yet horrifyingly similar to our own, where being born gifted can be a terrible curse. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17171909-brilliance


Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Jun/Jul)
Earth is failing. In a desperate bid to escape, the spaceship Enkidu and its captain, Heorest Holt, carry its precious human cargo to a potential new Eden. Generations later, this fragile colony has managed to survive, eking out a hardy existence. Yet life is tough, and much technological knowledge has been lost.

Then Liff, Holt’s granddaughter, hears whispers that the strangers in town aren’t from neighboring farmland. That they possess unparalleled technology – and that they’ve arrived from another world. But not all questions are so easily answered, and their price may be the colony itself. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60850767-children-of-memory


The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (Jul/Aug)
When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.

What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble.

It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society that’s found its way to the alternate world. Others have, too–and their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57693406-the-kaiju-preservation-society


A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine (Aug/Sep)
An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45154547-a-desolation-called-peace


The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (Sep/Oct)
Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes (Oct/Nov)
Claire Kovalik is days away from being unemployed—made obsolete—when her beacon repair crew picks up a strange distress signal. With nothing to lose and no desire to return to Earth, Claire and her team decide to investigate.

What they find at the other end of the signal is a shock: the Aurora, a famous luxury space-liner that vanished on its maiden tour of the solar system more than twenty years ago. A salvage claim like this could set Claire and her crew up for life. But a quick trip through the Aurora reveals something isn’t right.

Whispers in the dark. Flickers of movement. Words scrawled in blood. Claire must fight to hold onto her sanity and find out what really happened on the Aurora, before she and her crew meet the same ghastly fate. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57693184-dead-silence


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Nov/Dec)
Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

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. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20170404-station-eleven

Book Club: A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire is the author’s debut novel and won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

The author is AnnaLinden Weller, who writes under the name of Arkady Martine. The adage “write what you know” couldn’t be more relevant to her. She’s a historian and city planner by day and obtained a Ph.D. in medieval Byzantine history in 2014. Martine said that this novel was, in many respects, a fictional version of her postdoctoral research on Byzantine imperialism in the 11th century, particularly the annexation of the Kingdom of Ani.

This backstory about the author explains the complexity of her created world. In my humble opinion, the best part of the book. The worldbuilding is rich and fully developed. The different cultures of the planet (Teixcalaan) vs. the station (Lsel) are highlighted, but the writing wasn’t intrusive. In other words, it didn’t interrupt the telling of the story. Albeit it made for a dense read like Dune.

Other similarities to Dune include the openings of each chapter. They started with excerpts from various sources. Like the selections from the writings of Princess Irulan in Dune, they provided glimpses of previous Teixcalaan and Lsel events. Likewise, Memory includes a glossary. Though I didn’t need to use it to understand what was happening as I did for Dune.

What I did find myself doing was reading the print version along with the audio. I started listening to the audiobook but couldn’t get grounded in the world. The language of the epigraph and prelude was quite ornate. (Yes, this book has both, and yes, I read them. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have significance.) In the end, I purchased the eBook to follow along with the audio.  

Listening to the audio helped with the pronunciation of the names used. (Another pet peeve of mine: nearly unpronounceable names). In Memory, the author used a unique naming convention for the Teixcalaanli characters. A number-noun configuration made their names pronounceable. According to an NPR interview with the author, it is similar to the system used by many Mesoamerican people.

The characters were likable. In particular, I enjoyed Three Seagrass, the cultural liaison for the Lsel ambassador and protagonist, Mahit. Though, as noted by the Book Club members, a few of the characters central to the story weren’t integral to the plot. In other words, they only made brief appearances but were critical to events happening in the narrative. Such was the case for the three characters in line for the throne. We are given short scenes, including two of them, but only hear about the third one through other characters. The readers never meet her in the story.

The other unusual facet of this book was the point of view. It was third-person limited like most contemporary novels. The difference was that there is only one POV, the protagonist. It made me wonder what the story would have been like if it had been written in the first person.

The story wasn’t anything profound. For all intent and purpose, it was a murder mystery, as the book blurb advertised. A good story, especially the end (no spoilers), especially the technology central to the plot. Though I didn’t think the book needed to be nearly 500 pages. The pacing is what stretched it to such length. There weren’t enough twists and turns to warrant so many pages. Admittedly, the worldbuilding was extensive, but as mentioned above, it wasn’t invasive. It didn’t occupy pages and pages of the book. Thus, I couldn’t attribute the length to this aspect. The story was slow, and I felt there was some repetition in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it earned a highly coveted slot on the bookcases of my home library. Oh, and if you’re counting, I bought this book three times – audio, electronic, and a hard copy.

One last note – The sequel to this novel, A Desolation Called Peace, won the 2022 Hugo Award for Best Novel.


Up next: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (2022 Hugo Finalist for Best Novel)

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

Until next time, happy reading!

Book Club: Year Zero

June’s Book Club selection was Year Zero by Rob Reid. (Yes, I’m a little behind with my reviews.) After my epic 600-page space adventure, I looked forward to a light and short read. Particularly, a story about the music industry. 

The premise of the story was rather quirky. Quite simply, the author is the founder of the music streaming service, Rhapsody and an attorney. The story is a parody about copyright infringement laws, particularly as it relates to a period in time when peer-to-peer filing sharing was a new technology. Some of us remember the days when dirt-poor college students were threatened with $250,000 fines and felony convictions punishable by up to five years in prison for downloading music from the Internet. The first highly publicized case, Metallica v. Napster, Inc.

There are a ton of references to popular music like the protagonist’s name is Nick Carter as in the Backstreet Boy. A receptionist named Barbara Ann, a nod to the Beach Boys’ 1965 hit and recently revived by the Minions as the Banana Song. Aliens named Carly and Frampton. Some quips were wildly entertaining, but a little goes a long way.

Almost all Book Club readers lost interest in the story towards the middle. Also, some of the characters introduced weren’t fully developed. At first, it seemed like they were going to be an intricate part of the story, but trailed off and eventually disappeared. Finally, the author uses footnotes throughout the narrative. Small passages of explanation, which most readers felt took them out of the story. They distracted them.

Overall, a fun read especially if you are a music lover. Just know that it’s a satirical look at the music streaming industry, so don’t go into it thinking there’s going to be some profound theme. There’s no huge take-away from it other than how lucrative frivolous lawsuits can be. The take-away for me was how Metallica and other musicians lost in the end anyway since they make only pennies on the dollar from streaming services.

Up next for July is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

Until next time, happy reading!

Book Club: Into The Black

Last month’s Book Club selection was Into The Black by Evan Currie (587 Kindle pages, 39 chapters). Admittedly, I wasn’t thrilled about 600 pages of military space opera. But I was determined to stay open minded if only for the sake of learning about the craft of writing science fiction. After all, that is why I participate in this club.

The first few chapters didn’t give me any hope. They were slow with little tension or intrigue. In true military fashion style, they were regimented. The introduction of the captain, Eric Weston and other key members of the crew of the Odyssey, the first ship constructed with a transition drive system, allowing for faster-than-light travel.

It wasn’t that the pace was slow. To the contrary, the narrative had a nice, even flow. I’m a reader who likes backstory at the beginning of a story. Getting to know the characters is important to me. It’s how I decide if I can invest in them or not, and a lot of characters were introduced. Otherwise, nothing really happened in the early chapters. Or what did happen wasn’t very thrilling: the official transfer of command, the requisite press conference, departure for the mission, weapons tests, refueling near Saturn, etc. I felt the story started in Chapter 3.

Despite the slow start, I flew through this book – all 600 pages. Anyone who has read my previous reviews knows that I’m a tough reader to satisfy, and it’s been a long time since I wanted to do nothing but read a book. I enjoyed the story so much that I wasn’t pulled out of it by any infractions of the writing fundamentals. If there were any violations, I was blissfully unaware. Nor was my suspense of belief tested. I believed (and understood) everything I read.

The consensus of the Book Club was the story had a very Star Trek ambiance about it, which probably explains my fondness for it. The thing about every reiteration of Star Trek are the captains and their crews. For me, Kirk and Picard are my all-time favorite captains. Now Captain Weston and the crew of the Odyssey have earned the top spot. The rest of the Book Club didn’t share my enthusiasm. They liked the book, but thought the Star Trek spin was cliché.

Likewise, the Odyssey’s fighter squadron, the Archangels, were reminiscent of the Star Wars starfighters. Oddly, my reading of this book coincided with the release of the Top Gun sequel. But let me tell you, those Top Gun flyboys, past and present, got NOTHING on the Archangels! Like anyone who flies the likes of F-16 fighters, they possess a suave bravado and a ton of moxie. The difference: the Archangels past and present commanders, Weston and Stephanos, have a humility about them.  

Finally, the battle scenes. I’m notorious for putting a book down whenever the plot seems to move from one action scene to another. In such cases, it starts to feel reactive to me. Not enough word count is devoted to developing intrigue at a slower pace. Without any spoilers, most of Into The Black are battles. The difference was they were very short scenes with the myriad of characters: Captain Weston on board the Odyssey, Stephano’s squadron in dogfights with the opposition, and the various special teams forces on the surface of the planet. The impact of these short snippets was over the top intensity. The only reason that I put this book down was to catch my breath.

Needless to say, Into The Black earned a spot on my bookshelf. Though I probably won’t read any of the other six books in the series. While I want more of Captain Weston and his crew, I want the story of this first book to remain unadulterated.

Up next for June is Year Zero by Rob Reid:

Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. And boy, do they have news. The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on humanity’s music ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), when American pop songs first reached alien ears. This addiction has driven a vast intergalactic society to commit the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang. The resulting fines and penalties have bankrupted the whole universe. We humans suddenly own everything—and the aliens are not amused. Nick now has forty-eight hours to save humanity, while hopefully wowing the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.

The author, Rob Reid, was the founder, CEO, and Chairman of Listen.com, the online music company that developed the Rhapsody music service. Listen was the first online music company to secure full-catalog licenses from all of the major labels. So the book’s nuance and details should be authentic.

Until next time, happy reading!

Agent Boot Camp

I pushed the SEND button with my first 10-pages this morning. It’s the second time I’ve done this Writers Digest boot camp. Getting feedback from an industry professional is invaluable and money well-spent.

I anticipate the “I can’t sell this kind of story” comment since the market is flooded with urban/contemporary fantasies. But I believe my story is different and stands apart from the typical fare. Why? Because my story is plot is a treasure hunt, a cross between National Treasure/Raiders of the Lost Ark and Angels and Demons.

I’ll come back and give an update about the feedback I receive. So please stay tuned.


AND THE RESULTS ARE IN:
I received four valuable pieces of feedback from Paula Munier, Senior Literary Agent & Content Strategist at Talcott Notch Literary.

The First Scene
The first page is confusing. We don’t know where she is–on a plane, at the office, in a meeting, at her house? All of these settings are referenced, but none is established. You need to ground every scene in setting and point of view in the opening lines of the scene.

I cringed when I first read this comment. Why? Because most of my chapters start with setting. I lost my way by focusing on making a thematic statement. My understanding is the opening sentence of a novel should be about your theme. It’s the only time it is explicitly mentioned. The good news is learning that starting chapters with setting is agent-approved. At least for Paula anyway.

This opening is confusing and boring–nothing of importance really happens until the Councillor shows up and even then most of that conversation is just a poor excuse for backstory and info dumping.

Ouch, this one hurt. But after letting it fester for a bit, I better understand the importance of balance. Based on feedback from my critique partners and beta readers, I added more worldbuilding. They told me there wasn’t enough for them to understand the created world. Likewise, I received feedback that the readers didn’t know what was at stake. Why was restoring Absolute Power to the Society so important? Hence, the backstory. While they liked this updated reiteration better, the agent accused me of info dumping (the worst criticism for a writer other than “show, don’t tell”).

After much reflection, I concluded that the balance is subjective. Readers want more whereas agents/publishers want less. While I’m a little unsure about which party gets preference, I like to think there’s a sweet spot where everyone is happy.

You need to cut this scene by at least 50 percent. Focus on the Councillor telling her they need her, her balking because of her parents’ death at the Vice Lord’s hands and the grandfather magick pulling her back in. Then get her on to the mission. THAT’S when the story really begins.

And that’s exactly what I did, but only 30%. Some of the backstory could not be cut because it plays a major role in the story. It isn’t revealed until the end, but it’s an ah-ha moment for the reader. A question raised early on finally gets answered and completes the big picture.

USP
This genre can be a tough sell these days as the market is glutted so a strong USP is very important. USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition. That is, what makes your story unique. What sets your story apart from the others of its ilk? What are your comps? How can you articulate your USP in your pitch? How soon in your story do you make the USP clear in your story?

There it is: the anticipated “I can’t sell this type of story.”

My USP is National Treasure/Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Angels and Demons with magick. Easy enough. What wasn’t easy was integrating it into the story narrative. I managed to get it done in Chapter 1, but it sort of felt like it was author-placed to me.

The good news was the agent thought it sounded a fun project and love it. 

Tired Tropes
Because this is an over-published area, and the tropes are tired, you have to find a way to make your story different, to set it apart from all the other stories like it out there. The sooner you get to the main action, the better. And the sooner you show us how you reinvent those tropes for your story, the better. Especially the magick.

More comments about a tough sell, but the door seems to be cracked if I reinvent the tropes I use. In particular, the magick (my purposeful spelling). Some of my magick is mundane: mind control, telepathic communication, etc. Yet part of it is different, but I’ll keep it under wraps for now.

Line Edit
You could use a good line edit.

  • Fix all typos, misspellings, missing words, grammatical errors, incorrect formatting, etc.
  • Murder all your darlings. This basically means that whenever you come to a sentence that you are inordinately proud of, you need to cut it. Or as Elmore Leonard liked to say, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
  • Go through and eliminate all redundancies, cliches, repetitions, etc. Aim to trim by 20 percent. That will help pick up the pacing.
  • For example, you should rework cliched lines like this one: I huffed a laugh of indignation and rolled my eyes.

I was a little surprised by this feedback. Admittedly, my submission was rougher than I normally present for review. The changes that I mentioned above had been added, but I didn’t get to do the usual 15-20 edits required to meet my own personal standard. So I’m kind of okay with this feedback. Just don’t like to hear it.

I disagree with the typos/misspellings. It’s the easiest part of editing/proofreading, and Word does it for you. Plus my other tools include spellcheck. I rechecked the submission afterwards, but 3 different checks found no typos/misspellings. I’m passing on the comment and moving on.

The cliché part might be a stretch for me because I use cliches in my everyday conversations. I know, but don’t roll your eyes at me. Likewise, I have a penchant for using fragmented sentences. I love the emphasis and tension they add to the narrative. Albeit, I use them judiciously because they break the rules.

The biggest take away (not included in this feedback) was to hire a professional copyeditor to review the first 50 pages. I thought it was a good idea because I have some doubts about some of my grammar usage.

Overall, the agent said my writing was solid and voice was strong. She thought I was a good writer. For me, this is the most valuable feedback.

I revised Chapter 1 accordingly and expected final comments back by July 6.

Book Club: Remote Control

May’s SciFi Book Club selection was Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor. An accomplished author, she writes African-based science fiction and fantasy (African futurism and African jujuism), and her other works have won many awards.

Here’s the blurb to give this review context:

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From here on in she would be known as Sankofa­­–a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks–alone, except for her fox companion–searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?


I’m sort of indifferent about this book. I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say I liked it either. As mentioned by many, it read like a folk tale, and I like a good fable. Also, I liked the non-traditional setting in Ghana. It was nice to get absorbed in an area different than the standard urban area. Although this land included many unique gadgets not of this current time and place.

The protagonist, Fatima/Sankofa is a young girl. She ages from five years old to fourteen by the end of the book. Though I didn’t feel the story was told in the voice of such a young girl. Certain descriptions and thoughts seemed to be those of a young child. Like early on, she thinks dead people are sleeping, which seems plausible for a six-year-old. But I felt the character was a little too wise for her age. Her perspective and know-how were more like a young adult. I couldn’t get comfortable with the level of knowledge that this young child possessed.

This book was an allegory in every sense of the literary device. An example is the fox that follows Sankofa during her journey from one town to another. Some in the book club thought it was her familiar, but they have a definitive purpose – helping witches or cunning folks with their powers. The fox didn’t literally help Fatima/Sankofa in anyway. He was just there. Overall, the underlying messages intended were unclear.

Perhaps, the story would have been more meaningful had I read it knowing it was an allegory. Even if I had been able to pick up this notion somewhere along the line as I was reading it. But I read from a very literal perspective, which didn’t work in this case. Another reading from a more abstract perspective might be useful, but I’m probably not going to do it. Time is valuable, and I wasn’t compelled enough to read it again even though it’s a novella.

A significant amount of time was spent discussing the ending of the book. If you’ve read the reviews, you notice it’s a common point of speculation. Its meaning entirely open to interpretation. The book club members had several ideas about what it meant, but we never reach a consensus. There were several moments of contemplative silence. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I wish I was able to take more away from the discussion and the story.

Finally, I like to invest in the substance of the story like most readers. One thing that takes me out of it is poor form, meaning the writing. This book was full of everything I avoid in my own writing: sentences with three independent clauses, missing commas to separate independent clauses, poorly structured sentences where I had to reread them to understand what the author meant, repetitious word use in the same or consecutive sentences, more than one character’s dialogue in the same paragraph, frequent use of ly-adverbs, noticeable use of filter words, etc. For any published book, this type of poor form is unacceptable. But it’s especially egregious for a traditional publisher. Even an accomplished author such as Ms. Okorafor should have to follow some of the fundamental rules.

Next on the docket for June is Into The Black by Evan Currie:

Beyond the confines of our small world, far from the glow of our star, lies a galaxy and universe much larger and more varied than anyone on Earth can possibly imagine. For the new NAC spacecraft Odyssey and her crew, the unimaginable facets of this untouched world are about to become reality.

It’s a 600-page military space opera. After this past month’s selection, I’m looking forward to spending time aboard ship in space and getting overwhelmed by the science overload.

Book Club: Project Hail Mary

*** Beware: this review includes a few spoilers ***

If you’ve read my review of Artemis, you already have a good idea about my critique of Andy Weir’s third book, Project Hail Mary. On a positive note, I liked it better than Artemis. Perhaps because this book was written in the first person, like The Martian, and I felt more connected to the protagonist.

Returning to a tried-and-true format, Project Hail Mary features a lone character in space facing unimaginable obstacles. In this case, Ryland Grace. He has a great sense of humor, which I enjoyed. Though it got a bit immature at times and became annoying. This man didn’t take any of the deadly hurdles he faced seriously. Failed suspense of disbelief #1.

And Grace faces an endless stream of problems. One after another, and all of them, easily overcome. Despite being in a situation with insurmountable complications, he finds a solution somewhere in the recesses of his mind. Perhaps that is why he has such a cavalier attitude. He didn’t ever feel threatened by his predicament. Failed suspense of disbelief #2.

The story is loaded with science and the requisite detailed explanations in typical Andy Weir style. On a positive note, I learned that I understand physics more than biology. Regardless, 500 pages of science is too much, and yep, I stopped turning pages around Chapter 14. The story became repetitious, predictable, and boring.

I did read the last three chapters, but it was another letdown. The entire book was about Grace solving life-threatening problems. Yet, he couldn’t come up with a plan to produce food for himself at the end. It was hard for me to believe that he couldn’t simulate an environment for growing fruits and vegetables. Also, his body suffered from the effects of strong gravity on the surface of the alien’s planet. I couldn’t help but wonder why he resided on the surface when the Hail Mary orbited around the planet. Why didn’t he simply make his home on the ship and visit the surface as needed? Failed suspense of disbelief #3.

The ending was such a disappointment that it compelled me to write an alternate ending. Book club members liked it better but said it didn’t fit Weir’s style. Why? Because I made Grace’s ultimate mission, to save Planet Earth, fail and forced him to face a moral dilemma about the decision he made.

Although this selection failed to capture my imagination, it worked for a ton of other readers. Even though it was tagged as piggybacking off of The Martian, it didn’t matter to them. MGM has optioned the movie rights for the adaptation of the book starring Ryan Gosling in the title role.

Moving on, April’s selection is Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor. I’m hopeful since it’s a novella (only about 150 pages), and it doesn’t seem like it includes a lot of science. In fact, some readers question why it’s labeled as science fiction.

Book Club: Fahrenheit 451

This month’s book club selection was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (195 pages, Goodreads). First published in 1953, this book was part of the curriculum of my college class, Intro to Science Fiction.[1] It’s been a while since my initial reading.

The most striking aspect of this novel was the stylistic writing. Lots of fragmented sentences and figurative language are used, giving the narrative a rather abstract feel. Yet it wasn’t too weird like such writing can be. Just enough to make it poetic but not incomprehensible. Well, there were only a few places that I glossed over.

A few of my fellow clubbers felt the prose was too strange. It contradicted the hard science found in a lot of our selections. I appreciate their discontent. It’s the same way detailed scientific explanations cause me to lose interest in a story. So I get it; the writing style is not for everyone.

I listened to the audible version while I read along in the book. Tim Robbins was the narrator, and I nominate him for whatever award recognizes exceptional performances in this area. He brought the characters and the stylistic language to life. If you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend this version.

Another noticeable facet of this story was the seashell radio receivers used by Montag’s wife, Mildred. To think the rudimentary concept of earbuds as part of this dystopian world nearly seventy years ago is kind of spooky. Perhaps, the technology existed like headphones, but actual earbuds?

Finally, the social commentary that is the book’s notoriety. Again, the uncanny parallels to today’s world…burning (banning) books, the cancel culture, the powerful influence of the media, living life at 100 mph (beetle cars). It made me wonder if these paradoxes are humanity’s ying-yang. Its balance-counterbalance. The perpetual two sides of the coin. Hundreds of years from now, will readers look back at Fahrenheit 451 (or other works touching on such issues) and see similar analogies with their current culture? Does humanity need a constant push-and-pull, opposing forces to exist?

Hence, the thought-provoking power of this classic…

Up next, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (476 pages, hardcover). I admit that I’m not looking forward to this one. Artemis was a club selection last year, but I couldn’t get through it. Too much hard science and flat characters. For me, the protagonist was devoid of emotion, so I couldn’t connect with her. Also, I felt the pace a little slow. Almost weightless in a sense.[2]


[1] I was so lucky to have this class as a Humanities elective.

[2] Pun intended.

Book Club: Shards of Earth

This month’s book club selection was Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky (549 pages, Goodreads). Published in 2021 by Orbit, it’s book one of two in the Final Architecture series.

In short, I liked it. I haven’t finished it yet, but I like it so far.

The best part for me was the created world. It’s so intricate and has such depth. The first topic of discussion at the meeting was the density of the book. Thankfully, the science is light. It’s more about the worlds on different planets and a myriad of factions in the galactic neighborhood. In fact, there are almost too many – ten planets, eight species, twenty-two characters including the eight crew members, and thirteen spaceships. I was only able to keep track of everything with the assistance of the reference guide at the back of the book. Some only had bit parts in the story, while others had more prominent roles. In general, good stuff. Though there might be too much exposition for some readers.

The action scenes are well written, and I could visualize the choreography. Unfortunately, they are starting to add up with three major fight scenes in the first 250 pages. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’m not a fan of books, movies, and shows that move from one battle/fight scene to another.[1]  I lose interest in them almost as quickly as when the science is too complicated. They need to be well placed and judiciously used, and I think these rules apply to these scenes. Keeping my fingers crossed that the plot doesn’t include too many, especially because some scenes are very long.

SPOILER ALERT! At least, some of the ensemble cast don’t walk away from the fights unscathed. I mean, how unbelievable is it when characters engage in battle after battle with little or no physical impact? Even if they can regenerate, there should be some physical aftermath. The demise of the central characters was sad but refreshing. Also, I liked seeing the other characters adjust and carry on their mission afterward. Taking the helm per se.

The worst part about the book is it’s nearly 600 pages. Hence, I’m only halfway through the thirty chapters divvied up into five parts. As such, it seems like it took a lot of pages to get back to unraveling what happened at the beginning. SPOILER ALERT! First, the crew’s quarry, the Oumaru, isn’t introduced to the reader until Chapter Five. Finding this missing ship sets the story in motion. Then, a series of events happen, including the hijacking of the Vulcan God, towhich the Oumaru is tethered. Ten chapters later, the reader learns why the ship was stolen in the first place. The reason is related to the events presented in the first five chapters. Did you follow that?

One other observation – I’ve noticed some social commentary by the author here and there. In particular, during an argument between two characters, one doesn’t like the other’s species. That alone says a lot to me, but there’s more. I’ll let other readers make their own judgment about the underlying context of the character’s perspective of the other.

Overall, I like this story so far, and I promised myself that I would finish it. Like Dune, a second reading might be warranted to fully appreciate the splendor of it.

Up next, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (194 pages, Goodreads). A classic. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with the tale. It’s been a while since my last reading.


[1] I’ll keep what kept my interest in the LOTR movies to myself. Though my preference is swords and horses rather than guns and fast cars.

What’s in a Word?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Word choice is such an essential part of writing. It’s the difference between an awkward sentence and dialogue or a description that perfectly conveys the character’s emotion. I have a healthy respect for the power of them. Some of my self-imposed rules border the quirky, but I unabashedly own them.  

Like do you think about when the pronouns I/me and we/us are used? I’m quite conscious about it, and I don’t mean in terms of singular or plural. When dealing with characters who don’t like each other very much but are forced to work together to save the world, I make sure that they avoid referring to themselves as we/us. Before they find common ground, they are only allowed to see the world around them in terms of themselves. They are still in the “me” stage. This difference seems like a small detail, but I think it’s an important distinction.

Another rule I use is picking words associated with the metaphor or scene setting. For example, at the beginning of The Venerable Dawn, the main characters are in an airport, waiting to board a flight. During this scene, I use an occasional aviation term. Lilith, the protagonist, tries to remember something from her training many years ago but struggles to recall specific details. She searches for them in the cargo hold or belly of the plane. When she readily remembers some things, I liken their holding place to the easily accessible overhead compartment. Naturally, such references are done with nuance and not overused.  

I’m careful about the terms I use for descriptions. Not every reader knows the fancy names for various references. Most know what an oak tree looks like, but not necessarily a white ash. Or they might be familiar with a giant redwood, but not the term sequoia. Use too many obscure terms, and I think you risk losing the reader. Admittedly, the dictionary feature included with eBooks is great and helps build our vocabulary. Though using it too much can take the reader out of the story. My best practice is to keep it simple but not too elementary, a delicate balance.

Another quirky rule is when to use the terms top/bottom and first/last. I associate top/bottom as vertical and first/last as horizontal. Not always, but in general. I think it’s because I’m a visual person, and I have an overbearing sense of logic. Maddening at times, figuratively, of course.

At times, I tend to be a perfectionist, and the struggle with word choice is real. Sometimes, I agonize over the right one, spending far too much time looking for the elusive word. To remedy my fixation, I’ve learned to drop in the best word that I can think of at the time and highlight it for future consideration. I also add alternative choices as a side comment. Usually, the right word will come to me when I come back to it as part of my endless editing. And it’s a beautiful thing when it does. The difference between an unremarkable sentence and a work of art that stirs the emotions or moves the soul.

I wonder if any other writers are as meticulous as I am about word choice…