An Ode to Trevor Noah’s…Mother: Born A Crime

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Title: Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Author: Trevor Noah
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Format: hardcover
Pages: 285
Keywords: comedy, life, bad ass mothers

I don’t usually read memoirs or non-fiction (though that has radically changed these past two years). After seeing Trevor Noah take the spotlight of one of my favorite shows, The Daily Show and hearing his stories of his childhood and South Africa I couldn’t help but press the ‘buy ticket’ button when I found out he was going to be in LA to promote his book, Born A Crime. I’ll talk about the event later in this post, but suffice to say before and after the show I was devouring the pages.

The title pretty much sums it up, really. Trevor talks about various stages of his life during and after apartheid. The voice of the book is perfect. I don’t have the audiobook, but when reading this I could hear Noah’s voice perfectly. His life experience filled me with amazement, horror and at times, disbelief. Like the majority of Americans, atrocities outside our borders are something we read in textbooks, the reality of it vanished by time and distance. To hear Trevor’s personal account of apartheid is sobering and the only way I managed to swallow the horror I felt was through laughter at Trevor’s humorous take on his life.

And yet, despite the book having his name splashed on the cover along with an image of his own face on a street wall, the real star of this book is Trevor’s mother, Patricia Noah.

Sure, reading about Trevor’s life is the main reason to sit with this book. But in between the youthful shenanigans of the future comedian are mic drop moments of Patricia Noah spittin’ words of ‘lit’ wisdom to her son (or just beating it into him) and she just steals the scene. I remember getting excited every time Patricia showed up again in the book. As Trevor says, they were more than just mother and son: they were partners. He is the Robin to her Batman. Patricia Noah is larger than life. She jumps out of a moving car with Trevor and his baby brother to escape a violent taxi driver. She gets shot in the face by her husband and returns to work a week later. Hell, she even conceived Trevor on her own terms. She asked the only man she trusted and spent time with at that point (a white expatriate man who lived on the same floor as her) to help her have a baby and she got it. She didn’t give a fig if Trevor’s father stuck around. She just wanted a child. A true lioness, that one. There are too many awesome moments with her that I would end up quoting the majority of the book if I kept going. So I won’t.

Verdict?

Come for The Daily Show. Stay for a badass woman named Patricia Noah. And when is she going to come as a guest on The Daily Show? I think we all could learn a thing or, you know, a thousand from her.

“Learn from your past and be better because of your past, but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.”

“The world doesn’t love you. If the police get you, the police don’t love you. When I beat you, I’m trying to save you. When they beat you, they’re trying to kill you.”

“I chose to have you because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return—and then I gave birth to the most selfish piece of shit on earth and all it ever did was cry and eat and shit and say, ‘Me, me, me, me, me.”

“My child, you must look on the bright side.”
What? What are you talking about, ‘the bright side’? Mom, you were shot in the face. There is no bright side.”
“Of course there is. Now you’re officially the best-looking person in the family.”

Seriously though!! How amazing is this woman?!

Bonus! Trevor Noah at the Theater at Ace Hotel

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I caught the LA Times Ideas Exchange with Trevor Noah show just in time last month and it was definitely worth it. It was kind of refreshing to see Trevor live without the obligation of his job to make us laugh (though we did). Some thoughts running through my head during the Q&A:

1.Damn the Theatre at the Ace Hotel is amaaaaazing.

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2. Trevor looks just as good in real life. That suit he wore tho.

3. I love a man who reads. And Trevor is a man who reads. And loves to read.  And he loves speculative fiction? Too good to be true…

4. I don’t remember who MC’d the event, but she’s a POC LA Times Staff Writer and she was great too. The two seemed comfortable up there and seemed like they had a good connection. I would think these Q&A type of events would be awkward as f*ck considering it’s just two people having a conversation in front of mob of people, but the vibes of these two were chill.

5. I loved the mix of the audience. I saw people of all ages and races in the crowd. It was so nice to see a melting pot, a microcosmic representation of not only LA, but the US itself.

6. Despite the hardships he had as a child, he still tells us that he still grew up privileged than most children and he acknowledges that privilege. I thought that was pretty admirable of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She is No Jedi. Star Wars – Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston

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Title: Star Wars – Ahsoka
Author: E.K. Johnston
Type: Hardcover
Page Count: 356
Keywords: AHSOKA what more do you need??

She was alone, something she was never meant to be. Her people were tribal, blood and bond, and her ability to use the Force gave her a galaxy of brethren from all species. Even after she left the Jedi Temple, she could feel the others when she wanted to —the ebb and flow of them in the Force around her.

Until of course, she couldn’t.

Now she almost preferred the solitude. If she was alone, she didn’t have to make choices that affected anyone other than herself. Fix a malfunctioning motivator or not, eat or not, sleep or not—dream or not.

She tried to dream as little as possible, but that day in particular wasn’t good for it. Empire Day. Across the galaxy, from the Core to the Outer Rim—though somewhat less enthusiastically in the latter—there would be festivities commemorating the establishment of order and government by Emperor Palpatine. It was the first such celebration. The new Empire was only a year old, but the idea of celebrating the day at all nauseated her. She remembered it for entirely different reasons than peace.

This year was my first time going to New York Comic-Con. As a regular SDCC con gal, I couldn’t help comparing the two (long story short, I enjoyed it, but I think I enjoy SDCC more than NYCC). During one of my work breaks I stumbled upon the small Disney publishing booth and immediately bought this book, ‘look first, buy later’ convention rule be damned.

Ahsoka is essentially the story of how she finds her place, her future role as Fulcrum, in a post-Republic world. The book takes place a bit after Order 66 and Ahsoka tries to stay as far away from the Empire’s radar as possible. Of course with her abilities and that pesky trait of helping those in need she is in their sights sooner than she would like. There is plenty of action in the book to be sure, such as Ahsoka revealing her powers to save a community of farmers trying to rebel and an epic showdown between her and an Inquisitor called the Sixth Brother (So. Epic.). The book also takes some pretty dark turns: the scenes of torture and battle descriptions are pretty bleak and had me fearing the Empire more than the movies ever did. Despite her badassness, I love how the book portrays Ahsoka’s journey to Fulcrum. It is challenging to say the least; she makes mistakes that cost innocents’ safety, lives even, but eventually finds her sense of self again and becomes reborn as her new alias name.

One of my gripes with the SWU is how black and white it is. There’s the dark side, and the way of the light. That’s it. What I enjoy about the character Ahsoka, and The Clone Wars show is that there is a grey area. The Republic and the Jedi Order have flaws, like any form of ruling government and Ahsoka shines light on that in the show. This book follows that tone and doesn’t automatically turn Ahsoka into a hero that makes no mistakes. Ahsoka’s loneliness, the survivor’s guilt she carries, her torn feelings between saving people versus being responsible of people’s lives as a rebel leader, all are portrayed rather well for a fairly short Star Wars novel.

The book isn’t just about Ahsoka (you wouldn’t hear any complaints from my end though!). Some familiar faces pop up with their own chapters further giving the reader a broader view of what happened to other characters during this time. The flashback chapters are a nice touch too.

A teeny tiny critique I have of this book is the fact that most of the races depicted in the series are mostly human. Besides Ahsoka and Hoban, the local bartender in the town Ahsoka stays in, is Togruta, but I don’t recall reading about any other race. Unless the Sixth Brother counts. That being said, I did enjoy the author peppering in Togruta’s physical characteristics such as their montrals.

Verdict? ★★

I’m biased about Ahsoka, so as a book about her it gets all the gems. I’ve never read another Star Wars novel so how it stands as a SW novel I’m not sure I can attest, but if you enjoy a SW semi-origin story with good characterization, action and Jedi badassery, then give this book a shot. Plus you get the origin story of how she obtains the white light sabers!! And that is so badass!! Next, a Doctor Aphra novel please!! Or more Ahsoka adventures. Actually, both.

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United States of Japan -Peter Tieryas

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Title: United States of Japan
Author: Peter Tieryas
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Type: ARC ebook (Netgalley)
Keywords: alternate history, mecha, WWII,  videogames, anime
Possible trigger warnings: torture

This weekend marked the Day of Rememberance for the Japanese and Japanese descent that were forced to internment camps during WWII. It was a crazy coincidence I finished this book around this time.  This book is a what-if: what if Japan won the war? What if there was no American fleet at Pearl Harbor and the U.S. were attacked from both Germans and Japanese, receiving a blow that they couldn’t recover from? What if it was the U.S. that was bombed? These questions are the backdrop of Tieryas’ United States of Japan. I’ve been seeing the cover for this book floating around the webs for a while now: it’s a huge mecha in the middle of a Japan-ruled America! Of course I was in! I was expecting huge mecha battles that would give Pacific Rim a run for its money. I was expecting a simple ‘what-if’ plot and America fighting back with mechs and a happy ending. What I got was something different. To be honest I still can’t describe how I feel about this book. It’s definitely not what I expected. But I liked it just the same.

It’s 1988 and it’s a different America. The Emperor of Japan rules its conquered land from afar via the Imperial Army. Secret police groups known as the Kempeitai and Tokko ensure that everyone, both Japanese and non-Japanese descent think and show that the Emperor is a god and rules above all. Civilian youth and officers in training play immersive games to either distract themselves from the world or train. Captain Beniko “Ben” Ishimura is in charge of overseeing and reporting disloyal communications in the Office of the Censure. He is also the oldest captain in the United States of Japan (USJ) due to his lazy, kickback nature. After the suicide of the famous General Mutsuruga’s daughter and Ben’s close friend Claire, Ben gets caught up in a hunt for the General with Agent Akiko Tsukino, an officer of Tokko. It is discovered that the General created a game called The United States of America and may have possibly defected to the rebel group the George Washingtons (the GWs). The investigation is not so straight forward and what started as a hunt becomes a question of the consequences of building an empire.

“There’s honor in resistance.”

“Was there any honor in that woman you executed – that was yesterday, wasn’t it?” Ben asked.

“There is never honor for traitors.”

“You think you could have resisted?”

“Of course. I would rather die than betray the Empire.”

“You aren’t much good to the Empire dead.”

“You aren’t much good to the Empire alive,” Akiko said.

“I’m the most loyal servant the Empire has.”

“Not anymore.”

“I don’t need my loyalty questioned by you.”

“You think just because you turned in your parents, you’re beyond question? Do you know how many children turned their parents in last year alone?”

“I’m glad you value my sacrifice.”

The two main protagonists really make the book work. Both are officers of the Japanese empire, but have very different views on it. Ben is seen as lazy and unmotivated whereas Akiko is the epitome definition of what a loyal soldier should be. As the story unfolds they get immersed in the society they help rule over and what they discover changes their view of what their empire really is, particularly Akiko’s view. I really enjoyed seeing their individual growth unfold and the mutual…respect? Mutual agreement to stop bickering so much at each other? Anyway they get along much better near the end of the book, but their bickering is amusing regardless.

Anyone familiar with Japanese pop culture, especially in mecha and anime can see where the inspiration comes from. Although there is a mecha on the cover, the mechs are not a huge part of the story. The battles that do happen are pretty damn epic though. Ben mentions that games are used as a way to placate society and make them compliant, to distract and vent off steam, an idea I find very intriguing. Both Ben and Akiko discover however, there are other ways people vent off steam much to their horror. My gosh, this book can be brutal. The imagery of the “war hero” Koushou’s museum is creepy and disturbing as all hell and the descriptions of torture in this book are horrifying. There were definitely times I had to stop reading and take a breath. Tieryas mentioned he did a lot of research on the Japanese’s part in the war. If his research brought up any of these methods of brutality that are shown in The United States of Japan then I would be truly horrified because what I read isn’t just fiction, the action is based on violence human beings did to other human beings.

Even now I’m not sure how the book ends. I’m not sure if what Ben and Akiko did changed society, or even made a dent. It’s not hopeful, but it’s not despairing either. If anything, don’t expect a summer read of America rising up and mecha beating the crap out of each other. Don’t expect an equation of Japan + America = awesome alternate pop culture references. The United States of Japan is a surreal, weird, and brutal what-if aftermath of a brutal war. Prepare to be horrifying awed.

Gem Rating: 💎💎💎💎

Aside: I’m not sure I understood the GWs angle of religion during their rebellion. Perhaps because the Emperor was deemed a god to the Japanese the Americans, or who was left of it, used Christianity as their rebellious warcry of that belief. I would think that the GWs had more reason to rebel the Japanese than just religious differences.

 

 

 

 

Central Station By Lavie Tidhar

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Title: Central Station
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Type: ARC ebook (NetGalley)
Keywords: sci-fi opera, Tel Aviv, diversity, cyborgs, data vampires

Have you ever read a book where you felt that the central character in the book wasn’t the human, but the location? Central Station is that kind of book. Central Station is a (the?) spaceport in Tel Aviv and like all ports, is the central hub for the masses to gather or journey to the stars. You will see everyone here: Chinese and Filipino refugees, people from Mars or beyond the Belt, cyborgs…everyone and everything can be found here. Connecting them all is the Conversation, the digital network that connects all “noded” life and cascades them with everyone’s data streams. In the end, Central Station is just a building. The story introduces several characters that are intertwined by history, family, and love. Through their connection, they become the witnesses of the next step in evolution that may transcend the physical and digital realities.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is the familiarity and accessibility of this world that Tidhar created. The book is filled with futuristic technologies (though we can already see the beginnings of these now) yet the image I got wasn’t pristine and sleek. The technology is used and grungy (think original Stars Wars versus the prequels). Speaking of familiarity, the characters are diverse and multi-racial across the board, even alien. Mama Jones, one of the many characters you meet is half Nigerian and Filipino (do you know how amazing it is to see Filipinos written in a sci-fi book?!). The Others are digital entities that hang around the Conversation. The characters also come from a diverse economic background, from the bottom rungs of homeless veteran cyborgs to the working class of Mama Jones and Boris Chang, where his family’s history in the city defines his somewhat upper-class standing than anything else.

Another theme that stuck me is the commentary on technology: how it affects us and the possibilities of our relationship with it in the future. Achimwene a Nigerian-Filipino and brother to Mama Jones is one of the only humans left that isn’t “noded”, physical nodes inserted in the body during childhood in order to connect online, or the Conversation as it’s called in the book. People look at Achimwene with pity and consider him crippled. Even Achimwene is caught wondering what it would be like to always be connected and hear everyone’s thoughts around you, to always know what is going on. How many of us feel that way already today? When was the last time we felt left out of a conversation when we didn’t see the latest trend or meme on Facebook or Twitter? FOMO anyone? Other fascinating characters abound: Carmel is a digital strigoi or vampire that sucks her victim’s data streams in order to live. Vlad an elderly man is suffering under a futuristic Alzheimer’s disease where he is bombarded with data overload of memories of his father and past relatives. And of course, the mysterious two children Kranki and Ismail who may be the next step of the merger between the digital and physical spaces.

Okay, I know up until now I’ve been talking about ‘technology this’ and ‘technology’ that on this book, but to be fair Tidhar does a great job in focusing on the community too. People are still heading over to Mama Jones’ bar to grab a drink of arak.  Generations of families and refugees have stayed in Central Station, it’s a place where people still have face to face contact. The human connection is still slightly there; if anything, people use the Conversation to gauge a person’s actual feelings and possibly any other background information needed for that current interaction.

Central Station is a sci-fi opera story that stays on Earth. This book may not have the shooting lasers and adrenaline space chases that pepper “successful” sci-fi today, but if you want something close to home, a collective story of people, technology, and the connections that bind us, digitally or not, read this book.

Gem Rating: 💎 💎 💎 💎 💎

 

 

Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown_Zen Cho

Title: Sorcerer to the Crown
Author: Zen Cho
Publisher: ACE Books
Keywords: sorcerers, magic, POC main characters, regency era

I might go anywhere and do any magic I pleased if I were Peter, not Prunella.

England’s magic is declining. Relations between Faerie and Britain are neutral at best and familiars, creatures of Faerie that agree to serve a Thaumaturge (magicians in fancy England speak) are no longer allowed in the human realm. As a result of their weakness, the society of thaumaturges’ power is deteriorating in the royal court. Add to that, the successor of the late Sorcerer Royal, sorcerer to King and country, is Zacharias, an African. Not only does he have to deal with racism from his fellow thaumaturges and assassination attempts, he must somehow find a way to restore magic to England. Fortunately, the key to solving his problems may come from outside England’s borders and a woman with an aptitude for magic…

If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, you will most likely enjoy the writing style of this book. I’m one of the few who didn’t enjoy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Regency era dialogue is so…difficult for me to read. The stuffy language, the illusion of etiquette and politeness…ugh. Fortunately, Cho’s dialogue seemed like a mix of regency era and modern which made it much more accessible to me. The characters also made it a huge plus: Zacharias (who I may have a tiny crush on) is charming and Prunella though I don’t like her (a bit too calculating for me at times), I ended up respecting her at the end. Especially at the end.

I suppose the main reason Sorcerer to the Crown received so much buzz was because the setting of the story is told from 2 POC (and a woman POC, good heavens!) and highlights the societal issues of living as one in a time and place where that was… not really the best of circumstances. The fantasy and magic are just a very cool bonus. An African receiving one of the most powerful titles in the country? A woman actually practicing magic and being ridiculously powerful? Inconceivable! Speaking of women in this book, the magical issues of women was frustrating, disturbing (at times) and very, very, relatable to read. Women are not allowed to use magic due to a) wasting their precious abilities by using it for glamours and b) being “too delicate” to handle the stress of conjuring magic. In Mrs. Daubney’s School for Gentlewitches, Mrs. Daubney represses the girls’ magic, not encourage them to use it (not that the girls listen). The school is a place to treat an illness, not an ability that’s lauded were it for the opposite sex. The method in which Mrs. Daubney represses the girls’ magic is probably one of the most disturbing parts of the book. A spell drains the users’ magic (and physical health) and releases it to the atmosphere for everyone else (men) to use. The laws and cultural views of a woman’s body in this book should sound pretty familiar to women today.

To be honest after finishing the book I couldn’t tell if I liked the book or not because throughout the story I kept going into mental rants and yelling at the racism and sexism. But I guess that was the point of this book. Sooo I guess that means I enjoyed it.

 

Gem Rating: 💎💎💎💎

A good read if you enjoy your historical fantasy with POC protagonists, Faery mythology, wand magic, and a hefty dash of race and gender commentary!

Of course, mature and constructive comments are welcome!

A Must Read: We Should All Be Feminists

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Besides geeky things, throughout 2015, I have been devouring all things feminism, especially intersectional feminism (what a good year to start being a feminist too!). I read articles on how books, the media, and the actresses and role models we look up to affect the women who idolize them. There are so many articles and reasons why there should be more diversity, more intersectionality in the media and pop culture we consume in order to reflect the reality we see every day.

I stumbled upon an article that stated that every 16-year-old Sweden will receive a copy of “We Should All Be Feminists” by a woman named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The definition of the word alone is still being debated, so to hear that 16-year-olds reading about “the f-word” kind of boggled my mind. I’m struggling with feminism, how can 16-year-olds read about this, let alone debate and interpret it?!  (No hate to 16-year-olds, if anything, I’m jealous that they have the opportunity!) After reading the essay, I can see why.

What makes “We Should All Be Feminists” so beautiful is its simplicity. Chimamanda’s writing is simple, down to earth and beautiful. Her reasonings are written so eloquently and naturally that it just makes the issues that feminism addresses so obvious. Why are people still arguing that we need feminism today? Have them read this, and everything shall be clear.

My first experience with Chimamanda’s work was her TED Talk “The Danger of A Single Story” and I was obsessed with her (in a good way) ever since. I immediately bought “We Should All Be Feminists”, read it and was blown away.

The great thing about this work? After reading this, I didn’t think that all men are douchebags. It didn’t make me want to be a man-hater or stop wearing make-up. On the contrary, I felt even more love and the need to be more compassionate to everyone, regardless of the gender, race and other characteristics we define ourselves with.

So Sweden kids, I consider you all very, very lucky. I only hope they’ll get something profound out of it. I know I did. I can only hope that somehow this essay will be passed around in the states somehow as well.

Ugh, there are so many quotes I might as well type out the whole essay in this post, but I won’t! This is one of the (many) passages that made me stop and think, ‘what if’?

The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we *should* be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.

 

 

Expanding My Horizons: The Expanse Series

I claim to be a scifi/fantasy fan, but lately while skimming through my bookshelf, I realized I’m severely lacking in the former. How can that be? I dig Star Trek and Star Wars as much as the next nerd. I nerd really hard on stories with good ass worldbuilding. So why?

Recently I’ve focused on books that reflected more diversity within the story and stories written by women (POC or not). These stories just happened to be fantasy. Scifi, especially written scifi can be intimidating to the uninitiated, including myself. The jargon, the complicated and sometimes long-winded explanations of the technology tends to lose me. I feel that character development  tends to be pushed to the side in order to focus on the glory of this futuristic utopia/dystopia. One day while looking through my Kindle app since I just finished the physical book I had on me at the time (one of my true fears: not having anything to read while in transit. I must have a book with me at all times), I saw I had James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan’s Wake. I heard nothing but good things, plus the TV show was coming out soon so I figured why not? I was in the mood for a little hardcore scifi. Plus I was curious to see if I actually enjoyed space operas at all.

Result?

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*Note: my ramblings are based on books 1 and 2 of The Expanse series

My first thought while reading the first book was, “Wow, now I know why this was made into a TV series.” James Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex, crew members of the ice carrier The Canterbury  end up being the sole survivors of their ship when a random stealth ship blows it up to space dust. They watched this happen while they were investigating an SOS call from a ship called The Scopuli. Although the ship was abandoned, it was filled with something terrifying and horrifyingly worse. They end up discovering something that powerful people want and will even start a galactic war to keep their intentions unknown. Political intrigue and epic space battles ensue!!

There are quite a few things I love so far about this series. One, is the accessibility. Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of technology and space station jargon, but the writing is accessible enough that one can envision it without hurting their brains too much. Another reason I enjoyed this book is surprise surprise! the world building! Humanity has colonized our solar system, but there are grudges between the inner and outer planets. The development of space expansion, the description of the space stations, the politics between Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA) and even the description of how humans survive fast space travel makes it feel so real that I would believe this can be our future. Living in space is described as harsh: there are always risks and things we take for granted on Earth: breathable air, sunlight and natural resources are worth everything. I admire that the writing doesn’t doll up how living in space would be. It’s humanity’s greatest feat, but it’s a hell of a lot of work to keep it together and survive.

What really keeps the book together for me, are of course, the characters. Holden, the idealist who believes talking should always come first before guns (though while reading the second book I’m not so sure now…), Naomi the awesome spaceship engineer, Amos the violent-prone chief engineer and the Martian pilot Alex are such a great dynamic and the crew family love is great, almost awww-worthy. The racial diversity of not only the crew, but the characters within this universe makes me squee in joy. Naomi’s mix of Asian, South American and African and Alex’s East Indian looks with Texan accent is such a great thing to read about. It wouldn’t be surprising to me at all that future generations will be so mixed and the general racial stereotypes we have today would not apply.

As a woman POC it’s definitely nice to see some sort of reflection of myself in these characters plus the fact that these are powerful, strong women who don’t lose their ability to feel. Naomi runs a tight ship, takes no shit from anybody but her character doesn’t lose that when she starts her relationship with Holden. Avasarala, the “cranky old bitch”, is one of the most powerful politicians in the UN and has more balls than any of the politicians she knows, yet she is still smitten with her husband and loves her grandchildren very much. I love it. Yes, Holden, the white(?) cis-het male from Montana is the POV mostly, but, meh, this book can’t be perfect. To be fair, Polynesian, big, bad-ass Bobbie has a POV in Caliban’s War so I’m perfectly down with that.

So. A scifi space opera that has characters you can relate to and cheer on, world-building that makes you think that what you’re reading is the future and a plot that freaks you out, but keeps you reading more because of all the conspiracy and space fights?

stephen give it