Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Review of The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin

Friday, April 5th, 2019

The Obelisk Gate

by N. K. Jemisin

Orbit Books, 2016. 410 pages.
2017 Hugo Award Winner
Review written April 2, 2019, from a library book

I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book more than I did. It is the middle book of the first-ever trilogy to have all three books win the Hugo Award. The world-building is intricate, complex, and mind-blowing.

I’ll say the good things first. I indeed understood better what was going on in the second book, and appreciated the richness of the background that her way of writing the first book gave us. In this book, Essun has lost track of her daughter Nassun, but the reader gets to follow both. Both find a place of refuge against the Season which is building up – ash covering the sky and the whole world hunkering down and trying to survive.

Orogeny – the ability to sense and manipulate the movement of the earth and stone – is commonplace in that world, although feared by the “stills.” Both Essun and Nassun are powerful orogenes still growing in their power. In this book, they each also discover an ability to sense magic – silver threads in the world and people and creatures around them.

Most of the book is about their survival concerns in two different locations. Essun is in an underground comm that accepts orogenes – or do they? Nassun is far to the south, still learning from Schaffa – and we’re not sure if that’s a good thing or very, very dangerous.

But we do sense that something much, much bigger is at stake. We learn that the moon left the earth’s regular orbit long ago – and that’s what started the cycle of fifth seasons. But it’s due to come back around before long. Alabaster is dying – but he’s trying to teach Essun what she will need to be able to do to deal with that. And then there are those obelisks in the sky, obelisks with strange and awesome power. And stone eaters – those statue-like creatures that move either very slowly or more quickly than sight – turn out to be both benevolent and malevolent, with agendas of their own.

This book is also very violent. You should not pick this up if you’re looking for pleasant, light-hearted reading. The earth has been broken, and everyone on it is somewhat futilely fighting for survival. Unfortunately, this is the book I was reading when I tried to read on the metro going into DC and was struck with motion sickness. Alas! In that section, a couple of arms got cut off and many people died in gruesome ways. That was decidedly not good for decreasing my nausea. So I’m afraid that influenced my enjoyment of the book.

I am indeed fascinated by the world-building, and I do want to know what happens next, so I will be finishing the trilogy before long. But I’m going to read something light and fluffy first!

nkjemisin.com
orbitbooks.net

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Thunderhead, by Neal Shusterman

Monday, March 11th, 2019

Thunderhead

Arc of a Scythe Book 2

by Neal Shusterman

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 504 pages.
Review written January 25, 2018.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Teen Speculative Fiction

This book was a bad choice to bring to Silent Book Club — I wanted to shout when I got to the last page. I did NOT see that coming! (And it’s perfect!) And I doubt that any reader will see it coming, even if I warn you.

But let me back up. This book is a sequel to Scythe. One thing I liked about Scythe was that I wouldn’t have even known it was a Book One if the flap cover hadn’t said so. It wrap ups nicely, and you think good is winning.

Ummm, let’s just say that Good has many setbacks in Book Two.

This series is set in a future earth where mankind has conquered death. They have also eliminated government, and the world is run by the Cloud – which is now known as the Thunderhead. And the Thunderhead is a perfect ruler.

But because it’s not sustainable to have the population keep growing forever, some people need to die. They didn’t want to leave that choice into the hands of a machine, so that’s why the Scythedom was developed. Scythes must hold themselves to high standards and ten commandments. Their responsibility is to glean people and end their lives.

There is strong separation between Scythe and State. So even though the Thunderhead knows something is going terribly wrong with the scythes, it cannot intervene directly.

This book shows that something is indeed going terribly wrong.

I used to tell people that besides apparently having a grim reaper on the cover and being about two teens becoming apprentice scythes, the first book was more thought-provoking than grim. The second book, I’m not going to say that! Some truly horrific things happen in this book, as well as some enormous surprises.

But they are all brilliantly done and I really really really want to read the next book!

Since I won’t be able to post this review until a year after I write it, maybe the next book will be out and I can finally find out how this all turns out. (If this ends up being longer than a trilogy, I may scream.)

Added in March 2019: Nope, not yet! No next book yet. I want to add that this was probably the best-plotted book I read in 2018. In my opinion, though, it is not a children’s book. Teens will enjoy it, yes, but the book appeals to the part of them that is becoming an adult. The characters have chosen careers (grim ones) and are living on their own or with a mentor. And again, they are dealing with some truly horrific events and choices.

But wow! For young adults and old adults – this series will make you grapple with lots of big and profound life-or-death right-or-wrong questions you might never have even thought to propose before.

storyman.com
simonandschuster.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin

Friday, March 1st, 2019

The Fifth Season

The Broken Earth, Book One

by N. K. Jemisin

Orbit Books, 2015. 471 pages.
Starred Review
Winner of the 2016 Hugo Award

After the Newbery, I was ready to read something completely different. Both my adult children highly recommended the Broken Earth trilogy. They told me N. K. Jemisin was the first black woman to win the Hugo – and then the first person to win the Hugo three years in a row – with the books of this trilogy.

Tonight I finished The Fifth Season, and I had to go back to the beginning to see if I understood now what was going on at the start of the book. I think maybe, sort of? I am hoping things will be a bit less murky after book two. Which I am going to read.

This book, like much science fiction, is more cerebral than emotional. The world-building is amazing. We’ve got three plot threads going on, one of them addressing the reader as “you.” You do learn how the three threads are connected before the book ends – but it does end up having you do some rethinking.

The world here is a world that may be ending. They’ve long had “Fifth Seasons” – where ash from a volcano or some other disruption means there is a prolonged winter and little to harvest. They’ve got stonelore to tell them what to do, how to prepare. A new one is beginning, and this may be the worst ever.

This world has orogenes – people who can sense and manipulate the earth. They can raise volcanoes and still earthquakes. Earthquakes that are constantly happening in this world. Orogenes can also kill you by icing you – sucking all the energy out of an area around them and instantly freezing you to death. So they are deeply feared – and kept away from society, trained at the Fulcrum.

There are also Stone Eaters. They seem to be made of stone and can eat stone and move through stone And then there are Guardians, who can neutralize the power of orogenes. Their job is to watch over them. But if you don’t follow the rules, you’re in trouble.

The book follows a woman who was hiding her orogeny and has lost her son, a young girl being taken to the Fulcrum to be trained, and an orogene well along in her training, given a job under a new mentor – where something happens that she can’t explain and changes everything.

I’m still not sure I completely understand all that happened in this book. I need to read on…. How lovely that for once I’m reading a trilogy that’s already completely written!

Go to this book for intricate world-building and mind-blowing ideas. I have a feeling I’ll like it more as I begin to understand more of what’s going on! But I’ve definitely gotten hooked.

nkjemisin.com
orbitbooks.net

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dark Energy, by Robison Wells

Friday, October 26th, 2018

Dark Energy

by Robison Wells

HarperTeen, 2016. 278 pages.
Starred Review

Dark Energy is set in the near future. Aliens have landed, well, crash landed, in Minnesota, after skidding through Iowa. Alice Goodwin’s Dad is director of special projects for NASA, so this news means that Alice is moving to Minnesota and enrolled in an elite private school there.

It’s actually a few weeks before the aliens emerge from their giant spaceship. When they do, they look like humans.

Naturally, there are protestors. Almost 20,000 people died when the ship crashed. The aliens don’t seem to be looking for conquest, but they also don’t seem to have special insight or knowledge capable of creating such amazing technology.

Most of the thousands of aliens are settled in a tent city, but Alice’s Dad arranges to have two of them attend her private school. Can Alice teach Coya and Suski human ways? And can she and her friends figure out what’s so fishy about their story?

This is an imaginative look at what would happen if aliens crash-landed, combined with a mystery as to what it is the aliens aren’t telling. Combined with a boarding school story and a road trip tale, with some life-or-death danger, this book is an entertaining read.

I enjoyed this paragraph, where the aliens first come out of the ship and are met by a delegation:

Still, it was apparent from the communication that the aliens were impressed with the dress uniforms of the military men, and the alien woman’s hands moved from a dangling award on one of their chests to the dangling tie around the vice president’s neck and back again. Then she noticed that the man in the back had the same kind of tie, only his was striped instead of silver, and that seemed to impress her even more. The alien man was the first to approach the woman in the business suit, and he pointed to the tiny flag pin on her lapel, and then at the many pins on the military uniforms, then the men’s ties, and he gave her an encouraging Try harder next time smile.

I liked Alice’s voice as the narrator describing all this. She’s got a sense of humor about it all and because of her Dad’s job, tends not to catastrophize one way or the other. When things take a dramatic turn for the worse, she’s level-headed and thinks through how to help her friends.

How would you feel if aliens landed?

robisonwells.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Titans, by Victoria Scott

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Titans

Victoria Scott

Scholastic Press, 2016. 313 pages.

I’ve loved horse racing novels since I was a kid collecting The Black Stallion books. This book is in that tradition — except the horses are “Titans” — sophisticated robots with artificial intelligence.

Astrid has loved watching the Titans race since she was thirteen — which was also when she first saw a man die in a race.

The horses are a mixture of the real things and race cars. That’s why I’ve studied both. There isn’t much to do in the suburbs of Detroit, especially when where you live is less suburb and more slum. As working conditions at my father’s plant worsened, and my parents began to argue, the horses were transported from the heart of the forest that nuzzled my house. A glittering promise of hope in the form of iron bolts and smooth steel….

They run and the world trembles beneath my feet. Steam puffs from their nostrils and their eyes cut a crimson path and their bodies clash against one another, steel on steel. As the Titans rumble past, a smile sweeps across my face. Watching them is like kissing a speeding train. Like dancing with a hurricane. The horses are terrifying and beautiful at once. They are mindless beasts, but under the stadium lights, their bodies moving down the track like ghosts, they are glorious.

Racing the Titans is a rich person’s sport, with huge entry fees and a high price for the Titans, but betting on the Titans entertains the masses. It also ruined Astrid’s family’s financial situation. Of course her father didn’t know he was about to get laid off when he gambled so much money on a Titan.

But Astrid meets a grumpy old man who reminds her of her grandfather. And it turns out he has a Titan 1.0 he’d like to race. And she can do the riding.

This book has all the tension of a classic racing novel. Teen gets a chance to race in the big leagues. The stakes are high — both her family and her best friend’s family are about to lose their homes. I stayed up to finish the book because I enjoyed the characters and the tension kept me turning pages.

But I do have some quibbles with the story. I’m afraid I didn’t believe in the “EvoBox” that was only in the Titan 1.0 model and gave the creature emotions. Artificial intelligence, sure, I can believe in, but it was a machine. Astrid felt that way at first and was won over — but I’m afraid I really wasn’t. And when her Titan’s life was in danger, I’m afraid I was unmoved. Just build the machine again, okay?

Another thing played on my little pet peeve. Astrid is a prodigiously gifted mathematician, so that means she’s able to calculate angles in her head and see patterns and use that to take turns more efficiently. I’ve seen this idea in another book. The character was an exceptionally good pool player because they were good at math.

I’m sorry, but having the physical skill to put your body or other things at the right angle is a very different thing from being good at math. As a kid, I was exceptionally good at math. I was, however, terrible at sports. This is not at all uncommon in people who are good at math. Even though, yes, there are math concepts behind pool shots, it doesn’t necessarily translate into being good at pool. And it was hard for me to believe that being good at math would make Astrid good at racing robot horses. Does being good at math make people good at video games using joysticks?

However, it was a good story, and I especially liked Astrid’s friendship with Magnolia, who is especially talented at making hair accessories. Besides running in races, Astrid has to go to social events, like the ball where she needs to find a sponsor. Magnolia by her side keeps good humor in the story and adds warm light-hearted moments to what otherwise could have been a grim book.

VictoriaScottYA.com
thisisteen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Metaltown, by Kristen Simmons

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Metaltown

by Kristen Simmons

Tom Doherty Associates, TOR Teen, 2016. 380 pages.

Metaltown is a gritty novel about a fight for justice in a futuristic factory town where kids are exploited.

We’ve got three narrators in the book. The first is Ty, a tough-as-nails, doesn’t-let-anybody-close girl who works in Small Parts, making the delicate parts of weapons.

Ty is the one who helped the second narrator, Colin, survive when his family came to Metaltown. Now Colin’s mother’s partner is sick with the dreaded corn flu, and as the book opens, he runs an errand for Jed, the boss of the Brotherhood. Ty doesn’t like it. Jed can’t be trusted.

The third narrator is from a whole different world. Lena is the daughter of the man who owns the factories. She lives in luxury while her brother pretends to be interested in the business. Lena wants to be involved in management. She wants to find out what’s going on. When she takes steps to do so, she finds more than she bargained for.

We’ve got kids struggling to survive here, and the code of the streets. When Lena stumbles among them, they’re already starting to hope for change. But the kids are up against very powerful forces.

This is a novel of good versus evil, of little folks versus big power, and of doing what’s right versus corruption. The story will keep you turning pages, rooting that somehow our protagonists can come through despite everything stacked against them.

The setting is some sort of bleak future world dominated by war, disease, and hunger. But people’s hearts are still the same.

Personally, I didn’t like the idea that this was set on future earth and humans would go back to child labor like this. But if you accept the setting — this is a powerful story, and kept me turning pages, rooting for the characters.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson

Monday, August 20th, 2018

We Are the Ants

by Shaun David Hutchinson

Simon Pulse, 2016. 451 pages.
Starred Review

Henry Denton has been repeatedly abducted by aliens for years. They usually deposit him somewhere in his hometown of Calypso, Florida without his clothes. It was soon after the first time that his father left them. Who could handle having a kid who claimed he’d been abducted by aliens?

Now, as high school student, the aliens are giving him a choice. They showed him a button. If he doesn’t push the button, the world will blow up. If he pushes the button, he’ll save the world. And he knows when it will happen — in 144 days from when he was given the choice, on January 29, 2016. (I was wishing they set the book in the near future, to give a little more suspense. But that date is around the publication date of the book.)

Henry can’t figure out if the world is worth saving.

Henry is bullied relentlessly. The word got out that he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. In fact, his own older brother Charlie was the one who let that out.

The bullying didn’t matter when his boyfriend Jesse was alive. But Jesse committed suicide a year ago.

What’s wrong with Henry that people leave him like this? Even their good friend Audrey disappeared for months after Jesse’s death, when Henry needed her.

Since then, Henry’s been secretly hooking up with Marcus, who is one of the bullies in public. Maybe with Marcus, Henry can forget Jesse’s death.

But then a new kid comes to town. He seems to think the world is worth saving. But he’s got secrets in his past, and Henry isn’t good for people anyway.

There are a lot of reasons the world might as well end. Henry’s Mom is struggling. His grandma’s losing her memory. His brother’s girlfriend is pregnant. And the bullying has gotten much worse.

It’s hard to decide how to categorize this book. There’s the one science fiction element as Henry tells about what the aliens do to him. But the majority of the book is about coping with life and bullying and friendships and family and romance. And whether life is worth it.

I like the slightly morbid chapters sprinkled throughout the book that each relate a way that life on earth could end.

I also like that this is a book about romance with a gay boy as the main character, but the book isn’t about the fact that he’s gay. It’s about everything else he’s up against.

I didn’t expect to love a book where the first sentence is “Life is bullshit.” and the first chapter hammers home the absurdity of life. But I did love it. I want Henry to push the button. And I want him to want to push the button.

shaundavidhutchinson.com
simonandschuster.com/teens

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Wolf by Wolf

by Ryan Graudin

Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 379 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history novel about a world where Germany won World War II. On top of that, our heroine is a Jewish girl who was experimented on by Nazi scientists — who gave her the ability to shapeshift her face.

With the ability, she was able to escape the concentration camp. Now, in 1956, she is the key to a plot to assassinate Hitler.

Now, my fundamental problem with the novel is I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that any sequence of injections could make a person able to change their bone structure. Yael can adjust her height and add freckles to her arms — but she can’t get rid of her prison camp tattoo. Even if I could accept that, she can also change her already-grown hair to be a different color or be thicker. I don’t quite see how that can work.

However, the story is so gripping and so dramatic, I was able to forgive it for its unlikely premise. I’ll grant you, it was sobering to read about Hitler’s Europe as the 2016 election happened.

The plot is a complicated one. Because Hitler has survived too many assassination attempts, he now never appears in public, except twice a year — at the start and end of the great motorcycle race, the Axis Tour, where motorcyclists rode from Germania (Berlin) to Tokyo, the capital of the Japanese empire. Last year, a girl, Adele Wolfe, had disguised herself as her brother and won the race. Hitler had danced with her.

Now Yael is going to take Adele’s identity, win the race, and assassinate Hitler in front of the world when he dances with her at the victory celebration. This will be a signal for her allies in the Resistance to move and topple the Third Reich.

But the race is long and grueling. Adele’s brother has entered the race to try to stop her. — He wants to save her life. Then there are the two other previous race victors who also want to be the first to win the Axis Tour a second time. Life and death are on the line. On top of that, Yael must navigate relationships blind.

And she must get to the Victory Ball. She must win.

But to do that, she needs to survive.

It took me awhile to warm up to this story. As I said, I had a hard time with the premise. I thought the writing seemed a little overdramatic. But as I read, I have to admit that a girl in that situation would feel the weight of everything depending on her. The situation is inherently dramatic.

Little by little, we learn her history. Yael has gotten a tattoo of five wolves to cover her prison tattoo. Each wolf represents one person she has lost. She is doing this for them.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them — made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

WolfbyWolfBook.com
ryangraudin.com
lb-teens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Paths and Portals, by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Paths and Portals

Secret Coders, Book 2

by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

First Second, 2016. 92 pages.
Review written in 2016.

This is very much part two of a longer story – not really a stand-alone book at all. But I like what they’re doing here.

This graphic novel is a vehicle for teaching readers how to code using the LOGO programming language – but the story is fun and engaging.

There are puzzles along the way – coding challenges are presented and the reader’s given a chance to figure out the solution before each step is explained. In fact, like the first book, this one ends with a coding challenge. And this one begins with the solution to the problem posed at the end of book one.

The story will keep kids’ interest. There are even villains introduced in this book – a sinister principal and a whole rugby team doing his bidding to get new uniforms. So now their coding activities with the old janitor, Mr. Bee, who used to be a professor, are threatened. There are lots of secret rooms and something sinister going on.

With this second book, I’m impressed where the authors take things. They show how to generate random numbers and then make beautiful patterns with code. The progression is straightforward – but so interesting. The story makes it more than just a coding textbook, and the fact that it’s a graphic novel makes the instructions and examples much easier to understand.

secret-coders.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Railhead, by Philip Reeve

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

Railhead

by Philip Reeve

Switch Press (Capstone), 2016. 333 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s brilliant and original world-building in a distant future science fiction novel.

When it begins, it almost sounds like your typical book about a street thief:

Listen . . .

He was running down Harmony when he heard it. Faint at first, but growing clearer, rising above the noises of the streets. Out in the dark, beyond the city, a siren voice was calling, lonely as the song of whales. It was the sound he had been waiting for. The Interstellar Express was thundering down the line from Golden Junction, and singing as it came.

He had an excuse to hurry now. He was not running away from a crime anymore, just running to catch a train. Just Zen Starling, a thin brown kid racing down Harmony Street with trouble in his eyes and stolen jewelry in the pocket of his coat, dancing his way through the random gaps that opened and closed in the crowds. The lines of lanterns strung between the old glass buildings lit his face as he looked back, looked back, checking for the drone that was hunting him.

In this distant future, humans live all over the universe. They travel between star systems on train lines that go through K-gates. The trains are sentient, their AI having developed so far. In fact, the gods of that time, the Guardians, started out as Artificial Intelligence long ago on earth.

Zen starts as a street thief, but a powerful man named Raven, hundreds of years old, wants Zen to steal something for him. He tells Zen that he’s actually a member of the Noon family — the Imperial family. His mission is to go on the Noon train and steal a small object. Raven sends a Motorik named Nova along with Zen to get through firewalls and tell him what to do through Zen’s headset.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Zen stealing this thing will change the fate of the galaxy.

Not all the characters in this book are human, but they’re all recognizable personalities. When I finished, I was amazed at how the world, as wild as it seems, had absorbed my interest without pulling me out by implausibilities. It’s easy to extrapolate to this world from today’s technology. Everyone has access to the Datasea made from the interlinked internets of all the inhabited worlds. The various AI technology can access this swiftly.

I liked some of the names of the intelligent locomotives. They choose their names “from the deep archives of the Datasea.” There are some bizarre names like Gentlemen Take Polaroids and some more traditional like Damask Rose.

This could well be Book One of a series. But it may also be a stand-alone. While there is much room for further adventures in this well-developed world, the adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion. I would love to read more.

Zen’s sister calls him a railhead, and he guesses she’s right:

He didn’t make these journeys up and down the line simply to steal things, he made them because he loved the changing views, the roaring blackness of the tunnels, and the flicker of the gates. And best of all he loved the trains, the great locomotives, each one different, some stern, some friendly, but all driven by the same deep joy that he felt at riding the rails.

This book shows that deep joy, along with galaxy-shaking adventure. You’ll meet creatures that make you rethink sentience. (Uncle Bugs is just plain creepy!)

Sentient trains that travel the galaxy. It’s a wildly imaginative scenario — and Philip Reeve pulls it off.

switchpress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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