Reviews

Secondhand Origin Stories: The Queer Superhero Team We Deserve

Secondhand Origin Stories (Second Sentinels Book 1)Title: Secondhand Origin Stories
Author(s): Lee Blauersouth
Series: Second Sentinels #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Superheroes
Published: March 15th 2018
LGBTQAI+: 1) nonbinary bisexual MC, xe/xyr pronouns, 2) asexual Deaf cis guy MC, 3) two sapphic girl MCs, one of them a dark-skinned Black girl
Other representation:
multiple Deaf/HoH side characters
I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Opal has been planning to go to Chicago and join the Midwest’s superhero team, the Sentinels, since she was a little kid. That dream took on a more urgent tone when her superpowered dad was unjustly arrested for protecting a neighbor from an abusive situation. Now, she wants to be a superhero not only to protect people, but to get a platform to tell the world about the injustices of the Altered Persons Bureau, the government agency for everything relating to superpowers.

But just after Opal’s high school graduation, a supervillain with a jet and unclear motives attacks the downtown home of the Sentinels, and when Opal arrives, she finds a family on the brink of breaking apart. She meets a boy who’s been developing secret (and illegal) brain-altering nanites right under the Sentinel’s noses, another teenage superhero-hopeful who looks suspiciously like a long-dead supervillain, and the completely un-superpowered daughter of the Sentinels’ leader. Can four teens on the fringes of the superhero world handle the corruption, danger, and family secrets they’ve unearthed?

rating: 4 stars

(Please check the specific sections for warnings, especially the nonbinary and Deaf sections.)

Secondhand Origin Stories is about the children of famous superheroes who want to help people as well – and as the title says, this is truly an origin story, where the “real” superhero fights only really happen towards the end. It is a very character-focused novel about both blood and adopted/found family, about growing up in the shadow of your famous parents, and even about the unrightful imprisonment of many Black people.

The characters and the plot: I loved the four main characters in this one, although their dynamic was sometimes a little strange. Jamie, Issac and Yael are friends and siblings who grew up together in the same family, while Opal comes into their world as an outsider. And yet, almost from the beginning they are ready to fight for each other and for the truth. Opal fights for her father who was wrongly imprisoned, and the other three fight with and for their superhero family and the secrets it hides. I loved Yael’s struggle with the identities of xyr birth parents, and I’m sure it will be an important plot point in the rest of the series as well.

This book was emotional, funny, with an all-queer main cast, and I think it handled issues and questions about family nicely. Once I really got into the plot, I ended up loving it. There is also one character that I would love to squee about but I can’t really do it without spoilers, so let me just say this: I LOVE MARTIN SO MUCH.

The nonbinary representation: … So why did I almost decide to abandon it less than halfway in? Because the beginning of the novel was close to torture as a nonbinary reader. One of the characters, Yael is nonbinary and uses xe/xyr pronouns in xyr own POV, but xe isn’t out to anyone other than Jamie and Issac at first, which leads to unintentional misgendering from xyr older family members – and, most importantly, constant misgendering from another POV character, Opal. It’s not really Opal’s fault because she doesn’t know better, but she assumes Yael’s gender (twice, both wrongly), and keeps referring to Yael as “she” in her internal narration. As a nonbinary person who passes as a cis girl, every little “she” by Opal was like another knife wound. It was horrible to read. I would like to say that the author is nonbinary, so I’m sure they have a reason for writing the book this way, but for me, it almost made me put it down. There is also a pretty ugly comment from a bigoted uncle later on.

The asexual representation: I don’t have much to say about Issac being asexual, mostly because it’s never mentioned outside the coming out scene. All I can say is that I /did/ like how the coming out scene was written, and I liked how Issac was defiant and prepared for the others to not think him queer enough, which is unfortunately a sad reality I face as an asexual person. I wish his identity was actually mentioned outside this one scene, but I realise you can only fit so much in one book, so I hope for more of this in the sequel.

The sapphic characters: Okay, so I’m not actually sure what the identities of the two girls are. I think Opal is a lesbian, but the word isn’t used for her. In her coming out scene, Jamie says something along the lines of “I’m not completely straight”, which might imply that she’s bi/pan and not exclusively attracted to girls, but it also might be downplaying it because she’s still questioning.

The Deaf main character: I would like to state that I am not Deaf, so I’m not going to make a judgment of the following, I’m just stating facts so potential readers can be prepared. One of the main characters loses their hearing early on, and trying to “fix” this is a big plot point for the rest of the book. In the end, this character seems to give up on “fixing” themself… for now. It is implied that they might try again in the far future. Also, there are many, many comments that talk about “fixing” and “being normal again”. (There are also positive aspects, especially later on, for example the siblings immediately making steps to learn ASL to make this character more comfortable.)

Overall, I loved this book, although I really wish that the beginning with Yael being closeted would have been handled differently, because it was really hurtful to read. Still, once the correct pronouns were used, I didn’t really have any other issues and just enjoyed the plot and the characters.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Omen Operation: The Ultimate Bisexual Squad

Omen Operation (The Isolation Series #1)Title: Omen Operation
Author(s): Taylor Brooke
Series: The Isolation Series #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Published: June 18th 2018 by NineStar Press (re-release)
LGBTQAI+: multiple bisexual mains (both male and female), gay side character
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

An epidemic hits the country, and Brooklyn Harper is stolen from the life she knew.

Implanted in a rural camp, Brooklyn and her friends are severed from their families and the outside world. Each day is filled with combat training to assure their safety against a mysterious virus and the creatures it creates—violent humanoids with black blood.

Two years later, Brooklyn’s cabin-mate, Dawson Winters, finds a letter that shatters the illusion they’ve been living in. There is a world outside Camp Eleven, and the virus that supposedly destroyed their country seems non-existent.

After a daring escape, Brooklyn finds the world they’ve left behind harbors the normalcy she remembers. But when they are attacked by a black-blooded creature in the city, Brooklyn and her friends realize there is more to Camp Eleven than they thought.

Someone took them, someone trained them, and now someone is trying to find them.

As their exploration continues, the group is faced with impossible feats while betrayal, love, and secrets force Brooklyn and her friends to fight for their life, their freedom, and most of all, each other.

My rating: 3 stars

All I knew about this book going in was that it had a bisexual MC, and there’s maybe a female love interest. In reality, the four core characters in this book are all bisexual (two guys and two girls), and they are involved with each other in all kinds of combinations – so, the bisexual female MC has both a female and a male love interest who are both bisexual themselves.

While there are no central nonbinary characters, there is a small acknowledgment that bisexuality isn’t only about being attracted to the binary genders, so that was nice. As I said, Brooklyn is both into Gabriel (female) and Porter (male) and Gabriel is dating Dawson (male) who Porter is also into, but I’d hesitate to call it real polyamory – although that might be where the series is heading. I’m curious to see how these relationships evolve in the next book(s).

As for the plot… honestly, I don’t have much to say that wasn’t already in the blurb. Half the big secrets were already revealed in the first chapter, which felt a little soon, I would have preferred more time in the camp maybe. Then something happened to my favourite character around halfway in that just made me stop caring about the book, and if not for the last chapter, I probably wouldn’t have rated it above 2 stars.

All in all, this was an okay read and I certainly appreciate the amount of queer representation, but it felt very much like the beginning of something, like an introduction, and I don’t think it’s particularly enjoyable without the rest of the series.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Freeze-Frame Revolution: The AI Novella I’ve Been Waiting For

The Freeze-Frame RevolutionTitle: The Freeze-Frame Revolution
Author(s): Peter Watts
Series: Sunflower Cycle
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: June 12th 2018 by Tachyon Publications
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon
LGBTQAI+: nonbinary and mlm side characters
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

She believed in the mission with all her heart.
But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

“I’ll kill you if I can.”
“I’ll save you, if you let me.”

My rating: 4 stars

Let me start with this: if you love science fiction that really goes into the science aspect and has long descriptions about objects and happenings in space, and also you love stories about artificial intelligence, this story is for you. Personally, I found myself scrolling through a lot of the heavy science because it really wasn’t working for me, but I still managed to enjoy this book immensely.

As you can see from the blurb, Sunday is one of thousands of people on a mission in space that has been going on for sixty million years. The reason why the crew is still alive after so long is that they spend most of it frozen, only waking up for a few days at a time if the ship’s artificial intelligence, the Chimp requires human input on a particular issue.

From then, you can probably guess what happens, and also it’s pretty much described in the blurb, so I’m not telling you a big secret: the humans end up disagreeing with the AI and decide to overthrow it. That’s the story in a nutshell, and yet the execution is so interesting that you’ll want to read this book anyway.

Personally, it was the relationships that really sold this book to me, especially the relationship between the main character and the Chimp. It would be easy to say that the two of them have a close friendship in the book, but of course, it’s much more complicated than that. And yet, even towards the end, they have this hope that they can work things out and save each other. I can’t even adequately describe their relationship, but it was definitely my favourite thing in the book. From the significance of dancing to the way Sunday keeps alternating between calling the Chimp “him” and “it”, it’s a wonderfully complicated relationship.

I also loved the little details, like people who started out the same age aging differently based on how much time they spend outside their “crypts”.

Another interesting thing is that there are little clues throughout the book which tell you that what you are reading is actually the events of the past, told by Sunday at a point in the future – which makes you really wonder about what the hell is going on in the time when Sunday is telling the story. I admit that I’m not sure how to feel about the ending twist – my first reaction was to be disappointment, and to feel like it was kind of a cheap revelation that I would have preferred the story without.

Ultimately, while this story isn’t going on my favourites shelf (because of the ending and the too much science – both completely subjective factors), I enjoyed reading it and I really recommend it to everyone who likes stories about artificial intelligence.

(Note on the LGBTQAI+ rep: There is very little focus on romantic orientation in the book – two male side characters are said to be in a sexual relationship, but they barely appear together after that. There is one sentence that suggests that the main character may be interested in women as well at least sexually, but I’m not sure I interpreted it correctly. And there is one nonbinary side character with se/hir pronouns.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Free Chocolate

Free ChocolateTitle: Free Chocolate
Author(s): Amber Royer
Series: Chocoverse #1
Genre: Science Fiction/Space Opera
Published: June 5th by Angry Robot
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None 😦
Sex on page: None
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In the far future, chocolate is Earth’s only unique commodity one that everyone else in the galaxy is willing to kill to get their hands, paws and tentacles on 

Latina culinary arts student, Bo Benitez, becomes a fugitive when she’s caught stealing a cacao pod from one of the heavily-defended plantations that keep chocolate, Earth’s sole valuable export, safe from a hungry galaxy.

Forces array against her including her alien boyfriend and a reptilian cop. But when she escapes onto an unmarked starship things go from bad to worse: it belongs to the race famed throughout the galaxy for eating stowaways! Surrounded by dangerous yet hunky aliens, Bo starts to uncover clues that the threat to Earth may be bigger than she first thought.

Rating: 4 stars

I knew from the description “space opera meets soap opera” that this was going to be a wild ride, and I was right. The blurb summarizes the basic plot, but the full summary of all the different plotlines, deals, threats and characters would be much longer and I’m not even going to attempt it.

This book was somehow funny and serious at the same time. The idea of chocolate being such an important commodity seems silly, but the way this resource was treated both by Earthlings and aliens was terrifyingly real. There were also some really tense scenes where I was worried for Bo’s life and genuinely couldn’t figure out how she’s going to get out of this one. And of course, this book couldn’t miss the dramatic reveal about somebody’s parentage towards the end – although it was wrapped up quite quickly.

Yet, it was a little difficult to take the antagonists seriously, because other than the faceless company, everyone was presented in a sympathetic manner. In the end, Bo pretty much worked together and made up with everyone, which was a little strange. Not to mention that thanks to the prologue, one of the twists was literally obvious from the first chapter and it was really only a twist for the characters – but maybe that was intentional? I’m not sure.

I loved all the different aliens and learning about their culture (“Have you any complaints?” is a sentence that now gives me goosebumps), especially the Krom – the Krom are the people of Bo’s boyfriend, and their eye colour changes based on their emotion. Which is super inconvenient, but also kind of neat.

As for languages, mixing so many of them was both really clever and sometimes jarring. I’m not sure if Bo’s speech was accurate for bilingual people who actually grow up using several languages (I speak fluent English but don’t use it with my family or local friends), but she was dropping a lot of random Spanish words into the English text and it took a while to get used to. I did like that when she wasn’t fluent in an alien language, then the speech in that language was mostly translated to English for the reader, with a few alien words that Bo didn’t understand staying in that language. This way Bo and the reader both had to guess the meaning of the word from context. I also really, REALLY liked the way Tyson spoke, and how his expressions sounded strange in translation but were still very visual.

I loved the characters, especially Bo, the protagonist, Brill, her boyfriend, Jeska, a later ally, and Chestla, who goes from dorm RA to sworn protector. (Chestla deserves everything good in the world tbh.) I also liked the romance between Bo and Brill.

While I was kind of expecting a cheating plotline from the “soap opera” descriptor, I was still disappointed when it happened. “Fortunately”, it is only a brief kiss that is addressed later, and not an affair that goes on for long. Later on there was another love triangle, but no cheating happened. I really wish they had solved it with polyamory because I liked both the guys and their dynamic, but I guess that wasn’t the direction the writer imagined.

Overall, soap opera meets space opera is a good description for this book. It shouldn’t always be taken too seriously, but it was fun, full of adventure and romance, and likeable characters.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Tone of Voice

37508432Tone of Voice by Kaia Sønderby

Genre: Science Fiction
Release date: May 1st 2018 by Going to Mars
Purchase: Amazon
Representation: #ownvoices autistic bisexual polyamorous female lead, nonbinary side character, sapphic side character

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on March 13th, 2018.

“Things on the inside get easy to see,” Xandri murmured, snuggling contentedly between us, “when you’re always on the outside.”

Back in March, I finally read and reviewed Failure to Communicate, a book that was recommended to me as #ownvoices autistic representation by an indie author. I wasn’t aware before reading the book that other than being autistic, the main character, Xandri, is also bisexual and possibly polyamorous, with one male (Diver) and one female (Kiri) potential LI in the first book. The series also deals with some heavy issues, such as ableism in society, and parental abuse in the main character’s backstory.

I adored the characters and the worldbuiling of Failure to Communicate so much that I immediately rushed to pick up its prequel, Testing Pandora, which takes place a few years earlier. So, obviously, when the second book in the series, Tone of Voice came out earlier this month, I had to pick it up immediately.

A quick, mostly spoiler-free recap of the first book for those who are not familiar with the series: Xandri is a member of a xeno-liasons team on a spaceship called Carpathia, a ship responsible for several successful first contacts with many alien species. Since Xandri is autistic, she had to learn many social clues that came naturally to allistic people, and this constant attention to body language and such actually makes her the best at reading and contacting with new alien species. In the first book, Xandri negotiated an alliance with a notoriously xenophobic species, the Anmerilli, but due to some circumstances she was (frankly, unfairly) forced to leave the Carpathia. The second book picks up a few months later.

Tone of Voice starts with a quick guide to the various alien species present in the books, which was a pretty useful refresher. The species we get to know closely in this book are the Hands and Voices – a symbiotic species where one whale-like alien (a Voice) lives together with several octopus-like creatures (the Hands), which is, of course, a huge oversimplification. I absolutely love the way Kaia handles alien species in her books. While they are usually compared to some Earth animal or concept so that people can more easily imagine them, the alien species are all distinct. What’s more, even within the species there is diversity, different sub-species, and different groups or cultures.

It was great to return to Xandri’s mind and narration. She remains a complex and wonderful protagonist, with quirks and flaws and impulsive decisions, but many more loveable qualities. Xandri is a pacifist at heart: despite not always understanding them, she loves people and she loves all alien species, and she doesn’t want to kill anyone. She feels sorry for those who die, even if it happens in self-defense. And yet, I loved how it was addressed that violence is sometimes necessary, and that violence from oppressors and violence from the oppressed groups defending themselves will never be equally bad: “For once, the voice at the back of my mind had all the sense. If their worst nightmare is the people they want to oppress and kill fighting back against them, then they are the ones with the problem.”

A big change this book brought was the multiple POVs. While the first book was entirely from Xandri’s point of view, in Tone of Voice, the narration kept switching between Xandri and her best friend and potential love interest, Diver. This was great for several reasons, one of them being that it allowed the reader to see the events happening in two places at once – which was pretty useful when there was a lot happening. I felt like the stakes were raised much higher in this book: as we can already see in the blurb, Tone of Voice has two armies with clashing with each other instead in the second half instead of small groups fighting like last time. That also means several deaths in the side cast that sometimes caught me off guard, but it also meant many, many tense moments where I was eager to keep on reading and see what happens.

This book also introduced a nonbinary side character with vi/vir/virself pronouns. I am always happy to see more nonbinary characters, especially once that use “unusual” pronouns, so Jae was a nice surprise.

There is no info about the third book yet, but there’s a lot to look forward to. The ending of Tone of Voice gives the reader some clues on what the main plot is going to be, and I’m also curious if we find out more about Xandri’s past.

My rating: 4 whales 🐋🐋🐋🐋

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Murderbot Diaries #1-2

32758901Let me introduce you to my new favourite sci-fi novella series with a double review of the first two books.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

All Systems Red

This book was exactly as good as everyone said it would be, and the reason for that is 80% the main character, Murderbot. About 15% is the rest of the crew, and maybe 5% the plot. Which doesn’t mean the plot is bad, actually – but Murderbot and its personality stole the spotlight so completely that the plot was secondary (tertiary?) to me.

Murderbot (as it calls itself) is officially a SecUnit, a security construct with both organic and inorganic parts that is supposed to have no free will and protect the company’s clients on surveys and missions. In reality, Murderbot has overriden its government module and has complete free will, only it has to hide this fact to avoid being discarded. It does its job more-or-less, but mostly it just likes to be left alone and watch entertainment/serials/the equivalent of TV shows I guess.

And that is only one of Murderbot’s super relatable qualities. I’m not sure saying that a construct has anxiety would be correct, but Murderbot certainly shows the signs. It doesn’t like to talk to humans, and it doesn’t even like humans looking at it.

As for the crew, only a few of them really stand out for me, but I loved their little interactions with each other, their surprise and arguments about Murderbot’s personhood, and the way they (especially Dr. Mensah) made an effort to accomodate Murderbot’s needs and make sure it’s comfortable.

As I said, the plot was secondary to me, but I still enjoyed it and felt the tension at several parts where I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending – I would have to read the sequel to really decide on that – but I really hope that characters from this first book will pop up later on as well.

ALSO: While there is no central romance in this book, several side characters are mentioned to be in polyamorous relationship. In fact, polyamory appears normalised and quite common in this universe, which was amazing to see.

36223859Artificial Condition

I liked protecting people and things. I liked figuring out smart ways to protect people and things. I liked being right.

I loved this book because while it had three humans for Murderbot to protect, it also had several bots that were shown to have emotions and form bonds with each other. And I’m not only talking about ART, the one Murderbot befriends, but also several sidecharacter bots (including a spoiler-y part) who went beyond their orders and programming.

As Murderbot has no interest in sex or romance, there is no main romantic relationship in any of these books, and as Murderbot isn’t human, it can’t really count as nonbinary representation despite having no gender – however, the same isn’t true for side characters. The first book had several polyamorous relationships mentioned, and suggested that polyamory was quite common and normalised in this society. This is also true in this book, where a group marriage with kids is casually brought up at one pont, but what I really liked was that there was a nonbinary character with a gender identity that seemed to be specific to the character’s community. (The pronouns used were te/ter, which is not a pronoun set I’ve ever seen, but I’m always happy to see new pronouns I’m unfamiliar with.)

Again, this book had plenty of relatable anxiety moments from Murderbot; two bots working together and trying to pass as human; bots having emotions and protecting people out of their own will; normalised polyamory and nonbinary genders, and plenty of other great stuff. One of my favourite moments was when Murderbot got overwhelmed/stressed out and its bot friend played the soundtrack of its favourite serial to help, but the book is really full of moments like that.

I don’t think I can ever get enough of Murderbot’s adventures.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation

35235851Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation edited by Phoebe Wagner & Brontë Christopher Wieland

Genre: Solarpunk, Science Fiction, Anthology
Published: August 29th 2017 by Upper Rubber Boot Books
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
(Note: The publisher link has plenty of indie buying options for US&Canada people.)
LGBTQAI+: Several stories have LGBTQAI+ protagonists or side characters, e.g. dust by daniel josé older, you and me and the deep dark sea by jess barber, and others

Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation is the first anthology to broadly collect solarpunk short stories, artwork, and poetry. A new genre for the 21st Century, solarpunk is a revolution against despair. Focusing on solutions to environmental disasters, solarpunk envisions a future of green, sustainable energy used by societies that value inclusiveness, cooperation, and personal freedom.

Edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, Sunvault focuses on the stories of those inhabiting the crucial moments when great change can be made by people with the right tools; stories of people living during tipping points, and the spaces before and after them; and stories of those who fight to effect change and seek solutions to ecological disruption.

It was very fitting to name this anthology Sunvault, because it was truly a vault of little treasures. A collection of short stories, poems, and even drawings about the sun, plants, water, and different methods to live in peace with our planet. In them, you can find dozens of creative inventions, from solar-powered giraffes to green children. You can find activists who risk their lives and freedom for others, and people who are just trying to live in this world. You can also find the characteristics and people of many different cultures.

There were almost 40 pieces of stories, poems or drawings in this anthology. Some of them were more difficult to read, with science or cultural references that I didn’t quite understand. But there were also stories that made me cry, and stories that made me scared, or hopeful for our future – or all of the above.

First, the anthology opens with a Foreword: On the Origins of Solarpunk, as well as an editor’s note, which was pretty useful, given that (other than a few very short pieces of writing) this anthology was my first “longer” introduction to solarpunk.

Solarpunk, a new movement in SF that examines the possibility of a future in which currently emerging movements in society and culture such as the green movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and certain aspects of Occupy Wall Street coalesce to create a more optimistic future in a more just world. – Foreword

Solarpunk emphasizes innovative interaction with both our communities and our environment; socio-environmental thought and creation, rather than merely survival in a decaying world, inspire the solarpunk attitude. – Editor’s Note

It would take forever to review every single story, so I’m going to talk about some of my favourites.

  • the boston hearth project by t.x. watson (this story was about a group of people basically doing a heist to take over a building and turn it into a homeless shelter, and it was amazing)
  • speechless love by yilun fan, translated by s. qiouyi lu (I appreciate that this was a translated work, and the story itself is great as well – it takes place in a world where people live in hoverships because the planet surface is not habitable)
  • radio silence by carlin reynolds (this one is a drawing so I can’t say much about without just describing the whole thing, but I love it and the title is so fitting)
  • solar powered giraffes by jack pevyhouse (this is a seven-line poem and I absolutely love it)
  • pan, legs resting by sireesha reddy (another amazing drawing)
  • last chance by tyler young (this story is about humanity destroying two planets, so when they get to the third one, they name it ‘last chance’, and they come up with a pretty cruel but hopefully effective way to save this one.)
  • the desert, blooming by lev mirov (one of my favourite things about this story was that there were no pronouns or gendered words used for /anyone/, only their names. and yet it wasn’t distracting at all and it took a while to even notice)
  • the seven species by aleksei valentín (this one is a great poem)
  • boltzmann brain by kristine ong muslim (I can’t even explain why but this one made me cry)
  • the reset by jaymee goh (a scientist makes a machine that sets the Earth back 30 years so there is time to counteract the destruction of the planet, only it goes wrong and everyone still remembers those 30 years even though they were physically reset. I loved this concept from the beginning, but the little twist at the end made me cry.)
  • you and me and the deep dark sea by jess barber (two old friends and maybe something else deal with the loss of their girlfriend after the apocalypse. it’s also about a community surviving and holding together after the apocalypse. I loved that it was kinda small-scale but equally important.) They end up down by the ocean, slumped against each other, daring the water to come for them.
  • through the glass by leigh wallace (another beautiful drawing)
  • a catalogue of sunlight at the end of the world by a.c. wise (listen. I sobbed at this one. it’s about an old man staying behind on Earth as most other people live in spaceships for a new planet.) No one, not even a planet, should have to die alone.

It was difficult to narrow it down, but this is already a pretty long list. Just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it. Ultimately, I think this was a great introduction to solarpunk because there are truly so many stories and little snippets, so everyone is bound to like at least a few.

I’m going to end with two funnier quotes:

  • “Liam, helping out by lounging around and looking pretty” (you and me and the deep dark sea)
  • “I’ve even adopted a cat. Or it’s adopted me. A little grey kitten I’ve named Predator X. They won’t have cats in space.” (a catalogue of sunlight at the end of the world)

My rating: 🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Not Your Sidekick

31698951Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Genre: YA, SFF, Superheroes, LGBTQAI+
Series: Sidekick Squad #1
Published: September 8th 2016 by Duet
Length: 296 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Bisexual girl main character (#ownvoices), main f/f relationship, trans guy side character (I’m also pretty sure Emma is a-spec but it’s not mentioned in this book yet)
Sex on page: No
Note: Chinese/Vietnamese main character

Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Pretty much everyone I know has either read this book or is planning to read it, so here I am, officially joining the squad. (Not the sidekick squad, unfortunately, though that would be badass.)

There are never enough #ownvoices bisexual heroines, especially non-white ones, and Jess is amazing – as are all her friends. This book was fun and easy to read, although way too predictable at times, but I suppose that comes with the genre. After all, is it really a superhero novel without all those incredibly obvious secret identities that somehow nobody notices? And the main villain very conveniently detailing all their plans and secrets? I don’t think so.

Before going into this, I thought this was a contemporary/near-future setting, but turns out the story is set a couple of hundred years into the future, and in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, which was a nice surprise. I loved the little details, like driving your own car or having a pet being a luxury.

I loved laughing at the ineffective villains pulling pranks, then gradually realising that there’s so much more behind their actions. I loved how the main conspiracy was set up, and how history being rewritten and the media conveniently influencing people was focused on.

The main romance between Jess and Abby was adorable and I can’t wait to see more of them in the sequel. I also loved all of Jess’s family, especially her little brother and his totally-not-obvious crush on Bells. I am heartbroken about Jess’s sister and I’m curious to see where that relationship goes in the sequels.

I also really, really loved the recurring mentions of the Rainbow Allies club working at their school. I live in Hungary, and while I’ve heard about GSAs in the US, I’ve never heard of any here and certainly not in my city,  so it’s always interesting to read about.

All in all, I think this is a really fun read if you don’t take it too seriously (because yes, some of the parts are really THAT obvious). I also have an e-copy of the sequel (Not Your Villain) which is from Bells’s POV, so I can’t wait to read that one. Hopefully next month?

My rating: 🤖🤖🤖🤖/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Cheerleaders from Planet X

35671549Cheerleaders from Planet X by Lyssa Chiavari

Genre: Science Fiction, Aliens, LGBTQAI+, YA
Series: Standalone
Published: September 5th 2017 by The Kraken Collective
Length: 318 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian main character and love interest
Sex on page: No
Note: Half-Filipina main character

Aliens are among us. And humanity’s only hope just happens to carry pom-poms.

Laura Clark thought she was just your average college freshman—until the day she saw a cheerleader on a skateboard get into a superhuman brawl with a lightning-wielding stranger in a trenchcoat. And the weirdest thing of all? Nobody else saw it happen. Nobody, that is, except the beautiful but standoffish Shailene, one of the mysterious (and possibly super-powered) cheerleaders from Laura’s rival school, Bayview University.

When girls start disappearing all over the City, Laura suddenly realizes that she may have seen more than she should. And if she wants to keep from disappearing herself, she needs to find some answers. But though Laura can’t shake the feeling that they’re somehow connected, Shailene is more than a little reluctant to share her secrets. With strange, bug-like creatures and a sinister man in a dark coat stalking her every step, Laura will have to uncover the truth fast if she wants to survive.

The fate of the planet just might hang in the balance.

It’s somehow unusually difficult to articulate my thoughts about this book, so this review might be a little all over the place.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while – I was first intrigued by the cover and the title, then the blurb. Cheerleaders who fight aliens like some kind of superheroes? Sign me up!

I read this book fairly quickly and I enjoyed it as well, but when I got to the end I had to realise that it was more forgettable than I hoped. I enjoyed the action and the plot twists (really – I guessed part of it, but there was much that I couldn’t/didn’t guess so I was at the edge of my seat waiting to find out what was going to happen), but when everything was finally revealed, it felt like a little too much at once. Suddenly all kinds of government conspiracies and they-aren’t-who-you-think and Greek mythology was involved, and most of this was revealed at the same time. I felt like a more gradual reveal of the situation might have been better.

Most importantly, I just couldn’t really connect with any of the characters. I enjoyed the dialogue, especially the several references/jokes about the upcoming election and such, but in the end none of the characters truly grabbed me. I was interested in what was going to happen them, but not THEM, if that makes sense.

In short, this was an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable read for me.

My rating: 🛸🛸🛸🛸/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Flotsam (Peridot Shift #1)

37943458 Flotsam by R. J. Theodore

Genre: Science Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy
Series: Peridot Shift #1
Published: March 27th 2018 by Parvus Press LLC
Length: 324 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: I think Tisker (a side character) is gay, but there is only really one reference to it and the word isn’t used. There are also aliens who use neopronouns. (So, not much.)
Sex on page: No (also no romance at all, only references to a past fling)

There is currently a U.S. only giveaway for Flotsam by the publisher here.

A fantastical steampunk first contact novel that ties together high magic, high technology, and bold characters to create a story you won’t soon forget.

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not even sure how to rate this book. 3 stars? 3.5?

Peridot is a fractured planet made up of many islands, home to five distinct humanoid races that were created by the Divine Alchemists, who are now worshipped as gods: Cutter, Breaker, Bone, Vein and Rakkar. The main character, Talis, and two other members of her crew are all Cutters, and the fourth one, Dug is a Bone.

I would like to start by saying that I loved the worldbuilding in theory – the fractured planet and the five races that were created by gods who still live among the people – but I had problems with the execution. To me, the Cutters sort of seemed like “regular” humans with no real special characteristics. We only see one Breaker in the entire book, and basically no named Rakkars. The Vein are four-limbed people who are physically blind, but oh, they have a magical sight – like every other blind race in anything ever. And finally, the Bone are dark-skinned people who live in desert tribes. While not outright barbaric, the Bone are often portrayed as violent, and the one Bone crew member, Dug, is described as large and intimidating immediately when he appears. I hope I don’t have to explain why I was conflicted about that. In short, I liked the idea but I felt like the races could have been written much better, and I’m hoping they’ll be more detailed in the sequel.

As for the characters, in the first half I was intrigued by all four crew members of the Wind Sabre – but towards the second half, Sophie and Tisker faded into the background and barely felt like individual people. Also, as I mentioned above, there is one throwaway sentence about Tisker not preferring Talis’s “parts”, which is not only a pretty cissexist way to say he’s gay, but it’s also never brought up again. (To be fair, there aren’t really heterosexual romances in the book either, other than mentions of the fling Talis used to have with one of the male antagonists.)

One thing I really enjoyed was the alien race (the Yu’Nyun) and the very different way they use gender and pronouns. They don’t seem to have genders at all, or at least at this point we don’t know anything about those – they use pronouns based on situation and class, and they have very strict rules on what class is allowed to wear what type of clothes. If I remember well, there are 9 pronoun groups, but like 50 different versions of the same pronoun? While this is only explored in a couple of scenes so far, I was genuinely intrigued by an alien race that is truly different from what we expect, and doesn’t just have the same binary genders. The characters we see use the xe/xin/xist pronoun set, and one of them becomes a major side character. (Although an actual “human” (Cutter, Bone, etc.) nonbinary character would have been nice.)

As for the plot… I sadly have to admit that I almost completely lost interest in the book about 70% in. I found myself enjoying it until then, but the main battle fell flat for me and I was begging for it to be over. Still, there were some plot twists and solutions by the crew before the 70% mark that I appreciated.

In short, I would say that Flotsam had many ideas that I liked, but the execution very often could have been better. I might pick up the sequel to see if these things improve, but at this point I am undecided. Honestly, I have no idea where the plot is going after this, but I hope we learn more about the Rakkars and the Breakers, as well as the Yu’Nyun. Especially regarding the Yu’Nyun, I have some suspicions based on hints and I would love to see more.

My rating: 👾👾👾/5.

~ Alexa