In the order of reading
House of Suns – Alistair Reynolds
4/5. Space aristocrats uncover a terrible secret about their past in this galactic epic spanning millions of years. I had trouble putting it down and enjoyed the characters, plot and the every-technology-but-FTL setting. Thematically the lack of agency for the quadrillions of non-space-billionaires in the story is a little disappointing but not unexpected. There are plot holes, which are admittedly probably impossible to avoid in a story of this scope.
A Master of Djinn – P. Djeli Clark
4/5. An investigator unravels a sinister plot in a WW1 era Cairo Egypt full of of djinn, clockwork, angels, and magic. Enjoyed this book with reservations. Loved the costume and visual descriptions, especially learning many new words (Kaftan? Jambiya?). The setting is novel and interesting but could have been a little more internally consistent and solid.
A Memory Called Empire / A Desolation Called Peace – Arkady Martine
5/5. An ambassador to a stellar empire navigates between her love for the imperial culture and loyalty to her native station state. Loved these books. Many science fiction authors nail the technology but appear utterly clueless when it comes to the mechanisms of culture (KSR, looking at you). Not here. The interpersonal interactions are sharp and intelligent, and I loved the characters and the Aztec/flower/blood sacrifice world building. The aliens are alien. The people are alien. The languages are linguistic. It’s great.
Consider Phlebas – Ian M Banks
5/5. I have never read a not-great book by Ian M Banks, may he RIP. This is the first Culture novel. I admire greatly the way he imagines a flawed but idealistic civilization, dealing with the chaos and cruelty of reality. Flawed people doing their best. Just a great story.
Randomize – Andy Weir
3/5. A quantum casino heist goes awry. Decent story but not super memorable.
Emergency Skin – N.K. Jemsin
3/5. Clueless drone from a libertarian billionaire civilization returns to a solarpunk earth. I really loved the Stone Sky books, and my politics almost totally align with the author but this one was a bit too much of a political polemic for me. I want to see a realistic, flawed, yet optimistic vision of the future, but this wasn’t it.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susana Clarke
5/5. Historical fantasy following two magicians as Fae magic returns to 19th century England. Writing style is reminiscent of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde, but thematically modern. Great characterization of different types of people. A little slow in parts, but feels like working through a magnum opus. I couldn’t help buying some tarot cards after reading.
Elder Race – Adrian Tchaikovsky
4/5. A depressed but highly technological anthropologist helps save a lost colony fallen to medieval tech. Setting is reminiscent of “A Deepness In the Sky” by Vernor Vinge. Alternates between the medieval princess’ interpretation in high fantasy prose and the sarcastic technocratic but very depressed protagonist’s recollections. A good story, interesting setting, and I always enjoy looking at the same events from several perspectives.
Dying Earth – Jack Vance
4/5. A rogue adventures on an earth full of fantastic creatures and devices millions of year in the future. Enjoyed this book overall but felt frustrated with the protagonist Cudgel at points. A definite classic, the magic system in this book inspired D&D. I really enjoyed the super far-future fantasy setting and all the world building surrounding it.
Hail Mary – Andy Weir
5/5. Funny astronaut uses basic science to save humanity, with a serendipitous friend. Couldn’t put it down and screwed up my sleep schedule for the week. Andy Weir’s “Artemis” was perhaps more relevant for Extrapolation but this book plays to his strengths better. I admire the way he cleverly designed the premise to allow interstellar travel with current technology.
Network Effect – Martha Wells
3/5. Continuing adventures of an escaped corporate cyborg. I really loved the earlier Murderbot books, but I felt like they were running out of steam here.
The last Emperox – John Scalzi
4/5. Unlikely space empress outmaneuvers political opponents. I enjoyed reading this series. Solid writing craft. The mechanics of trade in the Interdependency were particularly interesting because I had been thinking about how trade should work in Extrapolation. The non-linear connection between Interdependency settlements are not unlike the actual deltav relationships between bodies in our solar system.