Best of 2021: My Favorite Books of the Year

I’m not going to lie, this has been a pretty shitty year. Dealing with this pandemic is starting to take its toll and I think you can tell from my reading choices when things got better and when they got worse. But reading was, in fact, one of the small comforts that accompanied me throughout 2021, so let’s focus on the positives and celebrate all the cool shit I read this year. 🙂

To keep it organized (and to cram in more favorites, hehe) I’ve split this list into categories just like I did last year.

Favorite Books Published in 2021


Last year was absolutely insane when it came to SFF novels. This year felt like it’s keeping up rather well, with the only difference being that I’m way behind. There are quite a few books I think might end up being new favorites still on my TBR but here are the ones that I’ve already had the pleasure of reading and that all got 5 stars from me on Goodreads. Now that I look at them all in one place, I realize they couldn’t be more different!

All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter (Angela Slatter) was the first book that made me squee with joy in 2021. It’s part Gothic fairy tale, part family mystery, part coming-of-age female empowerment story and I loved it to pieces! Slatter has been a favorite of mine for a while now but this book, while keeping the fairy tale vibe her short stories tend to have, was a step in a new direction. It took me a while to find my way into the story but once I was there, I found it absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait for next year’s The Path of Thorns.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey came next and I knew pretty early on it would be one of my top books of the year. The funny thing is that as I read it, every twist and surprise and every bit of character development cemented the book’s spot on this list. A not very likable protagonist, clones, questions of morality, how far science can and should go, questions of womanhood, a bit of light murder, and great twists until the very end make this one of the most exciting books of the year. It reads like a thriller but offers a lot of food for thought. And I just love Gailey’s writing and their complicated characters.

Nnedi Okorafor published a novella and a novel this year, the first of which (Remote Control) I liked but didn’t love. The novel, however, stole my heart. In Noor, we follow a young woman who has a lot of artificial/robotic body parts. This makes her something of an outsider and eventually she has to flee from the society she wants to be a part of. She meets with a different sort of outsider and together, they not only fight for their basic right to live (!) but also unravel a mystery of epic proportions. This book is short but it really has everything. Great characters, cool science and technology, a kick-ass plot, and deep emotional impact.

A Marvellous Light by debut author Freya Marske is something completely different. It’s a fantasy romance set in Edwardian England with one bookish protagonist and one sporty, impulsive one. But despite the romance being stunning (and quite, quite sexy!), Marske put a lot of effort into her world building and magic system as well. I loved the idea of cradling – magic spells require specific hand movements – and the way the magical society works in this story, and I especially love how women, who are considered too weak for difficult magic, use their powers quietly and show how powerful they really are. But, yeah, mostly I loved this for the romance, the sexual tension, and Edwin and Robin’s budding relationship. Can’t wait for the sequels.

Young Adult/Middle Grade

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He was my first YA crush this year. I was already taken with the author because of the amazing Descendant of the Crane but here she shows that she didn’t just get lucky with her debut but rather that she is someone to watch. This climate-fiction tale of two sisters who have been separated and are trying to find their way back to each other has layers upon layers and is hard to talk about it without spoiling. But believe me when I say that you’ll get great science fictional ideas, intricate characters with difficult emotions, many gasp-worthy twists, and a truly touching story about sisterly love. Plus a little bit of romance. Basically, it’s as amazing as the cover is pretty.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko didn’t get to me as quickly as the first book in this duology, but after reading for a while, I noticed how this tale of found/chosen family and heavy responsibility had sneaked into my heart again. I was struck by how well everything falls into place, how Ifueko managed to introduce a lot of new characters and made me love them as much as the old ones. There are still more surprises to discover. If you liked Raybearer, you will also like this book. The ending was just beautiful and I will forever be a Tarisai fangirl.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen stole my heart and ran away with it like the thief that narrates this novel. This was one of my late-in-the-year five star reads that I totally didn’t see coming. It’s a loose retelling/sequel of the fairy tale The Goose Girl but it very much brings its own ideas to the table. First person narrator Vanja is the best kind of cocky, there are a lot of cool ideas to discover during this tale, and there’s an effortless diversity of sexuality to be found, all with an understated lovely romance, a kick-ass heist-filled plot that piles on the trouble but somehow resolves everything by the end. I am glad that we will get a sequel in (probably) 2023. I wish I could read it right now!


My favorite novella of the year comes from none other than Catherynne M. Valente and it was The Past Is Red. This post-apocalyptic story set on the Pacific Garbage Patch – known as Garbagetown – is devastating and hopeful, expertly crafted, with characters that break your heart, prose that sings and dances, and even a great twist. It gave me all the feels and I’ll cherish and re-read it forever. Tetley Abednego is a protagonist who sees beauty in dirt and reminds us that oftentimes the world could be so lovely if only we learned to appreciate it.

Secondly, we have the very different but just as stunning Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente. Hey, it’s not my fault she wrote two brilliant novellas in one year, okay? This one is eerie and atmospheric and best enjoyed without knowing anything about it beforehand. Although the twist at the end is its climax, it has great re-read value because once you know what’s going on you can go hunting for all the clues that you missed the first time. And there are so many of them! Valente shows that she can jump between genres as if it was nothing, all while staying true to her beautiful prose.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow was another top novella, although it is much lighter than my other favorites. It’s Harrow spiderversing a fairy tale, in this case Sleeping Beauty, and it just worked although I think it will not be for everyone. The writing is easy and filled with references to pop culture and literature, the characters aren’t super deep, but the themes hit home nonetheless. Protagonist Zinnia suffers from a rare disease that will most likely kill her before she turns 21. When she accidentally lands in a parallel world where she meets an actual Sleeping Beauty type princess, things don’t go quite as expected. This was a fun romp, it had things to say about feminism and gender and choosing your own path and I unabashedly loved it even though I would have preferred it to be longer.

And let’s not forget Becky Chambers‘ latest novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built. This was both what I expected and also totally different, if that makes sense. The nonbinary tea monk protagonist felt so utterly relatable it hurt, and while their journey wasn’t filled with shocking moments or daring adventures, it was exactly the quiet, philosophical kind of book we’ve come to expect from Chambers. Then again, it also felt somehow new and fresh. The hopepunk setting, the slowly building friendship between human and robot, it all worked together beautifully and I need the sequel now.

Sadly, these are (yet again) all titles and I was determined to have at least one novella from a different publisher among my favorites this year. If you have recommendations, please leave me one in the comments.

Favorite Books Published pre-2021

Once again, I have to thank all the people who nominate books and series for the Hugo Award. The Best Series category, which is still pretty new, has been a treasure trove when it comes to backlist titles that aren’t old enough yet to be classics but not new enough to be the newest hot shit that everyone is talking about. Many of those in-between titles ended up on my list and that makes me super happy.

The Poppy War Trilogy by R. F. Kuang absolutely wrecked me and even though The Poppy War was a re-read, I’m counting it in this category, alongside The Dragon Republic and The Burning God. Because, damn! That’s right, that is the summary of my feelings.
But seriously, I don’t know what impresses me most. The fact that Kuang entered the scene with an unbelievably great debut, that she tackled a very dark period of history, that her characters are multi-faceted and flawed and believable, that her world building is impeccable, her writing engaging… I mean, at this point I’m just describing all the elements of a perfect novel. But you get the idea and I am forever destroyed by what these books have done to my poor heart.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune needs no explanation. Anyone who has read it will know why this heartwarming tale of found family ended up on my list, and people who haven’t read it have probably been told how this is a warm hug in book form a million times. It really is, though, and if you ever feel down and want a story you know is going to lift you up, make it this one. I can’t wait to pick up the book’s spiritual successor that came out this year, Under the Whispering Door.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler has convinced me that Butler will probably always end up on my Best of the Year lists, at least until I’ve read all her books. This is all the more impressive as the book in question is pretty much the opposite of the Klune in terms of atmosphere and vibe. Sure, Butler always conveys that shining bit of hope but the world and setting she uses in this duology is anything but nice. Still, one  of the most impressive and impactful books I read this year.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett was not surprising in any way. It’s fairly early Discworld but it does exactly what Pratchett always does so well. It holds a mirror up to humanity, with humor and heart and respect. This book made me laugh and cry, ponder and wonder, and most of all it made me miss Terry Pratchett all over again. As it tackles religion, which can be a… let’s say difficult subject, we should be all the more impressed how Pratchett managed to make fun of certain aspects of it without ever, EVER, disrespecting people or their faith!

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal is a bit of a departure from the first two books in her Lady Astronaut series. The plot happens parallel to the story of The Fated Sky, only this time we focus on Earth and the Moon colony as well as on a new protagonist, Nicole Wargin, pilot and politician’s wife and also super capable Moon survival person. This took a while to get going but once the story had taken off, I was reeling from all the amazing ideas. Whether it’s basic survival moves on the Moon or dealing with an eating disorder, or handling politics, it’s all there, it’s all done well and I ended up loving this book much more than I had anticipated.

The Interdependency Trilogy by John Scalzi was one of my biggest surprise hits this year. And my favorite volume of the three was probably the middle book, The Consuming Fire. I usually put a lot of Serious SFF (TM) on here but that’s not the only type of story I love. So this year, I’m adding this hilarious space opera romp by Scalzi because, while maybe not dealing with the deepest philosophical questions of humanity, it was just pure and utter fun! I adore Kiva Lagos and her filthy mouth, I loved the idea of the Flow and I simply enjoyed following all these characters as they are trying to save the world.

The biggest surprise, without a doubt, was how much I enjoyed Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. You may recall how much I disliked Gideon the Ninth, how I found it messily plotted, with flat characters (one exception being Gideon herself) and told in unnessecarily convoluted prose. The prose is still overly verbose and showy, but everything else about Harrow has taken me by storm. Damn, I want to know what happens next, how all these crazy revelations impact the world, and where this story will lead us eventually. And so I find myself actually happy that the trilogy has grown into a 4-book-series and that we’ll get Nona the Ninth in 2022. Yay!

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers was just lovely! I had really liked Small, Angry Planet but I bounced off Spaceborn Few for a long while (the ending turned it around but overall, my opinion was rather meh), so I didn’t have the highest expectations. And then Chambers just goes and tells not one, but two hearbreaking stories in one novel. My eyes were perpetually wet as I listened to this on audiobook and it is now by far my favorite book in the series.

I am not feeling too great about the pandemic at the moment (not that I ever felt great about it, but you know what I mean) but at least I am happy with what I read in 2021.

Top of my TBR: Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen, Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune, Summer Suns by Lee Mandelo, The Chosen and the Beautfiul by Nghi Vo, The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

If you’ve posted a best of the year list, let me know in the comments. I love looking through other people’s favorite reads of the year. I’m especially interested in 2021 publications that I might have missed and should prioritize. 🙂

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Series

I love this category and I hate this category. This year, I was quite lucky in having read at least the first book each in five out of the six series but as we know, the first book isn’t enough to properly judge whether a series/trilogy as a whole should get a Hugo. But with WorldCon being moved to December, this was also the first year where I had enough time to properly catch up and even finish most of the finalists!

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

I am so glad this category exists even though it makes me gasp at the amount of pages it wants me to read every year. This year was also the first one where I thought a bit more about why this category exists and whether it’s fulfilling its original purpose. Cora Buhlert has some excellent thoughts on this (that’s why she is a finalist for Best Fan Writer) and I absolutely see where she’s coming from.

Best Series is meant for those books/series that usually wouldn’t have a shot at a Best Novel Hugo even though they might be deserving. If you loved the 10th Dresden Files book or the 14th in the October Daye series, it’s unlikely it will become a Best Novel finalist and, even if it did, how many voters unfamiliar with the series would read through the previous 9 (or 13 or however many) instalments to get to this particular one?
But in the Best Series category, you can nominate that series precisely because book 14 was so great. And other people might nominate it based on the instalment they’ve just read – whether that’s book 3 or book 8 – if they think that the series overall is worthy of a Hugo.

But what we’ve seen in the few years since the category has been around is, yes, some long-running series like the ones I described above, but also lots and lots of trilogies, many of which had volumes nominated for Best Novel as well. And look, I myself am guilty of this. I nominated The Winternight Trilogy and I nominated The Murderbot Diaries as series as well as some of their individual instalments for Best Novel. And on the one hand, that’s because I don’t have any super long-running series that I follow (unless you count The Stormlight Archive, which I suspect will unfold its true brilliance once the final book is out and that’s when I plan to nominate it (unless it starts sucking along the way, of course)). On the other hand, I nominated those trilogies because they didn’t manage to get their single volumes onto the Best Novel ballot, so I feel vindicated.

But however you look at this category, it’s an important one that makes the Hugos just a little bit better and more modern and more interesting than they used to be.

The Finalists for Best Series

This category grows on me more each year. Last year, it led me to discover two series (one trilogy, one quartet) that I have since continued because they are really damn good. This year, it forced me to continue lots of series I had already started AND introduced me to a trilogy I would’t have picked up at all if it weren’t for the Hugos but ended up loving.

I think my biggest difficulty in this category is the question whether I should be voting for the series I had most fun reading or the one I think is most accomplished or some mix of both. Maybe I should go for the one where I think it being a series makes it bettern than each of its instalment on its own? Because, let’s face it, the most accomplished is easily The Poppy War Trilogy. It’s ambitious, incredibly well written, and all the more impressive because Kuang is such a young writer. But it’s also super dark and not as easy to digest as, say, a John Scalzi trilogy or a Murderbot book.

I wasn’t that happy about Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon being nominated for both Best Novel and the series for Best Series at first, mostly because the first book already won a Hugo. But the Lady Astronaut series actually did what I wish every series would do. It got bigger and better and more fun along the way. The Calculating Stars deserved its Hugo win and I loved the book by itself, but it was also super uncomfortable to read because it shows just how unfair the world can be. The Fated Sky continues to show what it’s like belonging to a minority (or, you know, being a woman) and all the unpleasantness and injustice that comes with that, but it was also more fun to read. Not everything was always terrible and it focused on space travel and real-world science a bit more. It ended up being my favorite of the series so far. Then I picked up The Relentless Moon, and even though it took me a while to let go of Elma and Mars and instead follow Nicole Wargin on the Moon, I ended up falling completely in love with that book! So yeah, this is a series that gets better and bigger along the way and is thus a perfect finalist in this category.

Murderbot is a similar case but not quite, because this year is the first time that the series has an entry that is a full-length novel. I’d like to think that even if that novel hadn’t come out and Martha Wells had continued writing only novellas, Murderbot would have made the final ballot for Best Series anyway. Here my feelings are almost reversed to The Lady Astronaut series. I feel just slightly less inclined to vote for the Murderbot book in Best Novel because I think the series as a whole is better than the novel on its own. I wouldn’t have loved Network Effect as much if I hadn’t already known Murderbot and its backstory. So if I had my way, Martha Wells would not win the Best Novel category (which is incredibly strong this year) but would win Best Series. Except maybe not this year (I’ll explain why later) but definitely in a few years. We know that Murderbot is here to stay – at least for a few more years – and if the quality of Wells’ writing stays at this level, the series will definitely be nominated again. And I absolutely want it to win a Best Series Hugo because it is deserving and also a perfect example of what I think this Hugo category should be for.

It feels a little unfair for me to even rank the October Daye series at this point because, although I read another instalment this year, I am so far behind that I can’t possibly judge the current state of the series. I have read three out of fourteen (!) volumes and if the other voters nominated it based on the strength of its most current book and not just because they like the author, then I have no way of knowing whether I agree with them. I still enjoy the series – although the first book was the best and they got slightly weaker from there – and I want to continue reading it. I guess it will show up on the ballot again in two years and maybe by then I’ll have caught up a bit more. At the point I am right now, it’s a fun Urban Fantasy series that I enjoy but nowhere close to the other entries on the ballot in terms of originality, quality, or impact on the genre. Maybe that will change as I continue reading and that’s why I feel my ranking may not be very fair but I’m judging as honestly as I can given the books that I have read.

Thanks to this ballot, I finally finished The Daevabad Trilogy and mostly agree with other readers that it’s a great trilogy with a satisfying ending. S. A. Chakraborty is an author I will watch because not only did she write a story about djinn, bringing a refreshing perspective into the fantasy genre, but she also does politics and court intrigue really well. Her writing style is engaging and I enjoyed all three of these books, even if the middle one felt like a filler and the last one was too long and a bit slow for my taste. So here comes the hard part again. My esteem for this trilogy is pretty high and I will pounce on Chakraborty’s next book, whatever it is. But in comparison to some of the other finalists, it didn’t feel as innovative and doesn’t get me equally as excited, and so ends up in the lower area of my ballot.

Damn you, Scalzi, I thought it was a safe bet that I could put The Interdependence Trilogy safely in the lower half of my ballot. And then you go out and write three books that are fun, exciting, finished way too quickly, and make me want to read more of the same. This trilogy was the only one I hadn’t even tried prior to the finalists being announced and I didn’t have high expectations. And look, this may deal with a galaxy-spanning empire but it’s not exactly deep. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, this may have been my favorite of the ballot when it comes to pure enjoyment. I can totally see myself re-reading it when I need something exciting that makes me laugh out loud, cheer on the good guys and cackle when the bad guys get what they have coming. Granted, it can’t keep up with some of the other finalists in terms of scope or ambition, but it has great ideas, highly engaging writing, and it gave me several hours of pure fun! Plus, Kiva Lagos and her filthy mouth are everything!

The last series I tackled for this year’s ballot was The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. I had read the first book when it came out, was deeply impressed but not very hyped to read the next book – not because I didn’t like it but because it gets so very dark! So I did a re-read to refresh my memory this year and then went on to read the whole story in one swoop. It was both rewarding and terrible because my already very insecure ballot got mixed up even more. I mean, how could I not put this in my number one spot? The first book was even better on a re-read and that doesn’t happen often! The second book upped the stakes, didn’t feel like a middle book at all, and ripped out my heart several times over.
How can an author so young write a debut that is this brilliant? And as if it’s not enough that the writing is amazing, the characters multi-layered and difficult, but it’s also got rich world building, is inspired by real historical events, explores dark and important themes, and pushes the boundaries of the genre. I didn’t finish the third book before the voting period ended (I read it very slowly because (1) I was scared of the ending and (2) I didn’t want it to end), but I was certain that Kuang would deliver a bombastic end to her trilogy and deserves my top spot.

My ballot:

  1. The Poppy War
  2. The Lady Astronaut
  3. The Murderbot Diaries
  4. The Interdependency
  5. The Daevabad Trilogy
  6. The October Daye Series

Voting is now over but here are my thoughts from just before I finished up my ballot:

Okay, so a lot of this ballot is a mess and I have no idea how to rank these and not feel shitty about it. The Poppy War will stay on top, that much is certain. No matter how I twist and turn it, there is simply no way I can justify putting it any lower.
My bottom two series will stay where they are as well even though I might still swap them. Spots 2 through 4 are giving me a headache of epic proportions, however. I think I like Murderbot more than the Lady Astronaut, but here’s where my brain goes into strategic mode. I really, really, really want The Poppy War to win and I think Murderbot is its strongest contender, so by raking Murderbot one lower than I normally would, can I give The Poppy War a slight edge? I also want Murderbot to win but that series is still ongoing, unlike The Poppy War which has its last chance of winning this year. And since none of the individual novels won (which is a shame), I want it to win Best Series even more.

I realize that this approach may not be how other people vote (and that’s fine) but this ballot is so hard to rank that this is the only way I feel halfway comfortable with. All of that said, I will be more than happy if Murderbot or The Lady Astronaut series win this year. R. F. Kuang will likely write another masterpiece and let us shower her with Hugos sooner or later.

That’s it folks!
I didn’t get to the Astounding Award this year. I probably could have managed it but I honestly felt a little burned out on reading so many books because I “had to” (you know what I mean). I’m currently reading by mood and enjoying the hell out of it. But I’m not going to lie, I already look forward to doing this craziness all over again next year. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this series of posts. Now let’s all be excited for the awards ceremony and cheer on those finalists!

Intrigues, Saving the World, and Lots of Cussing: John Scalzi – The Last Emperox

I started The Interdependency Trilogy solely because it is a Best Series Hugo Award finalist this year and, honestly, I didn’t expect too much from it. After the first book, I was cautiously optimistic that, at least, it would be fun to read, if not very deep. After the second book, I embraced the fun and the clever twists. And now, after having finished the trilogy, I still don’t think it will make you think super deep thoughts about Life, the Universe, and Everything but, my god, was it fun!

by John Scalzi

Published: Tor, 2020
321 pages
The Interdependency #3
My rating:

Opening line: The funny thing was, Ghreni Nohamapetan, the acting Duke of End, actually saw the surface-to-air missile that slammed into his aircar a second before it hit.

Can they escape the end of an empire?

Entire star systems, and billions of people, are about to be stranded. The pathways that link the stars are collapsing faster than anyone expected, accelerating the fall of civilization. But though the evidence is insurmountable, many are in denial. And some even attempt to profit from the final days of this golden age.

Emperox Grayland II has wrested control of the empire from her enemies. But even as she works to save her people, others seek power. And they will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne. Grayland and her depleted allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves and humanity – yet it still may not be enough.

Will Grayland become the saviour of her civilization . . . or the last emperox to wear the crown?

Oh Scalzi, you sneaky trilogy writer, you! I like it when authors plan out a trilogy in advance, when you get a full story in three parts where each single part still kind of tells a sub-story on its own and leaves you mostly satisfied. The Interdependancy is a full success on that count and actually turned me into a Scalzi fan!

Emperox Grayland II and her boyfriend Marce Claremont are still trying to figure out how to save the billions of lives of Interdependency citizens when the inevitable collapse of the Flow happens. With the recently discovered ephemeral Flow shoals, they hope to at least have a little more time to find a solution but things look grim, to say the least. Meanwhile, Nadashe Nohamaetan is still alive and, without a doubt, scheming and planning the next assassinaiton attempt on Cardenia, the planet End is still controlled by her idiot brother, and about a third of the nobility is currently locked up for treason. So… great odds all around.

I honestly can’t say much more or less than I said in my review of the second Interdependency book because this is pretty much more of the same. And I mean that in the best way. You get foul-mouthed Kiva Lagos being herself and that means not only being smug about the fact that she’s smarter than many other people and much smarter than people give her credit for, but also getting herself out of seemingly inescapable situations. With nothing but her brain. And soap operas…
You also get more of Cardenia and her lovely relationship with Marce, which I thought was a fine example of two people who truly love and respect each other, even when (or especially when) they make mistakes. I think Scalzi has a pretty good grasp of how a working, loving relationship can look like and it shows in this royal/scientist couple.

But although there’s more intrigues, more scheming, more danger and scientific discovery, this book does hold another big twist in store that could actually make a re-read of the entire trilogy worthwile. Obviously I can’t say much more than that without spoiling but I like it when a book makes me go “whaaaat?” when I didn’t expect it.

As for the dialogue, it’s snappy as ever and led to some of the most humorous moments. My favorite line is one I can’t quote here because its context will ruin part of the ending but, maaaaaan, did I laugh! And it’s not just that this book is funny (it absolutely is) but it also delivers some of the most satisfying moments you can imagine.
Even scenes where you see right thorugh the characters from the start and you know they see thorugh each other as well, it’s fun to watch them verbally dance around a bit before finally laying the cards on the table. Liek after several pages of pretending not to see how the other is trying to manipulate you, they’d finally come out and serve it up straight. Which doesn’t make it any less fun, let me tell you!

“I see what you’re doing, you know,” [character] said.

“I should certainly hope so; I’m being obvious enough about it,” [other character] said.

Now the only thing that could have ruined my perfectly happy reading time was the ending. I had kind of seen it coming that, after the discoveries made in The Consuming Fire, everything would turn out super well. To the degree that it becomes unbelievable – as much as the whole Flow and Interdependency setup is believable, anyway. But Scalzi also did a great job with the ending. I’m not saying things end well, I’m not saying they end badly, but they end in a manner that makes both sense and left me satisfied. For some people, things turn out better than others. Some get what they had coming, others get something unexpected.

If I consider not just this instalment but the trilogy as a whole, I would definitely recommend it and recommend reading it pretty much one right after th eother. John Scalzi always manages to remind us of the big players and what’s happened before but, honeslty, why would you want to stop after book one when there are two more waiting for you? Especially if it means you can spend time with Kiva Lagos who, despite the wonderful, good-hearted, clever Cardenia, is my fucking hero of these books! Kudos to Scalzi. Now let’s make sure his next book, The Kaiju Preservation Society is just as good.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very fucking good!

The Most Fun You Can Have Without FTL: John Scalzi – The Consuming Fire

I love these moments when I appraoch a book series sceptically, expecting it to be not for me, and then enjoying every single page. John Scalzi may not be a character-focused writer but damn if he doesn’t write exciting, clever, and super funny stories that keep me glued to the page. Although other people said the trilogy declines after the first book, my impression was the opposite. I enjoyed this even more than The Collapsing Empire and I will jump into the final book very soon!

by John Scalzi

Published: Tor, 2018
336 pages
The Interdependency #2
My rating:

Opening line: Years later Lenson Ornill would reflect on the irony tha his time as a religious man would be bracketed by a single and particular word.

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi is the dazzling follow-up to The Collapsing Empire â€“ a space opera in a universe on the brink of destruction.

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional pathway between the stars, is disappearing, leaving planets stranded. Billions of lives will be lost – unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures. But it’s not that easy. There are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth – or an opportunity for them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others prepare for civil war. A war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as between spaceships. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy . . . and all of human civilization is at stake.

Middle books in trilogies have a tough job and are often treated as the unwanted stepchild, a book that kind of has to be there to connect the cool beginning and the epic ending, but one that doesn’t really move the plot forward and doesn’t really offer any big twists. Well, there have been several middle parts of trilogies that ended up being my favorites in their respective series, because despite their reputation, middle books – when done well – can kick serious ass!
The characters are already established, the world is set up, so now there’s plenty of time to dive deeper into the human relationships, go sightseeing in this fictional world, and maybe even reveal a vital plot point or two.

Well, Scalzi does most of this to perfection. The world of the Interdependency, dependent on the Flow connecting all the various stations and planets that make it up, is a cool idea. Which Scalzi immediately decided to destroy in the first book because the Flow is falling apart, the “roads” that connect one place to another are closing and all the Interdependency’s stations will soon be on their own. A state they cannot survive because none of those places have all the resources needed for long-term survival. And the one planet, End, where people can live on the surface, is already closed off and happens to have a civil war raging on it. Plus, Ghreni Nohamapetan is there and if there’s one thing you don’t want on your habitat, it’s a Nohamapetan.

I read The Collapsing Empire in June and still had the major events in my mind, but Scalzi does a phenomenal job at reminding us not just of the biggest plot points but also reintroducing us to the world and its characters. I appreciated this enormously!
With the Nohampateans’ scheming it’s good to be reminded of just how far the intrigues go, who is controlling whom, and what the current emperox Grayland II plans to do about it. Because she doesn’t alraedy have enough on her plate what with the Interdependency crumbling alongside the Flow…

Look, I had so much fun reading this book, I hardly know how to explain it. It offers a perfect combination of political intrigue, scientific and historic discovery, action-packed sequences, and even more emotional moments between characters. And not always the characters you’d expect. 🙂
Whether it’s lines like “Alas, poor Dorick” or pretty much anyhting Kiva Lagos says or thinks, there is also humor aplenty in this book and even the kind that shows how Scalzi doesn’t take himself too seriously.

[…] which on one hand would be a very not-Kiva thing to do, but on the other hand who gave a fuck if it was “not-Kiva,” because she wasn’t some fucking fictional character destined to do whatever some goddamn hack wanted her to.

I actually cheered out loud during certain scenes when one of my favorite characters did something particularly brilliant or when Grayland II used words like a Jane Austen character. Making them sound like a compliment but actually being deeply biting and cleverly insulting. It may just be me, but I totally love it when characters do that, especially when the person they’re talking to deserves it.
And Kiva is just Kiva. Hardly a sentence passes her lips that does not contain the word “fuck” which is probably why she has no fucks left to give when Nohamapetans try to trick her. Kiva may be the only character in this series that truly stands out and maybe that’s why I love her so much. She’s far from perfect, she’s definitely not your average Mary Sue, but despite her sometimes questionable actions, her heart is in the right place.

As for the other characters, they are still pretty weak. At one point, during a dialogue, I got confused as to who is speaking because everybody pretty much sounds the same. They all have a similar sense of humor and sarcasm and can’t be well distinguished. But even though I am such a character reader, I didn’t mind. Because the story is just so much fun. You get to watch the good, the bad, and the in between guys as they try to scheme their way into positions of power, as they try to save people’s lives, as they try to work on the science of the Flow, and that means there’s never a boring moment.

I loved how Scalzi managed to advance what we know about this world and its technology while still leaving a few questions open to be answered in the next book (I hope). That Memory Room has been super interesting from the get go but there’s more to learn in there than you’d think. And the Flow, although its demise has been calculated and proven by the worlds brightest mathematicians and Flow specialists, has a few surprises in store as well.

I think this series may just turn me into a proper John Scalzi fangirl after all. I cannot wait to pick up the third book and I have already pre-ordered Scalzi’s next novel The Kaiju Preservation Society. Because come on, that sounds too cool not to check it out!

MY RATING: 7.75/10 – Very good!

Addictive Bubblegum Space Opera: John Scalzi – The Collapsing Empire

The Best Series Hugo be praised or I would probably never have picked up this John Scalzi trilogy and that would have been a damn shame. As of now, I am still totally undecided how I will rank the Best Series finalists this year but wherever The Interdependency ends up, I’m glad Hugo nominators made me read it because this was so much fun, you guys!

collapsing empireTHE COLLAPSING EMPIRE
by John Scalzi

Published: Tor, 2017
eBook: 336 pages
Series: The Interdependency #1
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: The mutineers would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for the collapse of the Flow.

Does the biggest threat lie within?

In the far future, humanity has left Earth to create a glorious empire. Now this interstellar network of worlds faces disaster – but can three individuals save their people?

The empire”s outposts are utterly dependent on each other for resources, a safeguard against war, and a way its rulers can exert control. This relies on extra-dimensional pathways between the stars, connecting worlds. But ‘The Flow’ is changing course, which could plunge every colony into fatal isolation.

A scientist will risk his life to inform the empire’s ruler. A scion of a Merchant House stumbles upon conspirators seeking power. And the new Empress of the Interdependency must battle lies, rebellion and treason. Yet as they work to save a civilization on the brink of collapse, others have very different plans . . .

The Collapsing Empire is an exciting space opera from John Scalzi

I sometimes feel like voracious SFF readers are trained to expect certain things by now. Whether it’s the super slow burn political intrigue, the long set up for epic things to come later in a series, the unresolved tensions that are kept unresolved for volume upon volume – I am definitely guilty of having certain expectations. When those expectations are shattered, it can go either way. In the case of John Scalzi’s Interdependency, it worked brilliantly. Because although this is the first book in a trilogy, it starts at the end. With a bang.

The Interdependecy is a group of systems connected by the Flow, a wrinkle in space/time that lets ships travel faster between places than would otherwise be possible without FTL travel. It still takes several months from the central world Hub to the planet End (literally at the End of the Flow streams), but hey, trade between these places is possible and thriving. The planets, space stations, etc. connected by the Flow are all interdependent (ha!) which makes the central premise of this book a big problem. That premise is the very probable collapse of the empire and all that that entails. Entry and exit points to and from the Flow are getting whacky and the emperox – quasi-leader of the Interdependency – is dying with only his unprepared bastard daughter as heir because the original heir got himself killed in an accident. So to sum up: Things are pretty much fucked!

We see this drama unravel through several viewpoint characters, one of which curses a lot. I mean, a lot! Kiva Lagos doesn’t let a sentence escape her mouth if it doesn’t contain the word “fuck” at least once so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, beware. I found it hilarious, especially as we get to know her better. The cursing just goes with her no-bullshit attitude. She’s coldblooded, profit-hungry, and a little ruthless, but her heart’s in the right spot. I guess. It may only be a small heart, but it’s there and I kind of grew to like her over the course of this novel.
Much more sympathetic and easier to like is Cardelia, soon-to-be emperox and totally overwhelmed with it all. She’s mostly just a vessel to give us readers more information about the Interdependency, how everything works, how political factions interact and how ridiculous life in a palace can be. Either way, I liked her and I appreciated learning certain truths about the world alongside her.
Marce Claremont lives on End – the only planet where people can live on the surface, even though there’s not much there to get excited about. End is having one of its uprisings against the current Duke (there’s one or two rebellions every decade) but Marce, his sister, and their father are there for a different reason. Ostensibly, Lord Claremont controls taxes for the Empire or something, but in reality, he is a scientist with a mission. And if he’s right, his findings need to be taken to Hub immediately. The empire and humanity’s future is at stake!

There’s also the Space-Lannisters of this tale, the Nohamapetan family, which is one of the monopoly-holding families who make up the nobility of the Interdependency. What wealth they have is apparently not enough because they are scheming for more money and more power. They’re almost caricatures of villains, so they’re easy to hate until one of them shows signs of being human after all. Not big signs, mind you, but at least they’re not completely one-dimensional. Although it gets a little over the top at times, there’s something to be said for a villain you can just love to hate. Ghreni Nohamapetan is an adviser to the Duke on End, his sister Nadashe was supposed to marry the heir to the emperox (the one who died), so now their brother Amit is making advances on the entirely uninterested Cardenia.

That said, don’t except too much depth when it comes to the characters. Scalzi doesn’t spend much time making his characters multi-faceted or deep, but he does write a damn good story based on intriguing science-fictional ideas. The Flow was enough to get me hooked, the imminent collapse of this galactic empire sealed the deal for me. Add to that the political machinations, intrigues and trade agreements, uprisings and assassination attempts, and you’ve got a book that’s really hard to put down. I read it very quickly because I simply had to know what happnened next and if the assholes would get what they deserved. I also really, really enjoy reading about intelligent characters and The Collapsing Empire has several rather clever ones. It’s just such a delightful feeling when a bad guy thinks they won only to find out that they got outsmarted by the good guys. Cue my evil laugh! 🙂

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think I would like this book. I am, after all, a character-focused reader and all my favorite books have either phenomenal characters, beautiful language, or a combination of both. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy plot-driven narratives once in a while, especially when they have things to say about humanity. The language may not be pretty – as in using shiny polysyllabic words simply because they sound good – but it is super engaging. The chracters may only have one or two traits each but they’re easy to root for and fun to follow. And the story is just really good! Will I be thinking about Kiva Lagos or Marce Claremont in a year? Probably not. Do I want to pick up the next book with them inside? Hell yeah!

I was also pleasantly surprised by how satisfying the ending was. Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly the setup novel for a bigger story but enough plot lines were resolved to make me close the book happily. It doesn’t feel like you’re just left hanging there, mid-sentence (even though that would’t be bad as the trilogy is finished and you can jump right into the next volume), but rather gives you a story with beginning, middle and end. It just so happens that this story is set in a world that I want to explore some more because now the real problems are about to start!

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Oh boy. Let me say this first before the hordes of Scalzi-enthusiasts come and stone me. I don’t blindly adore John Sclazi. I’ve only read Old Man’s War and while it was a fun and quick read, the characters were so shallow that I can’t say I find Scalzi to be a great writer and the book didn’t leave a whole lot of impression. But there is potential. Here’s the second thing: I’ve never watched Star Trek or any of the movies/TV shows/spin-offs. I have seen an occasional episode so I know enough to recognize a redshirt when I see one.

The reason I picked up the book in the first place was Luke Burrage’s podcast review (there’s spoilers but the review is really great!). And if you don’t want to read what comes now, you might as well listen to Luke’s review. Because I agree with it wholeheartedly.

by John Scalzi

published: Tor, June 2012
ISBN: 1429963603
pages: 320
copy: ebook

my rating: 3,5/10

first sentence: From the top of the large boulder he sat on, Ensign tom Davis looked across the expanse of the cave toward Captain Lucius Abernathy, Science Officer Q’eeng and Chief Engineer Paul West perched on a second, larger boulder, and though, Well, this sucks.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn’t be better… until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed. Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is… and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

A “redshirt” is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates with fans of Star Trek (1966–1969), from the red shirts worn by Starfleet security officers who frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.

Andy Dahl may be a redshirt but in this book he’s our protagonist. Not that that means a lot. He is the one we follow as he notices that things are weird. His group of friends – who are all similarly-named (Dahl and Duvall, Hanson and Hester) and have so little personality that it’s hard to tell them apart at all – are told by another crew member what the deal is. As somebody who knows the Star Trek trope of killing off the poor fucker in the red shirt to create some action and up the stakes, we of course already know what’s going on. It would have been nice to have our main character figure it out too. But no, he is told by someone smarter, but not much more three-dimensional than him (at least then.).

Now we know the author is bad with characters. That’s why I found Old Man’s War not at all memorable and don’t remember a single name, because I didn’t feel an emotional attachment to the characters. I didn’t even dislike anyone, they didn’t have enough to them for that. I literally nothinged them. And I nothing every character in this book. Jenkins is the only one with some meat to him – character-wise, that is. And while I say that, he is still a very, very flat character.

Here’s the thing though: It becomes clearer towards the end of the story that the bad writing is on purpose. It’s impossible to talk about this without spoiling so I’ll be vague. The characters realize they are the redshirts and, naturally, try to escape their fate of useless death. They are also told why they are redshirts and that this implies them having little backstory and next to no personality or reason for existence… phew, I hope that was vague enough. You get the idea, though. There is a reason why the characters and the dialogue are so bad.

Still, I cringed at the irony of a character with no personality at all calling another character (who she’s talked to for one minute) “not hugely full of personality”. WTF? That happens in the first dialogue between Dahl and Duvall which is not only painfully badly written (everything ends in “Dahl said” or “Duval said” – you learn in elementary school not to do that) but also just not funny. I thought Scalzi would be playing with the tropes and clichĂ©s of the genre, poke fun at the Enterprise – in a clever way. What he does is just give us a boring story that’s been done better many times and to top it off, it is incredibly badly written. If this were his first novel, I doubt he would make it to become a bestseller. Instead of writing a satire or a smart and funny book about what it’s like to be the redshirt, the token guy who has to die to show how dangerous this planet or that alien species are, and to break the clichĂ© by giving these characters personality and a life of their own, he spits the trope right back in our faces. Example: The characters’ entire “backstory” can be (and is) wrapped up by another character quite accurately:

You were a novitiate to an alien religion. You’re a scoundrel who’s made enemies across the fleet. You’re the son of one of the richest men in the universe. You left your last ship after having an altercation with your superior officer, and you’re sleeping with Kerensky now.

You may think this is just a summary of big events that have an impact on all of their lives. It’s not. This is all the information we’re given, none of which actually defines any of their actions or how other people react to them. Nobody treats Hanson different for being rich, Dahl’s knowledge of some alien language has no impact or importance on anything in the plot and the rest ist really just tropes so these guys have more than a name to them. But not much.

Additionally, the book is made up entirely of dialogue. There are absolutely no descriptions. Now even for a Star Trek fan I can imagine that’s annoying. How are we supposed to know what anything looks like, especially the characters. And their “personalities” are interchangable (even males and females don’t have any difference in their behaviour, mannerism or looks). We don’t know what they look like, most of the time we only get their last names, not even being able to tell if a woman or a man is talking. Ending every single line of dialogue with “xyz said” is also not helpful. When the entire group of redshirts were having a one-liner discussion going back and forth, I just skipped the “xyz said” and just inserted “yeah that guy or whatever” because it really didn’t make a difference. Really, John Scalzi, why should I care if these cardboard figures get killed off, anyway?

The novel does have some redeeming qualities to it, though. Towards the very end of the main story, it does get a little better. Kerensky, while his only trait is being quite silly, at least stands out as a character in the dialogue while the others are just a big, mushy group talking at each other, trying to be funny and failing. And surprisingly, we are introduced to a few characters shortly before the end that we actually almost care about. The three codas that come after the main plot, while not groundbreaking or filled with better dialogue, are much better written. You can tell that Scalzi is actually like one of his own characters – not a bad writer, just producing bad writing.

He’s being very meta about all of this. But being meta does not excuse you from being a decent writer. And we know Scalzi (while not great with characters) can do better than this. I got the feeling that he was just too lazy. He knows his name will sell no matter what. So why not just poop out a NaNoWriMo novel and publish it however it comes out? The fact that it’s a bestseller speaks for itself. So was the painful and boring journey through this short book worth it? No. I will not buy any more Scalzi books. I’ll read the ones I already own but I’m not throwing any more of my money towards this guy. I don’t like being made fun of by authors. Fuck with somebody else, you should respect your readers more than that!

THE GOOD: The idea of writing a story about redshirts is good. The idea of the meta-element is excellent (if not original) and the codas are actually well written.
THE BAD: Basic language, cardboard characters, bad writing, clichĂ©d dialogue and not very funny. Also, I feel (as the Germans would say “verarscht”) like he’s laughing his ass off about me for getting away with this and making money off his readers’ hopes.
THE VERDICT: Has been done much better in other stories (listen to Luke’s podcast, he talks about this in detail) and other than make me angry, this book really didn’t do much for me. No food for thought, no memorably characters. And a cheesy ending.

RATING: 3,5/10  Bad but not without some merit.

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John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

John Scalzi can do no wrong. Or so it seems when one listens to the prevalent opinion on his books on the internet. Having read only one of his novels so far, I see the appeal. But I don’t think Old Man’s War merits the hype it has received. Its obvious flaws seem less important to most people than they were to me. I liked this book a lot. I just don’t think it’s that much better than many others.

by John Scalzi:

published: Tor Books, 2005
ISBN: 0765348276
pages: 314
copy: paperback
series: Old Man’s War #1

my rating: 7/10

first sentence: I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.  Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.  John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

John Scalzi leads his readers, and his protagonist alike, into this world slowly, taking one step at a time. Having everything explained to you – how the army works, why you join when you’re 75 years old, and especially how a bunch of old people is going to be fighting a war – was never boring or lecturing. It was a lot of fun. John Perry is as clueless as we are and has to learn things and take them in bit by bit. His reactions and the fact that he was just so likable made this really interesting. We learn about some awesome technology and why the Colonial Defense Force keeps everything secret from Earth’s inhabitants.

I said I liked John Perry. And I did. I also liked most of the other characters, Perry’s friends who call jokingly themselves  the “Old Farts”. But it was with these quippy, fun friends that I had my biggest problems. They are all stand-ins for certain pieces of information Scalzi needs to bring across. One of them just happens to be a physicist who can explain one thing or another that needs explaning. One of the ladies seems to be there simply to give Perry a girl to sleep with, once all their bodies have been rejuvinated. That said, this was probably one of the best scenes in the book. Hey, what would you do if you get turned from 75 to 25 years old in a matter of minutes and suddenly all the elderly ladies around you are hot babes?
Sadly, once the actual fighting starts for Perry and his friends, they seem to be there simply to show how gruesome war is and in how many different ways a person can die in this particular interstellar conflict. Since they were kept so vague and flat, I didn’t really feel much when some of them did die – and that can’t be the point of a war story, can it?

Now that the negative is out of the way: This book is just pure fun. It has almost everything you can wish for in a good novel. Aliens, brawling, space ships, physics and mathematics that remind you dreadfully of your school days and a suspenseful story with a nicely built story arc. Military sci-fi gets a bed reputation for “glorifying war/the military” but I didn’t feel that here at all. The reason for this Old Man’s War and the power of the military are discussed in the novel and I found the reasons understandable. Scalzi didn’t just show us how positive the new recruits take their situation but also lets us see other points of view.

I understand why this book made it to a lot of best of lists. It is a fun military science fiction novel with some great ideas (I loved the personal computers and the original names some characters gave them). The story is well-rounded and could be read as a standalone as well as part of the series. You can tell that Scalzi’s world has a lot more to offer and personally, I look forward to The Ghost Brigades.

Was this a good book? Definitely. Was it overwhelmingly awe-inspiring? No. But I’ll be back for the next one and hope to see some of that Scalzi-magic that everybody seems to go on about.

THE GOOD: Fast-paced, great science fictional ideas. Not a moment of boredom. At times quite hilarious.
THE BAD: Except for the protagonist, very flat characters. Their fates left me emotionally blank.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended for people new to science fiction. It’s quite the adventure and eases you into a world of spaceships and interstellar warfare.

RATING: 7/10 Very good book

The Old Man’s War series:

  1. Old Man’s War
  2. The Ghost Brigades
  3. The Last Colony
  4. Zoe’s Tale

Other reviewers: