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Review

“Open Borders”

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith

As a Certified Liberal, it was never going to be particularly hard to sell me on “we should loosen our immigration restrictions,” but I still think this book did a great job at selling me on it. It’s a very quick read—more of a highly-illustrated essay than what you’d think from the term “book”—and is well-organized around the topic idea.

Structurally, it reminds me of writing essays in school. A chapter of overview, a chapter of the primary argument for, and then a few chapters rebutting the arguments against your thesis, and then a final wrap-it-together with a call to action. And, hey, they teach essay structures like that because it’s effective!

I think my favorite line from the book comes from a discussion of keyhole policies.1

“How can immigration restrictions handle problem x?” is simply a bad question.

It makes far more sense to ask: “What’s the cheapest, most humane way to handle problem x?”

The final call to action is less a “let’s make open borders happen!” and more a “let’s start moving the Overton Window to make open borders happen!” So, by reading this post: thank you for your contribution. If you’re interested in furthering that goal, I recommend you check out the book, as I quite enjoyed it.2

  1. Keyhole policies are defined in the context of keyhole surgeries: instead of cutting the patient wide open, you make as small an incision as possible—a keyhole—in order to reduce collateral damage/side effects. Similarly, a keyhole policy is a narrowly-focused policy in place of a (possibly overly-) broad one.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“The King’s Man”

Evidently, I do movie reviews now? I suppose it’s somewhat in keeping with all the book reviews I’ve been doing, but as it’s a new thing I still feel the need to point out: I am not a professional reviewer, I just don’t want to make an account on… whatever website it is that people use to do movie reviews.

After having it in my queue for a while, I finally got around to watching The King’s Man. I absolutely love Kingsman, and while there’s still a good deal to enjoy in the sequel, it was nowhere near as good as the original. I was hoping the prequel, then, would be as good as the original. Sadly, it wasn’t.

Quite frankly, The King’s Man is bad. Not terrible, but absolutely not good. It’s campy, but I can’t tell if it’s campy in the “this will be a cult classic in a decade” way or just campy in the “we’re all going to forget about this” sense. Too early to tell on that regard.

The plot makes absolutely no sense. And, yes, I realize that I’m saying this about a prequel to a film that had “a SIM card makes you murder people” as the core of the plot, but at least that just required some hand-wavey science fiction. That’s the problem with trying to do a prequel—we know how history went. If you haven’t sat down and called it Alternate History as a genre, then when you start breaking the timeline, it gets really hard to suspend that disbelief.

Like Deadpool 2, it feels like they came up with a couple key scenes they wanted to have in the movie, and then had to figure out a way to string them together with some semblance of a plot. As a result, though, here I am, a day later, still trying to come up with a sensible explanation for why any of the Bad Guys were listening to the Big Bad. He’s just… some guy? Like, sure, I can believe some guy with a hatch to grind could pull together a few well-connected people with grievances to start this evil plot, but Rasputin just doesn’t fit. What’s Rasputin’s motivation for listening to you, dude? He’s the de-facto ruler of Russia, he’s got all the food, drink, drugs, sex, and power a man could want; why would he show up to your drafty Evil Meeting Place in the middle of nowhere together threatened by you into messing with his good thing he’s got going?1

That said, I still enjoyed watching it. I’m glad I missed it in the theater because the best way to watch this is somewhere that you can pause it to laugh in disbelief with your friends. It’s got some solid action scenes, and the cast is fun and does a good job of it all. The pacing is all over the place, the plot makes no sense, and there’s a serious change of tone for a bit in the middle, but so long as you don’t go in expecting something that’s gonna win awards, you’ll have a good time.2

  1. And, speaking of that drafty Evil Meeting Place: this movie is set prior to the invention of the jet plane. How, exactly, is Rasputin making it from Moscow to your undisclosed location on the other side of Europe for these meetings without it being commented on?
  2. The bit in the middle is probably even more effective if you haven’t seen Kingsman, or you have the kind of brain that doesn’t latch on to world building details like mine does. For me, it was predictable, and the tension was in wondering when that Canonical Event was going to happen; I suspect that scene feels very different if you go in without that foreknowledge.
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Review

“Sandstorm”

James Rollins

I, for whatever reason, grew up reading Clive Cussler. My favorite was always The Oregon Files, because I’m a sucker for the high tech kinds of things, and a ship with sci-fi engines and a bunch of hidden weaponry worked quite well for my teenage aesthetic.

These days, though, I don’t ever read much Cussler; thanks to his “get someone else to write a book, stamp his name on it for the Brand Recognition” methodology, there’s a great deal of them that I’ve never read. But, between the aforementioned mass-production, and the same plotline getting reused in every book, they just can’t hold my interest. They’re airplane reading—the kind of thing I’ll go for when I’m gonna be mildly oxygen-deprived.

The rest of the time, though, I’m good working through big pile o’ backlogged books. And, when I’ve got the hankering for that Cussler-esque adventure novel, I go for James Rollins.

And that’s the best way I can think of to explain what Rollins’ writing feels like. He’s the upmarket Clive Cussler; there’s fewer of the books, but each one feels like a lot more care went into writing it. Plus, his treatment of female characters, while not perfect, feels a lot better than Cussler tends to manage. They exist to be more than a motivation for the male protagonist; in fact, I’d argue that the male protagonist in “Sandstorm” is a supporting character, as just about everything driving the plot is either Safia’s doing or Cassandra’s. Palmer is largely just along for the ride, which in a way gives it a bit of a “space opera” feel.

That’s my review, then: if you want an action-adventure novel, James Rollins is a solid bet. And hey, may as well start with “Sandstorm”, since it’s how he kicked off his Sigma series.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“Moonfall”

This movie is, first and foremost, stupid. The core concept doesn’t work, and a lot of key plot elements don’t work either.1

But then, it’s a Roland Emmerich movie, and he’s got a distinct style: take a thing people are concerned about in the real world, crank it up to 11 so it’ll be visually interesting, and off we go. I certainly didn’t go in expecting a robust understanding of orbital mechanics, and you shouldn’t either.

And here’s where the tone of my review changes, because for all the bashing on the concept I just did, I actually really enjoyed the movie. It’s in that sweet spot of “bad movie” where it’s fun to watch with friends and mock. “Mystery Science Theater 3,000” bad, not “Star Wars Holiday Special” bad. Do just enough prep work to know how silly it is—in my case, I went with “having been an avid science fiction nerd my whole life,” but if you want less of a time commitment, go for this Kurzgesagt video about what would actually happen if the moon fell out of orbit—then grab some popcorn and get ready to roast the movie.2 (Bonus points: make a drinking game every time you spot a sponsor of the movie. The easy ones are Elon Musk and the Chinese government.)

  1. “The moon’s been falling out of orbit for a decade, and nobody at NASA or any other space agency noticed until just now!”
  2. And, while you’re watching Kurzgesagt videos, I also recommend this one explaining why the military’s “contribution” to the plot is stupid, and this one that explains what megastructures actually are. And, really, pretty much everything on their channel is worth a watch. Kurzgesagt is great.
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Review

“The Ministry for the Future”

Kim Stanley Robinson

I don’t know that I’ve ever read something this simultaneously terrifying and hopeful. And now, having read it, I want it to be required reading for anyone running for office, and possibly just everyone in general.

We are, without a doubt, in the midst of a global climate emergency. At this point, the amount of evidence against anthropogenic climate change is about tied with the amount of evidence for “gravity isn’t real, you just think you’re stuck to the ground.”1 Climate change is a fact, and one that nobody is scared enough about.

“The Ministry for the Future” is a retelling of the next 50 or so years. Aside from the horrific opening, a call to action for the characters more so than it is for the audience, it is immensely hopeful: it’s a timeline where the Paris Agreement came with slightly more enforcement mechanisms, which combined with that horrific opening event to give the world enough of a push to start cleaning up our collective mess.2 It’s hopeful because everything in it feels possible; there’s no deus ex machina, no “and then we invented cold fusion and everything was fine!” Every technological innovation in the book is entirely, utterly feasible, using the technologies we have access to right now.

But that’s also what makes it terrifying. It feels like reading a history book sent back from the good timeline. It feels like staring down fifty years of threading the needle, narrowly navigating between potential disasters on all sides.3 And we don’t feel like we’re particularly on the right path for that yet.

So, having read this book and loved it, my usual call to action: go read it.4 And then, having read it, go contact your representatives. And tell them, in no uncertain terms, that the world is on fire and they need to do something about it.5

  1. Anthropogenic, for those who aren’t Big Ol’ Nerds about this topic, means “caused by humans.”
  2. Proportionally, too: the US has to contribute a lot more cleanup than, say, Kenya, because the US has contributed a lot more to global carbon emissions than Kenya.
  3. To go for a pop culture reference, it feels like Doctor Strange holding up a single finger; ‘there’s one future where we win this.’
  4. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
  5. And, yes, make personal changes as well! Your individual choice to eat less meat, buy an EV (or better, bike/walk/public transit!), turn down the heat—that one change doesn’t make much of a difference, really. But if we all do, that’s a huge change; and for every person that starts that trend, that’s one more little bit of social pressure to everyone else to do it too.
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Review

“The Design of Everyday Things”

Don Norman

Unlike my usual book reviews, this wasn’t my first time reading the book. Last time, though, it was an assigned reading—I have this in print because it was provided as a textbook! And, as a textbook, it is both an excellent choice and a seminal text.

On both a first read and a reread, it holds up remarkably well. That tends to be an issue with the things that were formative to their field—eventually, they start to feel very obvious, because what was innovative has become a well-known trope. Not here, though; the only part of the book that felt noticeably dated was the couple pages that went into “the video phone” as a technology that hasn’t yet gotten big. That portion will need to be rewritten for the next edition.

Despite having been one of my textbooks, this doesn’t feel overly academic. I wouldn’t recommend trying to get through the whole thing in one sitting, but you won’t fall asleep trying to navigate through a sea of citations. If you’re at all interested in design as a discipline, check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“Free Guy”

I’m honestly not sure what I was expecting from this movie. Something akin to Ready Player One, I suppose, if a bit less hitting-you-over-the-head with the pop culture references. And, sure, in places it has some of that—the big fight towards the end definitely does that, but it also leans in with the reactions. (An excellent use of Chris Evans!)

In general, while watching the movie, I enjoyed it. There’s some fun playing with tropes, and I really do like the concept—Mogworld gone mainstream!1 And I can set aside the bits of “that’s not actually how technology works” as being something of a Plumber Problem.2 Really? This Silicon Valley tech company has all their servers in a ground-floor room of their main office? Yes, definitely, for sure, that’s an efficient way to use horrifyingly-expensive San Francisco real estate. And all the players in Europe definitely love the super-laggy gameplay experience that creates.

But, again, that’s stuff that I, as a big ol’ tech nerd, notice, and the average viewer probably doesn’t know about. It moved the plot forward, and it wasn’t egregious, so why not; I’ve already suspended my disbelief about the core plot elements, so why not this too?

Where it fell down for me, though, was the end. Spoilers ahead!

Because, all told, the end seems to wrap up very nicely. The twist on the whole “the guy gets the girl” trope was nice, and answered a question I’d had floating around for a while, which I enjoyed. But if you think about it at all, there’s just… no exploration of the consequences of anything. Somebody invented general AI and… nobody cares? We’re just leaving them in a video game, and the positive change in their lives is that instead of a torture chamber it’s a People Zoo?

Oh, and let’s look at ‘torture chamber,’ too—because that’s what the video game they were living in was. A nightmare world where everyone is constantly in danger, generally dying every day and being reset the next morning, and for who knows how long, they were all being gaslit into thinking that was Fine and Normal. It may have been an accident, but the creators of this game up and created a slave race for their entertainment. That’s the kind of thing that the UN generally likes to do a bit of investigation of.

And, speaking of investigations, there’s no investigation of Antwan? The world seems to have, at least somewhat, accepted the concept that Guy, if none of the other NPCs, is a fully-sentient AI. Antwan just… gets away with trying to kill him? Sure, his stock price tanks, and he looks like an idiot on the news, but generally attempting murder in front of dozens of witnesses has slightly more of an impact on your lifestyle. Never mind the fact that he didn’t just attempt murder, he followed it up by attempting genocide against the aforementioned slave race.

Beyond all that, there’s the fact that this entire new population of artificial intelligences were born in that kind of a crucible. Trying to create an AI that doesn’t accidentally wipe us out is difficult enough; in this world, we created an army of them and they spent their childhoods as our torture-slaves. Given the rate at which they’re learning… well, Guy’s little “leveling up faster than anyone thought possible” montage sure looks more terrifying when you remember that they have no reason to like us and they know we’re a threat to their survival. If they make a sequel to this movie, it’s going to be about getting Guy a virtual girlfriend, because Hollywood is predictable like that. Joke’s on them, though, because we already have the sequel: Terminator.

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.
  2. A phrase coined, I believe, by John Siracusa. A plumber watching a movie will notice “that’s now how plumbing works!” a lot more readily than anyone else.
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Review

“Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Work for a Supervillain”

Richard Roberts

I consistently forget how much I like Richard Roberts’ books. They’re a really excellent take on the superhero genre, embracing the ridiculousness of the whole thing while at the same time doing an excellent job of exploring some of the implications of living in a world that regularly has said ridiculous things happening. And, even better, doing things that would only work in the written form—there’s a truly delightful bit with a character named Retcon that I can’t imagine working in any format except first-person-written. A bit of their introduction, roughly paraphrased:

“You’re wasting your time, Retcon never comes to Chinatown.”

“Normally I don’t, but once I’d read that letter, I’d been here all day.”

And, beyond that little bit of messing with tenses to establish their power, you get the only-in-writing aspect: every time they speak, we get the “this is the first time I’ve seen this person, let me describe” them happening over again, and they’re described completely differently each time. (You may not the ‘they/them’ pronouns—the book doesn’t use those, but does switch between ‘he/him’ and ‘she/her’ a couple times.)

And that? That’s delightful. A character whose power is that they’re constantly being retconned? Just, chef’s kiss, beautiful, I love it.

As I said, I really like Roberts’ writing. It’s fun, and light, without being vapid. This book is nominally eighth in the series, but it’s eighth in the same way that, say, a new Marvel movie is the hundredth Marvel movie: sure, if you’ve seen the others, you get a bit more background on people, but it’s not required to understand what’s going on. So, if you haven’t read any of the others, this is a pretty solid jumping-in point. Give it a go.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“On Basilisk Station”

David Weber

I really, really enjoyed this one. One of the things I tend to struggle with, or at least gloss over, in military fiction is that I truly have no idea how the ranks work. I know a general is above a private, an admiral outranks an ensign, but any of the finer details, and I’m totally lost. This book did a fairly good job of addressing that—while there was certainly some of the usual “meh, I figure I’ve got this close enough” going on in my head, there were a few distinct moments where the narrative paused to explain the context.

That sort of pause occurred a few other times, notable examples being a several-page explainer of the structure of the government of one of the major powers in the book, and another several-page history lesson on the various faster-than-light drive technologies in use. And in both cases I found myself thinking that, while it’s a violation of the show-don’t-tell principle, it was also a much clearer way to explain than any “show” could’ve been. Plus, the addition of the actual history of when they were invented and what the interim periods were like added a nice bit of color to everything.

This was quite a good read, and I finished it much more quickly than I was expecting to; at some point, I may have to come back and read more of this series. And, of course, if you like military science fiction at all, I think you’ll enjoy this. Give it a read.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“The 99% Invisible City”

Roman Mars and Kurt Kohldstedt

Given how much I love the 99% Invisible podcast, it’s utterly unsurprising that I also enjoyed this book. There’s a lot of overlap between the two—to the point that, in a few places, I was reading going “yes, yes, I know, can we get to something new?”

Most of the time, though, the things being discussed in here were new information, and the exact sort of tidbit that keeps me listening to the podcast. It’s a very digestible book, with chapters divided into subchapters divided into subheadings, each of which can be independently read. Bite-size portions like that make it very easy to pick up and read a little bit while you’re waiting for something, and put back down once you’re back in action.

Overall, I totally recommend this book. If you’ve ever looked at a bit of architecture, or a weirdly-shaped park, or even just a street light, and thought “I wonder how that wound up being there, like that?” this is the book for you. Check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“The End is Always Near”

Dan Carlin

If you aren’t familiar with the name, Dan Carlin is the creator of Hardcore History, which is nominally a podcast series. Personally, I’d argue that it’s a more of a series of audiobooks that’s published via a podcast feed; the average episode is somewhere in the area of five hours long. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re at all interested in history, it’s well worth a listen.

Having listened to the podcast prior to reading this book, I found it very easy to read in his voice. He’s got a slightly different tone he uses for asides, parentheticals; every time I followed an asterisk to get down to the footnote, I found my mind going to that same tone, and it fits perfectly. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that someone who speaks for a living managed to encode their manner of speaking into a book, but it works very well.

The general premise of the book is pretty well-aligned with the name: human history is a long series of events that stood a very solid chance of wiping out, if not our species, then at least our civilization. And, several times, the latter did happen—Assyria fell. Babylon fell. Rome fell.

For the most part, being a history book, it feels pretty timeless, but here in 2022, the chapter on previous pandemics has definitely aged. The points made are largely still valid, but one point that he hammers on—we have no frame of reference whatsoever for a civilization-scale pandemic—no longer holds true. Sure, we haven’t experienced something like the Black Death, wiping out half the population, but having gone through global quarantines, we can at least begin to imagine it.

That one caveat aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who likes history. And existential dread. Give it a read.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“Meet Me in the Future”

Kameron Hurley

What’s with me and depressing short story collections lately? This is not my vibe.

There’s some interesting things in here, and occasionally a bit of “there’s hope if we work together,” but the general feeling of all the stories is “the world is terrible and any good things that happen only happen because we fight to our last breath for them.” Which, I must reiterate, is not my vibe! The real world has enough bad stuff going on that I don’t want my fiction reading to reiterate that. I’m here for escapism, thank you.

And, to double down on that for the current age, a word cloud of this book would prominently feature the word “plague.” Sure, biotech can build some cool things, but wow can it ever build some horrifying weapons!

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Review

“Refuse to Choose!”

Barbara Sher

My friend Madi has been telling me to read “Refuse to Choose” for a while. (Well, not just me—recommending this book is something of a leitmotif for her.) And, at long last, I finally got to it.

Very early in the book, I had two very clear thoughts:

  1. I am not the target demographic of this book.
  2. Madi really, really is.

Which is a very interesting combination. I actually quite like how early on I was able to come to the first conclusion—we’re talking, “reading the first few pages while browsing in a bookstore” level. And there’s an honesty to that—Sher knows who she’s writing this for, and wants to make sure they know that the book is for them, pretty quickly. Which isn’t to say that I, as someone who, again, isn’t the target demographic, don’t find anything useful in this; at very least, it’s a solid insight into the way my friend’s mind works, and for that alone I’m glad I read it.

But further, for the people this book was meant for, wow is it ever meant for them. I could see, very clearly, just what made Madi love the book.

In short, this book is for and about what Sher calls Scanners. I’m not one—I’ve known since elementary school, if not earlier, that I wanted to Do Computers when I grew up, and I’ve never deviated from that. Scanners are the people whose minds don’t work like that—if they have that deep level of interest, it can change focus over time, or perhaps they have a handful of interests that all equally captivate them, or maybe (as Sher describes herself) you’re interested in everything. If any of that is ringing true to you, I highly recommend this book—it goes through some of the difficulties that you can find yourself facing, and provides some helpful tips for how to deal with them. (And, I want to stress, those difficulties aren’t “your brain is bad and you should feel bad, the solution is to Just Be Better”—it’s much more in the area of “society expects you to want to focus on one thing forever, and your brain just doesn’t work like that, so let’s go through ways you can make the world work for you.”)

And if you, like me, aren’t a Scanner… well, it’s still worth a read, to help you understand the Scanners in your life. Check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
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Review

“Iron Truth”

S.A. Tholin

Ebooks are fun, because unlike a paper book, you don’t have that physical sense of how far through the book you are. With a paperback, the first page feels very different from the second-to-last—the weight is distributed differently, it’s thicker or thinner in the hand. Not so for an ebook. I tend to leave the “percent complete” display on to try to get that back, but it fades into the background pretty quickly.

I became very aware of that… less than halfway through the book. Because, by the way the story was going, I thought I was nearly at the end. But no, that wasn’t the peak, just a local maximum, and then it was off again, with more to uncover.

Pretty early on, I was having a bit of a struggle, trying to decide if I was going to keep reading. (I did, and I’m glad of it!) As part of that, I skimmed a few reviews, and from that I remember a mention that “the book has a lot of sci-fi tropes.” That stuck in my mind a bit, because after all, nothing is original, it’s all just remixes. If you’re wondering, this book is a touch of Passengers, a great deal more Pandorum, a little bit of Halo, a splash of Doom, and a surprising little bit of Killjoys. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s fun to pick apart the pieces that made something, and try to figure out which piece you’re going to find next.

That’s what made this book so interesting, and why, despite the fact that it’s not at all a short book, I powered through it in just a couple days. I didn’t want to put it down—I had theory after theory of what was going on, why the planet it’s taking place on is like that, and wanted to know which was correct. Is this going the way of The Satan Pit, or is it a political intrigue whose cover-up is falling apart? Are the high-tech, vaguely church-y guys the good guys, or are the eco-terrorist-inspired people actually in the right? Or is it the—well, okay, no, it’s pretty easy to discount the cannibals as “the good guys,” but then, maybe nobody is the good guy. (That aspect of the story really shines as the book switches between two narrators—one, a true believer in one of those causes, the other, an outsider to everything, just as confused as the reader.)

For as creepy as the book was, I didn’t wind up jumping at shadows nearly as much as I was expecting. Because, sure, it’s a science-fiction horror thing, but it’s also a military piece and, more than all of that, a big ol’ mystery. And if I’m trying to solve a mystery, well, no time to be scared of the monsters in the dark—in mystery solving mode, I default to being Velma, and a jump scare just gets a “you stop that!”

All in all, this was a great read, and I highly recommend it if you love a good mystery, and a cool setting, like I do. Check it out.1

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.
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Review

“Nucleation”

Kimberly Unger

For the most part, I like the tech that provides the setting for this book, but it’s got a couple things that are very clearly “it needs to work this way for the story to have the right amount of tension” and instead broke the illusion. “There isn’t enough bandwidth for us to talk to you while you’re remote controlling the robot”? You’re in the same room; bandwidth constraints don’t apply, because why would you be round-tripping that data through the remote thing?

That aside, though, this was quite a fun read. And hey, most of the tech makes a lot of sense—if you can make a little wormhole, you send through some little tech, and use that to build bigger stuff. The insistence on calling nanobots “eenies” instead of, y’know, nanobots, felt a bit odd, but kinda worked as a way to displace it from ‘near future’ to… ‘slightly more distant future.’ It is an inhabited colony that this is happening on, and not Earth, so some amount of linguistic drift makes sense.

And while I griped a bit about the tension overtaking the illusion, the book did a great job of maintaining that narrative tension throughout. There were a couple times in there where I really couldn’t put it down, because I had to know what was going to happen next. Or, one notable time, where I already knew what was going to happen next, and was desperately hoping I was wrong.

In short, this is a good read, not too long, and while there’s room for a sequel, it feels like it was written to be a stand-alone story.1 Give it a go.2

  1. The ending feels less “alright, see you next book!” and more “a movie ending a note that would let them create a spin-off show if they wanted.”
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.