A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn Universe, #1)
by P. Djèlí Clark (2021)
Publisher review: Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer. So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage. Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city - or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems....
Started: Jun 30 2022
Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age
by Annalee Newitz (2021)
Publisher review: In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers—slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers—who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia. Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate.
Started: Jul 01 2022
She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor, #1)
by Shelley Parker-Chan (2021)
Publisher review: Mulan meets The Song of Achilles; an accomplished, poetic debut of war and destiny, sweeping across an epic alternate China. “I refuse to be nothing…” In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness… In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate. After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu uses takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.
Started: May 04 2022
A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1)
by Becky Chambers (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novella category. I have read and deeply loved quite a lot of books by Becky Chambers and I was super eager to read this one.
The story is set here on earth, in the future. Centuries before, robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, wandered, en masse into the wilderness, never to be seen again. They faded into myth and urban legend. Now the life of the tea monk who tells this story is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of "what do people need?" is answered. But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how. They will need to ask it a lot. Chambers' series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?
The book offers an interesting worldbuilding and well rounded, interesting characters. It does read as the beginning of a longer story, a conversation just started. I am looking forward reading the next instalments.
Started: Jun 17 2022 Finished: Jul 01 2022
Light from Uncommon Stars
by Ryka Aoki (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novel category. I had never read anything by this author so I did not know what to expect. The title and the (stunningly beautiful) cover do not give much away... I was in for an incredible treat. What an incredible story! On paper, it should not work - this book is an unusual mix of Christian fantasy and sci-fi - but somehow the author not only manages to pull it off, she waves one of the most powerful and moving story I have read in years. Every single character, even minor one, are so well rounded and incredibly faceted, original, relatable. This is a book that behind a screen of simplicity has tons to say. This is a book that despite being fiction, despite featuring demons and aliens, manages to capture one of he most realistic portrait of today's California, its soul, its bile, and its heart.
Light from Uncommon Stars is set in California's San Gabriel Valley and features 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.
This is in my opinion the strongest contender for the Hugo award for best Novel this year. I will be following this author closely, and devour all her previous novels as I can find them.
Started: May 22 2022 Finished: Jun 29 2022
by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novellette category. I had never read anything by this author before, so I did not know what expect. I was pleasantly surprised: this story is great. It's set in a dystopian near future, where breathable air is a luxury sold by big corporations to the public. The scariest part is that the future described here is not an unlikely future, but where we are headed. I already spent a few summers in California with windows closed, orange brown skies, and unbreathable air outside. The future described in O2 Arena... it's starting right now.
Started: Jun 14 2022 Finished: Jun 17 2022
The Past Is Red
by Catherynne M. Valente (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novella category. I was familiar with the author, and I had loved her Six-Gun Snow White
, so I was quite eager to read this one.
This is the story of a girl who made two terrible mistakes: she told the truth and she dared to love the world. The future is blue. Endless blue... except for a few small places that float across the hot, drowned world left behind by long-gone fossil fuel-guzzlers. One of those patches is a magical place called Garbagetown. Tetley Abednego is the most beloved girl in Garbagetown, but she's the only one who knows it. She's the only one who knows a lot of things: that Garbagetown is the most wonderful place in the world, that it's full of hope, that you can love someone and 66% hate them all at the same time. But Earth is a terrible mess, hope is a fragile thing, and a lot of people are very angry with her. Then Tetley discovers a new friend, a terrible secret, and more to her world than she ever expected.
This book has a very remarkable world building, and I would love to see this turned into an anime or tv series.
: May 25 2022 Finished:
Jun 14 2022
A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables, #1)
by Alix E. Harrow (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novella category. I had read a few stories by this author, and some of them were really good, hence I was looking forward reading this one.
At first I was a little nervous: the retelling of fairy tales with a modern twist has been done quite a lot and it is becoming harder to be original and interesting. Well, I should have not worried. This turns out to be very original and incredibly good. It's in my opinion the stronger contender for the Hugo in this category this year.
This is the story of Zinnia Gray. She is turning twenty-one, which is extra-special because it's the last birthday she'll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.
Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia's last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.
Started: May 19 2022 Finished: May 25 2022
The Sin of America
by Catherynne M. Valente (2021)
This review is for The Sin of America
by Catherynne M. Valente.
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Short Story category. I had read a few stories by this author, and some of them were good, hence I was looking forward reading this one.
The story is allegorical, it is set in a world just like ours, where somebody is chosen to bear the burden of guilt of the United States of America, to allow everyone to enjoy the riches that are available while fully ignoring all the evils that enable us to access those riches. People seems to have quite a lot of different interpretations. Quite a few see Christian symbolism, but I am reminded of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
, because the victim if not willing.
It's definitely an interesting story, but it does need a few reads to really process it at its fullest.
: May 18 2022 Finished:
May 21 2022
Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6)
by Seanan McGuire (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novella category. I had read quite a few books by this author, and some of them were remarkably good, hence I was looking forward reading this one.
In this latest instalment of the Wayward Children series, a young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns, the Hooflands. The centaurs are happy to have her, even if a human arrival means something's coming. Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late. When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to "Be Sure" before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines, a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes. But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…
This is a great book, I strongly recommend it to everyone.
Started: Apr 28 2022 Finished: May 04 2022
That Story Isn’t the Story
by John Wiswell (2021)
This review is for "That Story Isn’t the Story" by John Wiswell.
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novelette category. This author was one of the finalists last year as well, and I was curious to see how his writing skills evolved in the past year. It turns out they have improved quite a lot, this story is a very strong contender for the award this year!
In this urban fantasy novel, the world looks pretty much like ours, there are predators that take advantage of the less fortunate. In this story, some of these predators are super natural ones, and the victims are young teenagers, some of them immigrants, and some of them gay. The metaphor is not subtle, but it works out remarkably well.
Started: Apr 27 2022 Finished: Apr 27 2022
by Aliette de Bodard (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novella category. I have heard a lot of good things about this author, but I have read only some of their shorter work. I was eager to read something longer this time.
The story is set in a pre-colonial Vietnamese-esque world. Fire burns bright and has a long memory…. Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace. Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions. Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate... and her own?
Started: Apr 17 2022 Finished: Apr 25 2022
Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.
by Fran Wilde (2021)
This review is for "Unseelie Brothers, Ltd." by Fran Wilde. Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novelette category. I have read and liked other work by this author, hence I was quite happy to get to read some more of her work.
In this urban fantasy novel, the world looks pretty much like ours, but there is a mysterious shop, the Unseelie Brothers Ltd, that creates incredible dresses that can literally change the life of the debutantes wearing them. Unfortunately the store is very hard to find, and that keeps disappearing and reappearing somewhere else...
Despite not being exactly my usual cup of tea, it's a good story, and really well written. This year Hugo finalists are all quite strong, it's going to be very difficult to rank them.
Started: Apr 16 2022 Finished: Apr 17 2022
by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2021)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novella category. I had never read anything by this author, but I heard a lot of great things about this and her previous book, hence I was quite excited to pick this one up.
In Elder Race a junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to study to save a planet from an unbeatable foe. Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way. But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) and although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it). But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, for his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…
I enjoyed the story quite a bit, Hugo's finalist are always a treat to read.
Started: Apr 09 2022 Finished: Apr 16 2022
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman (2017)
I did not know what the book was about when I started reading it. After a few pages I though this was a comedy, a non scientist version of big bang theory's Sheldon Cooper. But few chapters in things started changing, some hints of a very dark undercurrent start emerging. It turned out to be a much different book that the one I was expecting, it is an intriguing mix of funny moments and a sweet and full of hope story of escape from childhood trauma.
This is the story of Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she is thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation that they had been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. If she does, she'll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship... and even love.
Started: Mar 20 2022 Finished: Apr 09 2022
by Ibram X. Kendi (2020)
This kids book comes with high credentials: his author won the National Book Award, and this particular one won the Goodreads Reader Choice Award back in 2020. I decided to pick it up to learn how to approach xenophobia when talking with young kids.
Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism. With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, it does indeed provides the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age. It definitely is a good gift idea for young children and parents dedicated to forming a just society.
Started: Mar 24 2022 Finished: Mar 24 2022
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
by T. Kingfisher (2020)
Once in a while I do read YA books, and the title of this one intrigued me. When I saw it won the Lodestar Award (i.e. the Hugo award for YA) I decided to finally read it. It was very enjoyable!
The book follows fourteen-year-old Mona, a very young wizard. She isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can't control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt's bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona's life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona's city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona's worries…
The book did not blow me away, but it was very enjoyable and funny. This is a perfect read for a beach vacation or to destress at the end of a long work day.
Started: Mar 02 2022 Finished: Mar 20 2022
Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots
by James Suzman (2021)
This book is a history of life on Earth, and on humankind through the prism of work. Work defines who we are. It determines our status, and dictates how, where, and with whom we spend most of our time. It mediates our self-worth and molds our values. But this bring up some questions: are we hard-wired to work as hard as we do? Did our Stone Age ancestors also live to work and work to live? And what might a world where work plays a far less important role look like? To answer these questions, James Suzman charts a grand history of work from the origins of life on Earth to our ever more automated present, challenging some of our deepest assumptions about who we are. Drawing insights from anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, zoology, physics, and economics, he shows that while we have evolved to find joy meaning and purpose in work, for most of human history our ancestors worked far less and thought very differently about work than we do now. He demonstrates how our contemporary culture of work has its roots in the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago. Our sense of what it is to be human was transformed by the transition from foraging to food production, and, later, our migration to cities. Since then, our relationships with one another and with our environments, and even our sense of the passage of time, have not been the same. Arguing that we are in the midst of a similarly transformative point in history, Suzman shows how automation might revolutionize our relationship with work and in doing so usher in a more sustainable and equitable future for our world and ourselves... or not.
This was an interesting and engaging book, that reminds me a lot of Yuval Noah Harari's books. If you are a fan of Sapiens you may love this one as well.
Started: Feb 23 2022 Finished: Mar 10 2022
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism
by Safiya Umoja Noble (2018)
The book starts with a simple experiment: year ago, before this book publication, if you had run a Google search for "black girls", sexually explicit terms were likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in "white girls," the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about "why black women are so sassy" or "why black women are so angry" presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society.
In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color.
Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance - operating as a source for email, a major vehicle for primary and secondary school learning, and beyond - understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is of utmost importance.
Since I work at Google, I was very eager to read this book, hoping to learn more about the problem, and learn about different strategies to fight it. I found it indeed very interesting, even if the density of the book (that reads as a journal article or a textbook) does not make it an easy reading.
Started: Feb 12 2022 Finished: Mar 02 2022
The Assassins of Thasalon (Penric and Desdemona, #10)
by Lois McMaster Bujold (2021)
I have enjoyed many of the instalments of the Penric and Desdemona Series, and I was curious to read the first full novel set in that word. I was not sure what to expect.
The story starts when Penric's brother-in-law General Arisaydia gets attacked in a novel and unusual way. Penric and his Temple demon Desdemona find themselves headlong into the snake-pit of Cedonian imperial politics. But they will not travel alone. The mission from his god brings Penric some of his strangest new allies yet, and the return of some of his most valued old ones.
It was nice to meet some old characters from previous novelette, and the story is entertaining as usual. A fun read.
Started: Jan 29 2022 Finished: Feb 12 2022
by Elena Ferrante (2018)
Era parecchio che sentivo parlare di questo libro. Tutti i miei amici in America, forse per il fatto che l'autrice e' Italiana, continuavano a consigliarmelo. Quando il mio book club di lavoro l'ha selezionato, ho colto l'occasione al balzo e l'ho letto.
Questa e' la storia della intensa relazione di due donne, Lila Cerullo ed Elena Greco. Questo primo libro copre il loro primo incontro da bambine, e le segue fino alla puberta'. Sullo sfondo c'e' l'altra vera protagonista, Napoli negli anni Cinquanta del secolo scorso. L'amica geniale comincia tra le quinte di un rione miserabile della periferia napoletana, tra una folla di personaggi minori accompagnati lungo il loro percorso con attenta assiduità. L’autrice scava intanto nella natura complessa dell’amicizia tra due bambine, tra due ragazzine, tra due donne, seguendo passo passo la loro crescita individuale, il modo di influenzarsi reciprocamente, i buoni e i cattivi sentimenti che nutrono nei decenni un rapporto vero, robusto. Narra poi gli effetti dei cambiamenti che investono il rione, Napoli, l’Italia, in quegli anni del dopoguerra, trasformando le amiche e il loro legame.
Il libro e' parte di una quadrilogia, e ho l'impressione che l'autrice stia sistemando con arguzia i pezzi su una scacchiera, gli attrori sulla scena, e son curioso di sapere cosa succedera'.
Molto interessante la relazione tra Lila e Elena, molto intensa, piena di ammirazionee gelosia, odio e attrazione, tanto da farmi pensare che fosse amore. Vedremo cosa accadra' nei prossimi volumi!
Started: Jan 06 2022 Finished: Jan 29 2022
by Susanna Clarke (2020)
Every year I read all the finalists of the most prestigious science fiction awards (at least in the English speaking world): the Hugo awards. This story is a finalist in the Novel category. I had never read anything by this author, but I heard a lot of great things about this and her previous book, hence I was quite excited to pick this one up. I had no idea what to expect, the cover did give very little away. I got one of the most weirdly original book I got to read in a long while. I definitely want to read more by this author, and it is one of the strongest contender to the Hugo this year. It definitely left a deep impression, it got me thinking about it long after I was done reading it.
I want to mention one negative thing though: the narrator makes quite a few statement across the book that come across as homophobic. I am not the only one to be disturbed by this: another commented on tor wrote The villain’s gayness is brought up constantly, often in the same sentence as his evil. His depravity is linked to his gayness. He falls into the predatory gay man stereotype, preying on his students. All of the main characters are straight and so is Clarke. It’s not that gay characters can never be villains but the way he is handled is very homophobic. . I have to agree with the commenter I am quoting. Masterpieces can have their flaws, but I am deeply saddened by this.
This is the story of Piranesi. His house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house, a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.
Started: Dec 30 2021 Finished: Jan 02 2022