Blurb Book Review: Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill (spoilers ahead)

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Where did I get the image? From Goodreads.com of course!

This is a book about an eight year old boy and his nannybot tiger Pounce. Or, conversely, this is a Calvin and Hobbes fanfic book with an apocalypse as a backdrop.

Pounce discovers his box the same day the world changed forever. He knew he was a nannybot, but seeing the box he came in was a bit of a shock. Discovering his owners kept the box because his charge, Ezra, would outgrow him eventually so he’d be shut down and stored. Seeing his box also changed how he thought of himself, if only slightly.

The day the world changed was the day that a town just for bots was to be opened. These bots are without owners and have been allowed to continue existence as free robots. The town was built by Isaac, the oldest robot, and was to welcome all robots.

Humans had a different plan.

The story is told through Pounce’s pov, so the reader has limited information. Humans bombed Isaactown, robots reacted by sending a software update to all robots, one that would turn off their Robot Kill Switches. This RKS stops robots from killing humans, it enforces Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Robots start killing people. Domestic robots kill their owners.

Pounce manages to save Ezra by running to a panic room in the house while the domestic, Ariadne, kills the parents. From there, Pounce tries to protect Ezra at all costs.

The story is satisfying, good pacing, with nice reveals. The idea of robots killing humans feels a bit worn out to me though. Pounce also has programming called Mama Bear which unlocks a ton of military strategic knowledge. This helps Pounce keep Ezra safe. The end of the book is satisfying and leaves the story open for a sequel of sorts. Actually, I could see this as a movie or mini series.

I had two major problems with the book.
1 – the mention of Apple products. One robot is an iAssist. This bugged me enough that I wanted to stop reading. I don’t like brands in books and I really don’t like the brand Apple. I have nothing good to say about them and I hated reading the name in a fictional story. Verizon was mentioned as well, but fleetingly. I don’t care about Verizon.

2 – UBI, or Universal Basic Income, is cast in a negative light. This was bothersome because,
A) The story was from a nannybot’s pov. Why would a bot have an opinion about UBI? Why would a robot be programmed with an opinion on the matter? What purpose could this information serve?
B) Studies that have been done on UBI have shown a positive result. People are mentally healthier when they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, how to pay their bills, and whether or not they’ll have shelter the next day. Money for UBI comes from other social programs that wouldn’t be needed like welfare, disability, and whatnot. UBI has been tinkered with during covid, some places call it ‘stimulus cheques’, and the effect has been positive. People are spending money on long-awaited home improvements, treats for themselves, and bills. Will some people abuse the system and not work? Yes. Absolutely. Those people are also abusing the system as it stands right now.

These two problems made me feel like the book was actually propaganda rather than a fictional story for entertainment. I wondered if the author received some kind of kickback or super fat advance if these attitudes and brands were included in the work. Sure, I may be paranoid, but this is what I thought and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Based on that, I would only recommend the book if the reader is aware of the potential propaganda.

Blurb Book Review: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (spoilers ahead)

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Yes, this image is once again taken from Goodreads.com

This is another book I read without remembering what it was about or refreshing my memory by reading the jacket flap. I ended up enjoying it quite a lot.

The story is told through the eyes of Klara, an AF (Artificial Friend). This is done so well that after a few pages I could hear her contented tone in every word. She’s obviously programmed to be helpful, kind, polite, and content and that’s reflected in her attitude throughout.

Klara is also programmed, I think, to worship the Sun. This is in part because she recharges using solar power, but somehow comes across as a religious belief. She frequently refers to sunlight as the Sun’s nourishment and she believes it to be a cure-all. Later in the book, Klara decides to ask the Sun to help Josie, the teenager who chose her, to be well. Klara decides that a sacrifice must be made for this to happen, this sacrifice being the disablement of a pollution machine. As a reader, I could see why this wouldn’t work, but to Klara, this absolutely would. She freely donates some of her cerebellum fluid to disable the machine, at the suggestion of Josie’s father. Again, as a reader I could see the father was manipulating her a bit, but she was intent on stopping the machine so she agreed to have the fluid drained.

Oddly, the sacrifice worked. Josie got better.

Better from what is only somewhat clear. Children are lifted, I assumed genetically, to be more intelligent. This lifting caused Josie’s illness. Because everything is from Klara’s pov, the illness is never really explained. Late in the book it’s revealed that Klara’s purpose is to accept an upload of Josie, should Josie die.

Klara stays with Josie even long after Josie no longer has the time or room for her. Josie promised her early on that she would never put her in a closet, but once Josie has other friends, Klara finds a utility closet all on her own and stands in there to be out of the way. After Josie goes to college, Klara lives in the Yard, which is clearly a junkyard. But she never complains, never finds fault with her situation. She’s just pleased to be of assistance.

There’s a background story too, one of the rise of AIs and people’s general paranoia of them, but it’s not explored in depth because Klara’s concerns are with Josie, not the surrounding world.

Information is revealed to the reader by dialogue that Klara both participates in and overhears. I must say, this is where the book faltered for me. Klara’s dialogue was excellent, her voice clear and interesting, but every other character said things in a manner I found false. It was clear to me that the author was just trying to convey information, which annoyed me a bit.

Overall though, I enjoyed this book. Klara is a gentle protagonist and while treatment of her was not always kind, her responses were polite. I’d recommend this book for people that enjoy a different pov and are okay with not knowing the details of the world building.

Blurb Book Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (spoilers ahead)

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Picture copied from Goodreads.com, as usual

I absolutely loved this book. I started reading it and had no desire to put it down until it was done. As usual, I didn’t read the inside flap of the book so I couldn’t remember what it was about. Because of this, every twist was a surprise for me, and delightful surprises at that.

The narrative style was fantastic. Rich descriptions without using a lot of words, punctuated by a main character who is an island of one, the book felt like Evelyn, the main character, was telling me how she arrived at a particular point in her life.

This reminded me of another book, one with an unreliable narrator, who was telling the story as if to make the reader/listener feel compassion for some truly horrendous acts. I genuinely thought this book would end differently, that I would find out Evelyn did something extreme and awful and the story was her justification of her actions. But it wasn’t, not really.

Evelyn is an award winning scientist. Her research is in cloning people. She can grow a complete replica of another person in about two months. Conditioning the clone is part of the deal, where she helps the clone to ‘remember’ events so the clone can behave as the person expects.

These clones are supposed to be used for organs or to take a bullet, definitely not for long term use. They aren’t considered people, so ethics are as firm as they can be.

Evelyn discovers her ex-husband, Nathan, has created a clone of her, named Martine. She had no idea Nathan had done this, had only thought he was interested in hearing about her research. The author skillfully created Evelyn to be a product of an abusive household, one where the mother tends to the father’s every whim and the father expects Evelyn to conform to what he wants in a child. Evelyn learned to be invisible, to not take up space, to not ask certain questions. This conditioning carries through in Evelyn’s life outside her mother and father, demonstrated by her blindness to Nathan’s cruelty and subterfuge. But also from her lab assistant, Seyed, someone she trusted and felt completely herself around. It’s eventually revealed that Seyed has been stealing supplies for another company and also assisted Nathan in creating Martine.

Some readers might be frustrated by Evelyn’s blindness to the people around her, but for me, this character felt wonderfully well written. Martine as well, she was Evelyn but also not Evelyn. Martine was a blank slate, trained to behave in a specific manner.

Martine breaks through her training to become her own person. She also gets pregnant, something clones shouldn’t be able to do. When Martine questions Nathan about this, about whether or not she was conditioned to want a child, Nathan reacts by trying to kill her. Martine kills him instead, then calls Evelyn in a panic.

They deal with Nathan’s body and soon need another Nathan because if his murder were to get out, Evelyn would lose everything she’s worked for, so they clone him. This is where I thought the book was going to go down a dark, dark path, but it didn’t. The ending, while satisfactory, also could have been written to demonstrate much more disastrous consequences to Evelyn’s actions.

Still, I loved this book. Normally I dislike any title with wife, mother, or daughter in it as it usually indicates that the main female character is only a person in relation to the husband, child, or parent, but in this case, the title was remarkably spot on. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes navel gazing and a deep view into what it’s like to be the product of long term abuse.

Blurb Book Review: The Humans by Matt Haig (spoilers ahead)

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Image from the usual place, Goodreads.com

I read a previous book by this author and was delighted to find out this one was xenofiction.

An alien race finds out that a human, Andrew Martin, has solved the Riemann Hypothesis and that just would not do. They sent someone out to ensure this information didn’t spread through humanity, and that someone is the narrator of the story.

The alien takes the form of Andrew and attempts to adjust to being human while trying to delete all evidence of the solved hypothesis. This alien was to murder anyone with whom Andrew shared the knowledge.

At first disgusted by humans, AlienAndrew grows to enjoy the company of the son, Gulliver, and the wife, Isobel and chooses to keep them alive rather than kill them. This, obviously, causes problems.

The author manages to highlight a lot of the dichotomies of being human and does so in a manner that never let me forget that the main character is an alien. There’s a lightness in the narration of heavy concepts, which I found delightful.

The book is remarkably moving, well written, and a curious glance into what it means to be human. Definitely would recommend to anyone.

DNF: Machinehood by S.B. Divya

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DNF. Stopped at page 9.The reasons why bugged me so badly I had to type this out.

A direct quote from page nine, italics are the author’s: “Jack Travis had been a mentor, almost a father, and he’d never talked down to his squad in spite of getting ripped by other men for leading a bunch of girls.”

Okay, stop. Just stop. This book takes place in 2095. Gender neutral pronouns are used. Diversity is shown by the author telling the reader about the character’s ancestry. More on that in a moment. All that, and men are still being ripped for leading ‘girls’? Not, say, ‘women’? Or maybe, ‘people’? FFS why in hell’s bells would a man be teased for leading a squad of not-men? WHY? If the author can include diversity and gender neutrality, the author can omit ancient ideas about how girls aren’t as good as boys in the military. For that matter, while I’m ranting, the author’s choice of the word ‘girls’ is a tad degrading. As in, ‘throw like a girl’ is an insult to men because it indicates the man is weak. ‘Women’ at least indicates adults, ‘girls’ just sounds like prepubescent people.

Now for the rant about diversity. Do I love diversity in novels? Yes, yes I do. The world is made up of a glorious mix of people and that mix should be shown in all media. I understand that describing characters can be difficult without having that character look in a mirror and describe themselves, but I really do dislike it when the author takes an easy way out. In one segment from page 2 & 3, the main character Welga’s lineage is discussed. Literally. Welga asks a vendor how they know she isn’t Indian. The vendor explains that because they’re human, they can see past Welga’s brown skin and dark hair to notice nose and cheek shape. Just before this exchange is the quote, “The mix of Russian and Mexican in her parentage usually made it hard for people to guess her origins.” Oh thanks author, for sounding somewhat patronizing and condescending at the same time while very obviously pointing out the non-whiteness of the character. Ugh! There are better ways of describing characters, ways that don’t feel so amateurish.

/end rant. YMMV.

Blurb Book Review: Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (spoilers ahead)

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Oh yeah, cover is from Goodreads.com

This book was recommended through Goodreads and involved aliens, so it was right up my alley. Besides, how could I say no to a cover like that? So bright and colourful 🙂

The book felt like it was going nowhere for longer than I’d prefer. The story was told in snippets and it was a bit difficult for me to keep up to what was going on. It all made sense eventually, but I could see why some may not finish the book. I enjoyed it overall though, and would read it again, especially now that I know how it all fits together.

Let’s start with the characters. Two of the three main characters run a bar/inn called Skyward Inn. Jem is human. Isley is Qita. They’re both veterans of the war between their planets. Skyward Inn is inside the walls of the Western Protectorate, which is a walled-off area that doesn’t participate in technology or politics. The Protectorate is where Devon, England is now.

The third character is Fosse, Jem’s son. Jem gave him up practically at birth to join the military. Fosse lives with his uncle Dom, who is Jem’s brother. The parent/child relationship is nonexistent. I didn’t feel like Jem had any connection at all with this person she brought into the world. I had the impression she might have liked to get to know her son better, but made little or no effort to do so. This boggled me, but I can forgive it because the author had a different story to tell.

At Skyward, people enjoy drinking Jarrowbrew. This is a concoction of Qita and helps relive memories with exquisite clarity. The story opens with Jem drinking some to relate a story of her impressions of Isley’s homeworld. As the story progresses, I had the feeling that Jem wanted more than just friendship with Isley, but the mechanics weren’t possible. Qita species isn’t really described much, except to say they’re blue-skinned and humanoid.

The war was somewhat peaceful. Qita surrendered easily and without fight. Humans thought they won, but they didn’t, not really. Qita welcomes new arrivals because they absorb them and become one big mass of organic matter. But this isn’t revealed until near the end of the book.

The hint is that three new arrivals to the Protectorate do a magic trick where they can merge hands. They lay their hands upon each other and become one. Separation is possible in the beginning stages. Humans think this is a disease. They quarantine the affected area, but there’s no stopping it. Qita don’t fight it at all. This is part of their evolution process. They merge with other species and themselves, then are separated from the whole to live again.

Memories are shared by all during this merging. Time is also a non-issue during the process. Jem begins to merge with Isley so she can experience her son Fosse’s future memories as he hikes with a Qita guide to learn about their planet. Ultimately, Jem chooses not to join the merging. There’s no expectation that anyone must join, it’s always presented as a choice. Fosse, however, struck by being the last human around after the hike with a guide, does choose to join the merging. From what I understood, all of Earth was merged as well because Qita and Earth are connected by a Kissing Gate in space. So the surrender of Qita was actually the first stage of what humans would call an invasion. By the end, humanity is mostly (or all) wiped out.

The novel left me with questions, but in a good way. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good twist (although I spoiled it here, but the title warned of that). The details were revealed in a way that felt linear and satisfying, but it was hard to get into.

Blurb Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (no spoilers, just ranting)

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Image from the usual source: Goodreads.com

I chose this book because I kept reading that the author’s work is wonderful and groundbreaking. It was written in 1969 so I told myself to read it with that in mind. I don’t normally like books written too long ago as they feature male protagonists in male worlds and I’ve had quite enough of that, thank you very much.

After I was done I found out this is the fourth book in the Hainish Cycle. I really wish I’d taken note of that before I started reading. Perhaps reading the Hainish Cycle books in order might have helped me understand this one better. Now, let’s get on the ranting.

I’ve been reading since before I started school, and with this book I had to stop and sound out far too many words. It was like learning a new language and then reading what is considered a classic in that language. Because of this, I had a remarkably difficult time comprehending what I read. I ended up reading the book out loud to myself, to force myself to read and listen to every word. The author’s sentence structure added to the problem. I found the order of words confusing and difficult to follow. Like it’d been translated and done poorly. I have no idea if this is normal for the author or just the style used for this book, but my brain hurt when I was done.

Keeping in mind this book was written in ’69, I hated the constant use of ‘he’ as a gender neutral pronoun. I know the author addressed this later on, after the book was published, but my brain had a really hard time thinking of these people as androgynous. Instead, I was constantly thinking that this was yet another book with all male characters. Every other sentence had me bending my mind to remind myself these are not technically men. That was unbelievably frustrating and drew my attention away from the plot, story, and characters.

The first third of the book felt like an infodump, although it wasn’t. The author described what the character was doing, but I had no sense of what the character had done. I felt like it was all setup until about halfway through, although flipping back through the pages I realized this wasn’t true. This might have been easier to understand if I’d read the previous three books in the series.

The idea of an androgynous species is interesting, but I didn’t get a feel for their culture at all. They still had a leader, still had a hierarchy. I did enjoy the lack of shame around sex, though, that was a fantastic diversion from reality. The setting of a world where it’s always winter was interesting, and the idea that the protagonist’s mission was to get the planet to join an intergalactic civilization was cool. But even then, I had a hard time with the concept. Excellent idea that first contact would be peaceful and inclusionary, but the idea doesn’t sit well with me. I’m far too used to stories about wanting resources from planets and causing wars and whatnot. But again, I tried to remember that this was written long ago.

I was disappointed. The book didn’t hold up to the hype for me, not at all. I might try the author’s work again, a different series or something, but first I need something more current.

Blurb Book Review: We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen (spoilers ahead)

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If you guessed this image came from Goodreads.com, you’d be right.

How did I read another book inside of a week? This honestly boggled me a bit until I realized the book is a fast and easy read. This isn’t a bad thing, but surprising nonetheless.

So, here we have another superhero book. This one features two people with abilities, neither of them don’t remember anything before waking up in an apartment. They each have a couple of clues, a signed lease for one year’s paid stay at the apartment, and a note. The note indicates they have abilities.

One character, Jamie, uses his mind wiping ability to rob banks. He can rifle through anyone’s memory and remove specific bits. He robs banks because he wants to get away to a warm island somewhere and discovers banks are insured. He figures this crime isn’t hurting anyone and it helps him amass some cash. He’s defined as the villain upon introduction.

The other character, Zoe, can hover/fly, run super fast, has super strength, and can see thermal imagery. She uses her speed to deliver food and occasionally fight crime, if it suits her to do so. She’s labelled as a hero when we’re introduced.

They meet in a memory loss support group where Jamie immediately dives into Zoe’s mind and finds out she’s the one that was chasing him after his last robbery. They become tentative friends, yes, even after he sort of violated her by peeking through her mind, and try to help each other out in figuring out their pasts.

Of course this leads to them discovering a nefarious organization that’s gifting people with abilities. Of course they try to break in and get more information. Of course they’re caught. Of course they try again. Of course they work together to become heroes/saviors.

This plot makes the story easy to read, and the formatting kept my interest. The chapters alternate between each character’s POV, keeping the perspective fresh and interesting. The book did feel messy though, maybe from about two thirds on, as if the author didn’t really know how to explain events. This is reflected in the characters outright saying they had no plan and couldn’t explain something. This isn’t bad, but it felt a bit flippant.

Overall, it’s a light read. If you like superhero stories, this one makes a nice snack for your mind.

Blurb Book Review: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots (spoilers ahead)

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Picture from the one and only: Goodreads.com

I received this book from the library terribly fast. I really thought I’d be waiting longer for it to be available. I read the first page to see if I should start this book or another, and ended up reading it at every available moment I had. I loved this book. Absolutely adored it. Let me tell you why as succinctly as I can.

The narrative voice was consistent and delightful. My eyes wanted to eat every word so my brain could have something to munch on. I wanted this book to go on forever, yet also wanted to get to the end of the story. Not because I was eager to finish, but because I desperately wanted to know how the author was going to wrap up the storyline.

The author’s choice of descriptors were vivid, delightful, and innovative. I don’t think there’s any repetition (or if there is, very little) in adjectives, which kept the book fresh from page one right to the end.

The pacing was excellent. Not once did I feel like the book dragged on or skipped anything important. The author had an excellent sense of how much information to give to keep the story moving, but also how little to give to keep my attention hooked.

I loved the main character – Anna – mostly because she felt realistic to me. She was someone I could imagine in real life, ‘warts and all’ as my mom would’ve said. Anna has her faults, she’s vulnerable, but she’s also got a core of toughness that impressed me.

Now I’ll tell you about the story.

Anna is a “hench”. This is someone who works with the villains when asked. Yes, like henchmen but without the gender specification. Anna works for a temp agency that hires out henches. Even Meat – the muscle of the operation, so to speak. She gets a job and is injured by a superhero named Supercollider. The temp agency promptly dismisses her, leaving her out of work and deeply wounded.

While healing, Anna starts checking into the cost of superheroes. How many lifeyears are lost to the supes’ carelessness? How much property damage? That kind of thing. This hooked me immediately. I’ve consumed enough superhero media to ask these questions myself. The supe always saves the day, but at what cost? Anna posts her Injury Report online and gathers a bit of following.

Anna needs a job, and applies everywhere. When on her way to an interview, she’s intercepted by a villain named Leviathan. He wants to hire her for her ability to amass data and parse it in whatever manner is most useful.

This is the story of a budding villain. Anna isn’t necessarily evil, but she does want superheroes to be held accountable for their careless destruction. Her tactics are somewhat evil though, in the sense that she knows how to manipulate people.

All of this is set in a world where people are tested for abilities, then, if they are found to be in great enough quantity, the person is groomed to be a superhero. This world is immersive. I was enveloped in it from the first few pages and only left when I closed the book. Excellent work by the author.

Some other notables: the book felt technically perfect. Every scene had a purpose. Every event had a conclusion. No extra words were used and none were spared. I felt like this is a fine example of constructing a story, one I’d like to remember as I write my own.

I was pleased to read how well the author worked genderfluidity into the narrative. This was done exactly as I’ve experienced it in real life: there are people who prefer they/them, there are trans people, there are people who are not straight. There was no shaming, no shoehorning. The author made this feel remarkably commonplace, and I absolutely loved it. Remarkably refreshing compared to many other books I’ve read.

This book could easily be converted to a ten episode series. More accurately, I want this to be a ten episode series, as long as it’s done well and with the author’s consent and participation.

I heavily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys superheroes, a tongue-in-cheek style of narration, and multifaceted, interesting characters caught in a plot that’s resolved neatly and efficiently.

Blurb Book Review: The Mother Code by Carole Stivers (spoilers ahead)

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Image from my favourite website for book covers: Goodreads.com

Once again I’ve managed to put a book on hold at the library that’s about an apocalypse. Yep. Another one. This one created by humans. I read the first page just to get a feel for it and to decide whether I wanted to read another book featuring a pandemic. I ended up reading the whole book.

This is a story about kindness, love, mothering, and connection with a backdrop of human destruction and elimination.

This book’s pandemic was in the form of a nanobot that could rewrite DNA. Things went wrong, because of course they did, and the solution was to create robotic mothers.

These mothers were to gestate and support a child. Originally, 50 of these Mothers were created, but only 22 survived. The children were connected to the Mothers by a chip implanted in their foreheads/brains. This chip allowed the Mothers to talk to their children.

The scientists in charge of creating these Mothers decided to fashion their personalities after actual women, the same women who would provide the eggs for insemination. This way, the personalities of the Mothers would match those of the child. I know from experience that a child can sometimes barely resemble a parent, but for the convenience of the book, I accepted the premise fairly easily.

The children search for each other. Well, the Mothers do the searching. They find each other in small groups, some remained alone until the Mothers are called to one location. The remaining/surviving scientists figured out how to call all the Mothers to one location to provide the children with shelter, food, and water. This was mostly successful. While there, the Mothers experienced a shutdown where the mental connection to the child was temporarily severed. Also, the Mothers’ programming indicated a threat, so they refused to allow the children to leave the area. One of the children, and the scientists, work together to reprogram the Mothers to re-establish a connection and dismiss the non-existent threat.

So that’s the basic storyline, and it was effective enough to keep me reading. I enjoyed the author’s narrative voice and didn’t find any inaccurate information to make me want to hurl the book at the wall. I felt like the story had been edited well, but I might have liked a bit more filling out.

When the children meet each other, there’s barely any page time about their interactions with each other. One child in particular turns out to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, not believing that there isn’t a threat. It might have been nice to have that interaction explored a bit further, or even at all, really.

The story jumps time around, but only by about a decade. The author does an excellent job in tying the times together, bringing one up to speed after learning about the other. This style helped me to understand the timeline of the creation of the Mothers, their implementation, the development of a child from 6-10 years old, all with the pandemic in the background killing people and rushing the production of the Mothers.

While the book features some difficult language in terms of biology, DNA, and whatnot, I didn’t feel too lost while reading. I didn’t much understand some of it, but my understanding was basic enough to not get frustrated with the rest of the story.

The cast is diverse, with a spotlight on the Hopi. I very much enjoyed the gentle touch of adding First Nations people and weaving the beliefs through the book. This was done subtly enough that I didn’t feel slammed over the head with it but masterfully enough that I felt the author gave honour to their traditions. Having said that, I’m not really qualified to decide that on behalf of the Hopi.

If you’re looking for a science fiction book that’s not too heavy in science, rooted in love, and a cautionary tale of human’s interference with itself, this may be the book for you.