Monday, August 13, 2018

SecUnit of My Heart

I was about to name this post Murderbot of My Heart before I looked back and found out that's what I named the post where I raved about All Systems Red, the first book in Martha Wells' incredible, delightful series about everyone's favorite socially anxious, warmhearted killing machine. I can't think of another title, because "my heart" has to be in the post name, because my feelings are going to overflow.

There have been two more books in the series since that first post, and the fourth and final novella comes out in October, at which point I will be buying it on release day and weeping that there isn't any more.  That's what I did with Artificial Condition, the second in the series.  I literally had "Buy Murderbot" in my calendar for that day, which Brenda (who can see my calendar) assumed meant I was feeling particularly stabby that day. (She is now also a huge fan of Murderbot.)

Artificial Condition was excellent; our beloved SecUnit (who doesn't really refer to itself often by name, and whom I don't like calling Murderbot because I love it and won't let it be down on itself) is investigating the events that led to its former murderous rampage, to try to determine how it happened. To get where it's going, it needs allies--like ART, a superintelligent research transport (who learns to love media)--and work, in the form of a security consulting gig that is pretty much as straightforwardly a terrible idea as it seems.

Along the way, our SecUnit meets nice people, pretends to be human, interacts with other bots whose feelings about autonomy are pretty intense, and has to beat up some bad guys.  And watch some Sanctuary Moon reruns, of course.  (I would very much like to watch Sanctuary Moon; if someone wants to create some sort of fan webcomic or something, I would Kickstart that).  In sum, this was great.

Today, though, I finished Rogue Protocol, which I was fortunate enough to get as an ARC from Netgalley for review (thank you, Tor.com!). Artificial Condition was great, but Rogue Protocol was even better.  Murderbot's investigation has expanded to include GrayCris, the company that tried to kill Dr. Mensah and the rest of the survey party in All Systems Red.  SecUnit is on the trail of proof of larger evildoing by the company, and would like to get evidence to help Dr. Mensah in her legal battle with them. That's how SecUnit ends up with another exploration team, this time investigating a decommissioned terraforming installation that is maybe way more dangerous than it seems.

I love how full of good people these books are.  It might seem kind of sappy sometimes, if there weren't so many bad people, too. But so many competent people are doing the best they can here that you can't help but enjoy watching them all work together. There is another AI character in this one, and watching SecUnit deal with its feelings about Miki--all of those feelings, many of which SecUnit can't quite pin down for itself--is really what makes this all worth it.

I love that this set of books has such a clear character trajectory, as SecUnit really processes what it means to be a free agent in the world--not just that you can choose your friends and causes, but that you almost have to.  It's so clear to the reader that SecUnit is, for some definition of the word, "human" that watching it figure that out for itself is a huge, meaningful adventure to be on.

Also, super competence porn.  I never thought I'd be so excited about armed drones.

However many stars there are to give, this book gets more of them. I will be shoving this book at people for months.  Go read it, please! Now!

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Revenge Fantasy Satisfaction

Jane Doe is a good title, but it's simple and hard to search for.  The book, though--the book is a blast.  Apparently I'm having a moment of loving my non-neurotypical narrators.

Victoria Helen Stone's new novel (she's written many others under a couple of names) is a methodical telling of a woman out for revenge.  It's one of those books that doesn't really have much of an arc, and you're propelled on less by tension than by curiosity--the character sets out to do something and you watch her do it.  You can't look away.  It's competence porn about destroying someone's life.

See, our narrator, Jane, is not like most people.  The word she uses for herself is sociopath, though I'm not sure she meets the clinical definition.  She says that she does feel emotions, but rarely, and not urgently.  She does have the impulse control problems and lack of guilt and shame that might come with sociopathy, but , as she points out, that doesn't make her a murderer.  She has no reason NOT to murder someone--no guilt, no shame--but she doesn't particularly want to, either.

Until, maybe, now.  Because her best-and-only friend was taken from her, and the man responsible needs to pay.  So Jane leaves her high-power job and dyes her hair soft blonde and gets a job as a temp in his office, and waits for him to notice her.

And the wheels are in motion.

This was the book that I wanted the YA book Premediated to be. Watching a master at work is pretty delightful, and honestly, it was just glorious watching a woman move through the world without apology, calling out all bull as she sees it.

Thanks to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for steering me right with this one!

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Undead Girl Gang

Because the title is so good that I can't improve upon it.

I wanted this book to be great, because of the title and because of the premise: Mila doesn't believe that her best friend kills herself, so she brings her back from the dead (along with a couple of other girls) to figure out who murdered her.  Creepy, delightful romp!

Undead Girl Gang, by Lily Anderson, has a lot going on--possibly way too much.  I want to start with the fact that the Jennys read this at Reading the End last week, so check out their podcast for an excellent review that covers the good (friendship!), the bad (uniformly stupid adults), and the ugly (really wild misconceptions about suicide).  I agree with their entire review, so I'm going to cover most of this with some quick bullets:
  • The best part was the friendship that grows between Mila and her (resurrected) best friend, Riley, and the two other girls she accidentally brings back as well, Dayton and June.  "The Proper Nouns," as Mila calls them, have been popular bullies for years, but now they have a forced proximity/grudging respect thing going on, which is super charming.
  • The book has wild tonal swings from silly conversations about junk food to huge murder plots, but it skimps on some of the emotions you'd most expect in this situation, namely shock and any kind of existentialism. I don't think there's one conversation about what happens after the girls' seven-day resurrection is over and they go "back."
  • All the adults are horrible.  Mila's family is completely indifferent to who she is as a person, even as she's mourning her best friend. Her wicca mentor shoots up a house containing living people for VERY POORLY DEFINED REASONS. The school councilor seems pretty damned vapid (though I think the book tries to fake you out as though this was a misconceptions; I think it fails at that).
These are all the things that the Jennys lay out very well.  I think what bothered me most, though, was the logical inconsistency--or maybe just the failure of the plot to hold up if you look too close.

Which sounds dumb--I'm sorry, are there holes in your raising the dead plot? But the murder mystery gets extreme short shrift, to the point where you can use the Law of Economy of Characters to figure out who did it. I knew very early on, and I was hoping it was a fake-out, but no, it was just sitting there, right out front.

But going back to the beginning, there are all these moments where Mila figures something out--like "the murderer must be one of our classmates" and the book--neither in-story nor the author--does nothing to dissuade her from that.  Like, if there's a serial killer, it must be one of the students, because all the victims are high school girls.  I...don't think that's how crime works?

Or the wiccans are all "this is very dark magic; mess with the balance and it will turn back on you threefold," but....actually no?  There is (spoiler not spoiler) no actual magical comeuppance for the act of raising the dead.  That's a pretty big omission when a big plot line is about how bad an idea it is to raise the dead.  I mean, it actually goes pretty well, I think?

And without spoiling it any further, I will say that the explanation for why the killer did it failed to fit any kind of psychological profile I can imagine.  It was as though 75% of the book was written and THEN the villain was chosen and an explanation was given.  If you don't think back too hard and you squint your eyes, maybe it makes sense--his motivation makes sense--but nothing about him or his past actions or anything else fits in any way with the final explanation.

I'm sorry to be so moany--I will review a good one next.  And it was a sweet, entertaining book with a likeable but sourpuss main character and some charming friendships.  I was just not able to suspend my disbelief--in the emotional stuff, not the necromancy--enough to call it a good pick for me.