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.

giphy

 

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United States of Japan -Peter Tieryas

USofJ cover

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: 💎 💎 💎 💎 💎

 

 

Looking Towards 2016

Cheers to 2016! My new year was spent being a bum, in my panda suit (yes that’s right) at my dad’s snacking on spinach dip, chugging wine, and binging on movies and TV.

It’s been good to be a geek/nerd these past couple of years. With Marvel taking over the big screens and DC taking over the little ones, my hobbies and interests are actually mainstream (for good and bad). There was so many nerdy things in pop culture in 2015 and it looks like 2016 will be no exception. Here’s what I’m looking forward to this year:

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I’m still planning to visit the one in Florida, but to have it in SoCal definitely makes it more easier for me. And my birthday hits around the opening so happy birthday to me!!

Captain America: Civil War

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Or for those who have seen the trailer, Civil War: the break up of Tony and Steve. Sorry Tony.

Zootopia

One word: sloths.

Books To Look Forward To

(The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin)?: Will 2016 be the year?!

Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey A couple of posts back I gushed about The Expanse series (TV series review soon to come!) I’m so lucky that I won’t have too long to wait for the newest installment.

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N.K. Jemisin One of my favorite authors of all time. I wonder how Essun will take the request of her former partner?

The United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

USofJ cover

Don’t know much, but from what I gather of this book, it’s a ‘what-if’ story of the Axis Powers winning WWII and Japan oversees the US using mecha. Mecha is an instant win for me.

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

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Not sure what this is about either, but it looks like a mix of court intrigue, music, alchemy and assassination plots. Plus, the masks!

I’m sure there’s a bunch of stuff I’m missing, but I’m sure those missing things will be gushed over sometime this year. Bring it 2016!!

 

 

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?

fangirling

*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

 

Ancillary Mercy

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Title: Ancillary Mercy
Author: Ann Leckie
Publisher: Orbit
Keywords: badass AI singing ships, space opera

Ancillary Mercy takes place right after the events of Sword. For a time, everything seems peaceful. Until a Presger Translator comes knocking into Athoek space and an ancillary of a broken ship in the Ghost system is found. Then of course it all comes to a head when an Anaander Mianaai heads over because she’s pretty upset at a renegade two-thousand year old ship. Breq takes all this in in her own unique stride.

I’m really sad this series is over. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m lacking more sci-fi opera in my bookshelf, but I’ve never read a book that made me think, really think about society, conquest and the cultural loss that comes with it, gender, and language. To be honest, it was only the last book that I was finally comfortable in the usage of one pronoun and I was comfortable in just letting the characters be, rather than worry about their gender. It was really refreshing to see this cosmic society that doesn’t give one fig about one’s gender.  Another twist on present time’s view of beauty and relationships is also highlighted:

Governor Giarod might be the higher authority, but Administrator Celar reigned over Athoek Station’s daily routine. She was wide and heavy, and quite beautiful. No few of the residents of Athoek Station were half in love with her.

The relationship between Mercy of Kalr, Breq and Seivarden was so fascinating to read. Not only is there implications of Seivarden wanting a relationship with our amazing, no nonsense ancillary/ship, but Mercy of Kalr, an AI ship seems to want to be close too and even tries to use Seivarden to confront Breq !! “Ships don’t love ships..” As Seivarden says, they’re “both being stupid”. I’m not really a fan of Seivarden, but I’m down with Mercy of Kalr. So…I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m totally shipping these ships together.

i ship it

Breq is my favorite character, but the characters introduced in Mercy almost stole the show. Translator Zeiat and Sphene’s interactions with Breq and especially with each other was awesome.

The ending is left open, and though it definitely feels like an end to this series, I would love to see some short stories on how Breq’s little family is doing. And wondering what they decide for the new Republic’s name. And I hope that Sphene does get a chance to throttle Anaander Mianaai.

On an end note, since I really dug the relationships of the AIs and humans in this series, I’d like to recommend some series that focus on relationships of this nature:

  • Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. Dragons and humans during an alternative historical take on the Napoleonic wars. Yes.
  • His Dark Material series by Phillip Pullman. Okay, the relationship is technically between the human and their soul/subconcious form, but the intimate relationship is still there (obviously). Who wouldn’t want an animal form of themselves?!
  • The Machine Dynasty series by Madeline Ashby. vN’s are self-replicating humanoid robots that are integrated into human society. AIs with relationships with humans and AIs with AIs who can make AI babies. Pretty crazy series, I love it.

As always, any sci-fi reading is always welcome!

Where No Teen Has Gone Before: The Galahad series

Summary:

When the tail of the comet Bhaktul flicks through the Earth’s atmosphere, deadly particles are left in its wake. Suddenly, mankind is confronted with a virus that devastates the adult population. Only those under the age of eighteen seem to be immune. Desperate to save humanity, a renowned scientist proposes a bold plan: to create a ship that will carry a crew of 251 teenagers to a home in a distant solar system. Two years later, the “Galahad” and its crew–none over the age of sixteen–is launched.

Why? I won the series at one of The Book Smugglers’ giveaways.I loooove that site.  I was so excited, I *never* win these kind of things! Thanks to them my book wishlist just keeps growing…plus after reading NK Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology and The Hobbit I wanted to read something sci-fi.

.02 on Story

The series follows the 251 teenagers throughout their journey to the closest planet capable of sustaining human life. Since leaving Earth they have to deal with alien life forms, wormholes, a stowaway, and of course, each other. As if being a teenager didn’t have enough baggage, these kids have to worry about representing the human race to other possible species in the universe. No pressure guys! The teenagers are awesome and almost sound too good to be true; they’re intelligent and responsible. I don’t remember any character whining or griping about their fate. They were saddened by losing their families and homesick, but they understood their responsibility and carried on. That’s not to say they didn’t have the usual adolescent baggage like crushes and the like, but they were mature enough to see the problem and work through it with the help of each other.  I think the story did a good job showing what the teenagers are going through, enough that in the crazy event that this *would* happen in real life, I could imagine the actions in The Galahad series being played out. The book also asks some pretty interesting questions like how *would* we react to another species? Where does our faith fit in the grand scheme of the universe? As for the sci-fi, the technology isn’t really explained and is taken as-is, but it didn’t feel like the story was lacking in any way.

.02 on Characters

The story mostly centers around the Council though the side characters that do show up are strong and just as memorable.  Triana, the leader of this voyage was my favorite character. I’m sure Roc the super computer would be a favorite for many teens who would read this, but for me most of his jokes didn’t work for me. It could be my age talking ^^;;

.02 on Romance

Funny how I always gripe about too much romance in my YA, and just when I read a book without much I start wanting more of it…By the end of the series it almost became a ‘there’s just something about Bon’ that all the girls swooned over despite his sourpuss attitude. Honestly, what a confused dude. Does he really like Triana? And the whole sudden thing with Lita, the doctor? I had to admit, I was intrigued with the relationship between him and Triana. None of the romance in this series had a concrete ending. I wish there was some resolve there.

.02 on Anything Else?

I LOVE how diverse the cast is, which makes sense if you’re going to rebuild humanity. Um, for some reason, I don’t really like the covers for this series. *shrugs* Also, I think this would make a pretty cool anime series.

Give it a try? Sure, if you like snarky AI computers, diverse, kick ass teens, space, spaceships, Stargate, and aliens. Don’t let the covers deter you.

Quotes:

“Roc,” she called out. “What do you do when you have a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, all of the pieces are blank, and you have no picture to go by?”

“I don’t know about you,” the computer answered, “but I would throw it in the trash and practice my dance moves.”

…granted a gift that no other  human had ever received: the chance to experience −and appreciate−the crossing of a barrier between worlds, between alternate realities, and to know transitions of this nature could never end at the doorway itself. There would always be another side.

Title: The Galahad series (The Comet’s Curse, The Web of Titan, The Cassini Code, The Dark Zone, Cosmic Storm, The Galahad Legacy)
Author: Dom Testa
Pages: each book is nearly 300 pages
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication: 2004 to 2012
Series: 6 books, complete