Book Reviews: Science Fiction And Fantasy I’ve Read So Far in 2021

A few things I’ve noticed in my reading so far in 2021: alternate realities, teams of mercenaries, sports in other realms and people with superpowers.

I’ve also discovered I enjoy reading novellas which are books under 200 pages. Several of my reviews below are of short novels which I enjoyed reading in one afternoon. Or evening.

We Could Be Heroes

by Mike Chen, 2021

Having both amnesia and super powers is a recipe for disaster, and that’s where Jamie and Zoe find themselves. Can they use the sparse clues to find out what is going on? First, they need to learn how to work as a team with the super powers they have. Jamie, who is a telepath, uses his powers to rob banks. Zoe, who has super strength and can fly, is the local superhero. Secondly, they need to overcome their opposite personalities. Jamie is uptight and needs to plan things out; Zoe likes to wing it and just jump in feet first. The question is: will they overcome their personal obstacles to find out what the heck is going on?

I enjoyed how the story unpeels the layers of who Jamie and Zoe were before they lost their memories. And, also, who hasn’t wished for superpowers and daydreamed about what could be done with them? One thing about the story I felt could be stronger: the antagonist doesn’t do enough to hold back Jamie and Zoe from figuring out what is going on. I figured the person/people behind their situation just didn’t have the resources and they were focused on their ultimate goal which is revealed as the story progresses. That’s not to say J and Z don’t have plenty of obstacles to overcome. There is still plenty of conflict and suspense in We Could Be Heroes.

If you like the X-men or other stories with people possessing special powers, I recommend this book. Full of action and humor, We Could Be Heroes is a great read for fans of speculative fiction.

Battle-Train Seige

by Mark William Chase, 2020

Bounty hunter, Davrick Caliburn, plans to make a lot of cash if he can get a powerful dragon stone. The problem is, that stone hides somewhere on a battle-train owned by the evil Grand Imperium. The vampire who hires him also adds other mercenaries to the payroll: a powerful wizard, a teen gadget genius and an ill-tempered thief. Caliburn, who usually works alone, needs to learn how to work with this team or lose out on the cash. And his life.

Battle-Train Siege contains action mixed with elements of fantasy and science fiction. This steam punk series is for fans of Firefly or Game of Thrones. Each book is a novella that builds on the one before it and is recommended for that mood when you want some fun speculative fiction to chill out with.

Overall, I found Battle-Train Seige to be high adrenaline fun and plan to read the next book.

The complete series is also available for purchase.

All Systems Red

by Martha Wells , 2017

Corporations own space exploration and one company sends a team of scientists to check out a planet. Part of budget includes a droid that is a clone, part-human, part-machine. The drone calls itself a murderbot. It feels uncomfortable around humans, acts like the ultimate introvert and prefers watching dramas on streaming television to anything else.

Another team of scientists have camped out on another part of this world and mysteriously stop contact with everyone else. The team finds a number of disturbing inconsistencies and the droid reluctantly does its duty and helps investigates what’s going on.

This award winning series of novellas contains drama, action and not a little bit of self-depreciating humor on the murderbot’s part. Though half-machine and completely socially awkward, the murderbot finds itself becoming attached to the humans it is forced to defend and the stakes are raised.

I’ve only read the first novella in this highly-recommended series, and I definitely plan to tackle the rest. Author Martha Wells does an excellent job of giving characterization to a half-machine who must learn to understand its developing emotions as it narrates the story. Definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the Murderbot series.

River of Teeth

by Sarah Gailey, 2017

In the late, late 1800s, the U.S. experienced a meat shortage and, for a short period of time, considered developing farms to fill the need with hippo meat. This much is true. Ultimately, this legislature never came to pass, but author Sarah Gailey asks the question: what if we did end up with hippos instead of horses, the swamps of Louisiana instead of the wild west?

River of Teeth unfolds the story of a group of hippo-riding mercenaries who are bent on completing their assignment to get a big payday. Betrayal, lies and violence plague the group. Who exactly has been hired by whom? Whose side is each character on?

Looking for something different? This novella will fill that craving. It only hints at science fiction or fantasy elements, but definitely can be categorized as alternate history with a touch of horror. I plan to read it’s sequel, Taste of Marrow.

A Gathering of Shadows

by V.E. Schwab, 2016

Minor spoilers: The Element Games are the Super Bowl of Red London, and Kell and Delilah Bard find themselves intrigued in the possibility of participating. But will they? And who is this malevolent entity who wants to conquer all the Londons of the different alternate realities.

A Gathering of Shadows takes place four months after A Darker Shade of Magic and proves to be a strong middle book in the Shades of Magic trilogy.

Schwab introduces a whole new set of interesting characters to interact with favorites like Kell, Bard and Rhy from the first book. I can see why this series is so beloved by fans: great characters, world building and plot. I’ve already started the third book and am already loving it.

Consider Phlebas

by Iain Banks, 1987

Billions have died in the war between the Idirans and the Culture. Horza, a shape-changing humanoid and agent for the Idirans, finds himself smack dab in the middle of a dangerous assignment: find a powerful device called the Mind which has crashed landed on a dangerous planet.

Horza infiltrates a cargo ship filled with mercenaries who end up being perfect candidates for the shape changer to basically trick them into helping him out.

I’ve read Consider Phlebas a few times over the years and it definitely holds up well. Too bad the streaming series fell through, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying this classic. The audio version is well done. It you enjoyed science fiction biggies like Hyperion and A Fire Upon the Deep, you would enjoy Consider Phlebas.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

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