Category Archives: Science Fiction

Book Review: Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

I read quite a few debut novels and had a cool half dozen on my reading list for the first three months of 2017, but Alex Wells’ Hunger Makes the Wolf was the one I was most looking forward to in the first quarter of this year. I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint. While it may lack some of the great depth and the high level of craft of some of the other debuts I’ve read so far this year, Hunger Makes the Wolf more than makes up for it in other areas. It’s a well-conceived, smartly plotted, enthusiastically fast-paced sci-fi adventure with some cool ideas and a couple of excellent lead characters who’ve got plenty growing still to do in future books.

Sometimes you just want to read something fun that reminds you of other things you like, without having to think too hard to understand it, and Hunger Makes the Wolf contains shades of all kinds of things that are relevant to my reading interests. There are shades of Firefly, Dune, Mad Max: Fury Road, and even Star Wars here, and it’s by far the most fun thing I’ve read since I read the first two books of K.B. Wagers’ Indranan War trilogy at the end of last year. Like Wagers, Alex Wells manages to draw elements from many inspirations and still create a story with plenty of originality and individual flair. The overall effect is enjoyably familiar without ever feeling like a clone of someone else’s work, and if you like any or all of the above-mentioned stories, this one will be right up your alley.

I know I’ve said that this isn’t a particularly deep novel, but I don’t know if I can reiterate enough how much that’s not a criticism. The plot is straightforward, with an easy-to-understand conflict and clearly defined villains and heroes. At the same time, the villains are never caricatures of evil, and the heroes have enough internal conflict and nuance to be compelling. Hunger is, at heart, about two things—personal political awakenings and grassroots resistance against tyranny—and Wells comes at these themes with a cleverly simple approach that makes his points easy to understand while still recognizing the complexity of characters and situations. This is all well-supported by a setting that, while obviously derivative of several other popular works, is described in plenty of vivid detail and has several unique quirks—namely an interesting (if somewhat mysterious) magic system—to set it apart from the pack.

Hob Ravani is a great protagonist of the tough-as-nails ass-kicking kind, and her journey of self-discovery is neatly described throughout the novel. The story of a young person stepping into a leadership role they aren’t entirely prepared for might be a little formulaic, but it’s executed here with loving gusto and a great deal of charm. Though Hob’s friend Mag starts off as something of a damsel in distress, she quickly comes into her own as a resistance leader in her own right. Mag’s fledgling romance with another persecuted woman deserved a little more page time, but I’d say that Mag, in general, deserves more page time. I love the way Hob and Mag complement and balance each other in the story, and Wells does a nice job of showing the ways in which people can work together from different directions and points of view to accomplish goals that are bigger than themselves.

If there’s any major criticism I have of Hunger Makes the Wolf it’s that there isn’t enough of it. It stands alone well enough, but it feels very obviously like the first book of a series. Everything about it feels like an introduction, just the first act in a much longer story arc, and there are quite a few things left unresolved at the end of the novel. The good news is that it is the first book in a series. The bad news is that now I have to wait for it, and I’m terribly impatient. It turns out that stories about anti-capitalist space biker witches are kind of my jam.

This review is based on a copy of the book received from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Review: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning was one of my favorite novels of 2016, and it was certainly among the year’s most unusual and ambitiously daring pieces of speculative fiction. Nevertheless, it felt a little unfinished, and anyone who loved it has no doubt been waiting with bated breath for the sequel that seemed necessary to complete what Too Like the Lightning started. Seven Surrenders is everything I thought/hoped it would be, with a vivid setting, intricate plot, high level philosophical and political ponderings and fascinating cast of characters, a truly worthy sequel to its brilliant predecessor and a powerfully compelling introduction to the conflict to come in the next book in the series.

The future that Palmer envisions is still utopian-seeming, though some of the shine was certainly worn off by the end of Too Like the Lightning. In Seven Surrenders, we get even more details of the organization of society, government and families in this imagined future, and many of the questions that Lightning left us with are answered. The relationships and interplay between the various Hives are more interesting the more one learns of them, and the ‘bash family unit is more fully explained in this volume as well. In short, everything makes more and more sense the more you read of this series. I love that Palmer doesn’t spend a ton of time on tedious exposition on these matters, which would amount to hand-holding, but a glossary, appendix or wiki could be highly useful.

That said, I read Lightning as an ebook but Surrenders in hardcover and I found it of great convenience to more easily be able to flip back and forward in the book to check information and reread sections to make sure I understood it. This is definitely a title that benefits from being read on dead trees instead of a screen, which I suppose is, incidentally, appropriate given the deliberately old-timey style of Mycroft Canner’s narration. Though I’ve largely transitioned to reading books digitally over the last few years, every now and then a title comes along that gives me a renewed appreciation for books as useful objects, enjoyable tactile experiences and beautiful artifacts. This is one of those books. If you can, get the hardcover. You won’t regret it, and it will look great on your shelf when you’re done.

Mycroft Canner continues to be one of the most challenging characters in the genre. After the revelations about his past crimes in Lightning, he begins Surrenders in something of confessional mood. Though many of the ugly details of Mycroft’s crimes have already been revealed, Surrenders gives us a much deeper understanding of why he did it. We also learn more about nearly all the book’s other characters as their murder conspiracy, which keeps the whole world at peace, is unraveled and falls apart. Mycroft’s relationships to the structures of power in this world are explained. Other characters’ secret identities and motives are revealed. There are plots on plots on plots that are uncovered over the course of four hundred pages that detail just a few days of events and a couple of legit miracles. It’s heady stuff. I suggest taking notes.

The big draw to this series, for me, is still the philosophy and the politics. I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly plausible future society, though that may simply be because I have a very difficult time imagining how we might evolve from here to there, but it’s a marvelous idea for how to organize a peaceful society. The political dynamics are complex and nuanced, and the Saneer-Weeksbooth conspiracy adds a great dystopian element to be explored. Palmer’s ideas about gender are somewhat less well-developed, although significant time is spent on gender in this volume. Mycroft’s use of gendered pronouns is inconsistent and the explanation given for Madame’s plot to reintroduce gender roles into society is less than convincing; frankly, I feel as if there is some huge complicated idea trying to be communicated that I’m just not quite getting. My hope is that this theme will carry on to the next books in the series, which promise to be about war.

Listen. There’s not a ton to write about this series without giving the whole story away, and it’s hard to discuss the ideas in it without it turning into a lengthy thinkpiece, and I can’t even guarantee that you’ll get the concept. But there’s nothing else like this series being published right now. Too Like the Lightning was a revelation, and Seven Surrenders shines even brighter than its predecessor. The stage is set for the next pair of books to explore what a war might looks like in a world that hasn’t warred in centuries, and you can’t possibly want to miss that. I know that this isn’t a series for everybody, but I still can’t help suggesting that everyone read it as soon as possible. It’s a work of rare and special genius.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me an early copy for review. 

Book Review: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

The Stars Are Legion is almost certainly the sunniest novel Kameron Hurley has ever written, which was a pleasant surprise. At the same time, it’s still very recognizably a Kameron Hurley novel, with its badass women, moral ambiguity, and copious grossness. It might be the most ambitious Hurley novel to date, at least thematically; it’s a smart, quick read; and it’s full of the inventive worldbuilding that Hurley is best known for. That it’s a standalone novel rather than the first in yet another new series that I’d have to follow for several years is just icing on the cake.

To start with, there are only women characters in this book. They live in a vast fleet of living world ships and reproduce through a kind of parthenogenesis that doesn’t always produce human babies. Unfortunately, the world ships are sick and dying, and the women who inhabit the ships are at war with each other. It’s against this backdrop that we’re introduced to Zan, who has no memories as well as a quest and an arduous journey ahead of her, and Jayd, who has a valuable womb and a complicated, high stakes plan that takes several hundred pages to unfold. The book has been called, somewhat jokingly, Lesbians in Space, and this has even been adopted as something of a marketing phrase for the title. However, though all the women in the book are lesbians, there’s not much romance to be had, the sexual relationships depicted are dysfunctional at best, and the overall tone of the novel is much darker than that blithe description, humorous as it is, would indicate. I was only mildly disappointed by this, but it does seem like a failure to manage reader expectations.

That said, Hurley’s choice to have only women characters is an excellent one for the story she’s telling. War is a common theme in Hurley’s work, and complex highly stratified societies are recurring as well. Here, the decision to have complex, highly stratified and brutal societies made up of only women makes it impossible to interpret them through the lens of patriarchy. The violence endured and meted out by the characters in The Stars Are Legion isn’t gendered, and we’re able to examine it as a function of corrupt hierarchical systems without the complication of sexist gender dynamics. Hurley creates a truly alien world that frees her characters from real-world constraints and expectations and frees herself as an author from having to communicate her ideas about war, pregnancy and birth, violence and abuse, and healing with any consideration of men’s opinions, points of view or desires. This is a novel that is probably as free of the male gaze as it’s possible for a book to be, and that’s refreshing.

As always, Hurley’s worldbuilding is excellent, and the enormous world ships she imagines are just marvelous. The first part of the book is full of almost over-the-top ugliness as we first meet Zan and Jayd and are introduced to the warring spacefaring families they are members of. The world ships themselves are living things, metal is rare, and everything seems to be at least slightly sticky and/or oozing. The women themselves are battle-scarred and often cruel, even our protagonists, and things get even weirder and more viscerally disgusting when Zan finds herself “recycled,” cast down into the bowels of the ship where she finds a great abattoir ruled by enormous woman-eating beasts. Hurley’s vivid description is at times slightly overwhelming in this section, and readers without a stomach for gore may find it deeply unpleasant. If you make it through the first part of the book, however, it pays off big time. Zan’s journey back to the top of the world is compelling stuff, and the slow reveal of Zan’s history and purpose as she journeys through alien lands to finally achieve what she and Jayd planned together is masterfully executed. The other women Zan meets along the way are fascinating characters as well, and the lands they move through are less bloody than the areas described in part one but just as slimily odd and even more wonderful.

If there’s any major criticism that can be levied against this book it’s that Zan is almost too interesting. Her story tends to dominate the book, and it’s so full of adventure and excitement that Jayd’s story of political maneuvering, manipulation, and patiently waiting and hoping for Zan to return has a hard time holding the reader’s interest. In the end, it’s Zan who must make pivotal decisions and take actions to create a different ending to a story that has played out in many variations many times before. It’s not that Jayd is uninteresting or even particularly passive. It’s just that Zan has an epic journey to take in search of her own identity, while Jayd’s struggle to survive by her wits and charm doesn’t have nearly as much sightseeing to it. While Zan and Jayd have a close to equal number of POV chapters, Jayd’s story never has as much room to breathe as Zan’s, and nothing Jayd does feels quite as consequential as what Zan does.

Still, The Stars Are Legion ticks off a lot of boxes on my list of things I want to read. I love difficult and unlikable female characters, and Jayd and Zan are a pair of glorious, passionate, murderous bitches like no others. I never get tired of Kameron Hurley’s weird fixation on bugs and organic tech and lavishly described gore. An all-women space opera with war and generation ships and parthenogenesis and a bit of a hero’s journey and a message, ultimately, of something like hope? Perfect.

Book Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes is a smart, fresh, fast-paced whodunit. With clones. In space. The story starts with six clones waking up in a bloody mess and all of them with no memories of the last twenty-five or so years of their lives as the skeleton crew of a generation ship. The rest of the book alternates between the crew’s present day investigations to out what happened to them and flashbacks that show their history and allow the reader to slowly put the pieces of the puzzles together. It’s a clever construction that makes world building and character development equal priorities while never sacrificing entertainment value or readability. Mur Lafferty delivers diverse and compelling characters, a great series of twists and turns, and a satisfying conclusion with space for a sequel or simply for other books in the same setting. Which I will certainly read if they are forthcoming.

The ensemble cast is for the most part well-balanced. Each character has a strong and distinctive personality and an interesting backstory, and it’s fascinating to watch them slowly orient themselves around each other and piece together the relationships and connections between them. Maria Arena, mentioned in the cover copy of the book, definitely takes center stage, however, and her story turns out to be the glue that holds the rest together. None of the characters is particularly likable, though Maria and Hiro are probably the closest thing we’ve got to true protagonists. For most of the book, all the characters are at odds with each other, each one suspicious of the rest, traumatized by their experiences, and deeply unsettled by the memory loss they’re all suffering from. All of them are keeping secrets from the others, and their individual stories delve more deeply into what they have to hide, explaining some of their histories as clones and how they ended up on the Dormire to begin with.

Lafferty does a great job of metering out information to the reader, though there is a tendency towards intermittent infodumping throughout the novel. Revelations, when they come, are often sudden and quickly realized by the characters, and the reader is forced to keep up with the sometimes-blazing pace of exposition. I’m not always a fan of this sort of twist-a-minute style of storytelling, but Lafferty pulls it off here with great panache. The cycle of paranoia, tension, and revelatory payoff makes for an almost un-put-downable story that doesn’t offer many natural points at which to take a break. That said, a couple of major reveals in about the last quarter of the book were pretty heavily telegraphed early on, and I felt more than once that I was more meant to be shocked than actually surprised by certain turns of events. Still, even the more predictable parts of the book were well-done and not so hackneyed as to truly diminish my enjoyment of it. Rather, they were pleasantly comfortable and reassuring; there’s a reason that some tropes appear time and again in fiction—because they never do quite get old.

The mechanisms of cloning and the society built upon cloning technology that Lafferty imagines aren’t even remotely unique, but her in-depth treatment of the ethics and ideas surrounding cloning is nevertheless highly thoughtful and more than moderately insightful most of the time. Six Wakes offers a plausible imagination of the future and a thorough examination of how advanced cloning—of the functional immortality kind—might work in practice, both for the individuals who partake in the practice and the broader world that must change to accommodate them. On the other hand, there are some oversimplifications of issues, a little bit of handwaving about the actual science of it all, and a somewhat strange deus ex machina to help end the story that could have been handled a little better. Still, none of this is deal breaking stuff, and even the slightly weird ending manages to be charming as opposed to irritating.

Probably, a nit-picky reader could find plenty to criticize about Six Wakes, but none of the nits I can think of in it are the ones I would choose to pick at. It’s a nicely written character study with some interesting ideas about the future, and Mur Lafferty has a flair for drama that is perfectly suited to this sort of Clue-style mystery. I wasn’t shocked by the way things turned out at the end of the book, but I didn’t really expect or want to be. Frankly, what I appreciate most about Six Wakes might be its total lack of cynicism or pretension. Lafferty sets out to entertain the reader and provoke some thought, and she succeeds marvelously on both counts without overstaying her welcome. Six Wakes stands alone perfectly, but I’d be glad to read about what happens to these characters next. Failing that, I’ll be looking forward to whatever Mur Lafferty does next.

Book Review – Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

I didn’t love Binti when I read it in 2015, in spite of having loved everything else I’d read by Nnedi Okorafor up to that point. It was on the short side for a novella, and I’d recently read Okorafor’s absolutely superb Lagoon, which set the bar high for Binti. There were things I loved about it, but I was definitely in the minority of readers who didn’t consider it one of the top novellas of the year, so I wasn’t sure how I would like Binti: Home. This book is about twice as long as its predecessor and addresses many of the things I considered shortcomings in Binti, though it does end on a particularly unsatisfying near-cliffhanger made even worse by the lack of release date for the planned third book that will complete the series.

The story in Home picks up with Binti and Okwu a year into their studies at Oomza University, and Binti is still struggling to deal with the trauma of her experiences in the first book as well as more generally with the transition to University life. I would have liked to read more about this, but instead the book moves on fairly quickly to Binti’s decision to return home, Okwu in tow, to visit her family and participate in a pilgrimage. There’s something to be said for jumping straight into things, but Binti spent the whole first book getting to university, and it’s somewhat disappointing to see her leaving again so quickly.

That said, part of the reason I struggled to connect with Binti in the first book was because I didn’t think there was a strong enough sense of who she was before she left Earth. In Home, however, we get a much fuller picture of what Binti’s life was like before she decided to go to Oomza. I loved getting to meet her family and friends, and Okorafor does a lovely job of examining how Binti has changed and how the loss of her has affected her community. There is a lot of wonderful exploration of the dynamics of this sort of close-knit family and community and the drama and upheaval caused Binti’s leaving and returning and likely leaving again. After leaving and undergoing so much drastic change and growth away from the other Himba, Binti has to face consequences that she didn’t expect.

I don’t think I realized quite how young Binti was in the first book, which made some things a little weird in this one. I guess because Oomza is a university I perceived Binti as more U.S. college-aged, which seemed backed up by the character’s seeming maturity and independence. In Home, it’s more clear that she’s still a teenager, and what I (in my thirties) would consider a young one. Back within the context of her family and community, Binti feels younger and much less sure of herself, which I found both interesting and frustrating. As happy as I was to see more of Binti with her family on Earth, in some ways her character in Home feels like a significant regression. It’s relatable, sure, to see her revert to some childish behaviors and dynamics with her parents and siblings, but it’s not always altogether enjoyable.

Still, Binti: Home is a significant improvement upon its predecessor. A lot more happens in this volume of Binti’s story, and Binti herself feels much more fully developed in general, even if she does feel very young at times. Okorafor’s themes about identity, home, and family are evergreen ones, and examining them through the story of a Himba girl transplanted across the galaxy and back again bring a freshly fascinating perspective to classic coming of age questions. My only real complaint about Binti: Home is the aforementioned cliffhanger ending. When I finished the last page, I was devastated to realize that was the end and that we don’t know yet when the rest of the story will be out. It needs to be soon.

This review is based upon a free advance copy of the title received from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

I love that Dreadnought is a thing that exists in the world more than I actually enjoyed reading the book, though I did rather like it. It’s being marketed as great for fans of last year’s The Heroine  Complex and Not Your Sidekick, and both of those were titles that I just never did quite manage to get around to reading, mostly because I’m not super into super hero stories. Like these other books, Dreadnought centers around an unconventional protagonist, in this case a fifteen-year-old closeted trans girl named Danny who has to quickly come to terms with her identity when she is unexpectedly gifted with both superpowers and the body she’s always known she should have. Danny is a smart, plucky, relatable heroine who I expect will be an education for some readers and a much-needed bit of representation for others. Nonetheless, Dreadnought is a book that I read with the constant awareness that it wasn’t for me. Danny’s story of self-discovery and actualization is one that will be compelling for any reader, but I imagine it will resonate most deeply with readers who share more of Danny’s experiences as a trans girl.

Superhero narratives have long dealt with issues surrounding identity and marginalization, and author April Daniels has written a novel firmly in that tradition. Daniels’ geek credentials are on full display here, and it’s obvious that she has a thorough knowledge of genre conventions, which she deploys in a perfectly pitched tale that is both a top notch example of its type and a wholly fresh take on a set of familiar tropes. Dreadnought‘s fairly straightforward hero’s journey structure is a tried and true framework that works well here to provide a foundation upon which Daniels can build a strong, clearly messaged modern superhero story. It’s an excellent example of the value of not reinventing the wheel, and Daniels shows a good instinct for when to utilize common tropes and when to subvert or interrogate them for maximum effect.

I love that there’s no real preamble to Danny’s story. Daniels digs right into things from the first page, with Danny undergoing her transformation almost immediately and being thrust into a vastly changed life by chapter two. The pace of events never does let up, which makes for fast reading. I didn’t make it through Dreadnought in a single reading session, but only because I had other obligations that kept me from it. Each scene in the novel feels necessary and has an easily identifiable purpose, moving along the plot, fleshing out characters, or communicating part of the book’s message. This trimness is a great asset, especially in the YA market where the fashion for some years now has been great sprawling, meandering fantasy stories with indistinct characters and bland ideas. At an economical 276 pages, Dreadnought is a refreshing departure from that trend.

Trans issues take up a lot of page space in Dreadnought, but I still wouldn’t say its a particularly message-heavy title. Danny is a transgender teen, so she’s got a lot of stuff to deal with, but Daniels presents it all matter-of-factly and in a naturalistic enough fashion that most of it feels about the same as reading about any other teen drama. It’s not that Danny’s struggles with parents, friends, doctors, and various associates aren’t specific to her trans-ness; it’s just that these things seldom feel like the point of the book. While Danny’s trans-ness figures largely in the novel and is inextricably bound up with her superhero abilities, being trans is only one part of Danny’s character, and many of the scenarios Danny must deal with as a teen with sudden superpowers are pretty standard stuff for the genre. Sure, she has to deal with some blatant transphobia from her parents and others, and that will no doubt be new to many readers, but a lot of her problems are still just versions of the same banal coming of age crap everyone has to deal with as a teenager trying to figure out their place in the world.

In most ways, Dreadnought is a run of the mill teen power fantasy. It’s always obvious who the villains are in this book, and while it doesn’t flinch away from depicting some darkness, I never felt any real fear that the bad guys were going to win. Even the authorial choice to complicate things by exploring the double-edged nature of super powers as both blessing and curse and the decision to interrogate the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing isn’t altogether new or particularly noteworthy. It’s well done, though, and it’s still sadly rare for there to be a book like this written by a trans woman about a trans girl. April Daniels offers a fresh perspective on her topics of choice and has created a great character with whom a disgracefully under-served population will be able to identify. Dreadnought isn’t an exceedingly ambitious novel, but it is a well-written, highly entertaining, and ultimately optimistic origin story of a heroine I look forward to reading more about.

This review is based on a copy of the title received from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Review: The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott

Joe M. McDermott’s The Fortress at the End of Time might be a little bit genius, but I can’t decide if I loved it or hated it. It’s got a great classic sci-fi sensibility if, but I’m generally not one for classics. It’s a novel that, while short, is often boring, but intentionally so and in a way that mostly works if you’re a patient reader. It’s got some big ideas that are worthy of considered exploration, but none that are particularly fresh. It’s solidly written with a distinctive voice and style, but there’s nothing especially exceptional about it. It’s a book that I’m glad to have read because it is a bit outside of my usual fare and a nice change, but I don’t feel compelled to read either more of McDermott’s work or more of this sort of thing in general. It’s not that The Fortress at the End of Time is unremarkable or pedestrian; it’s just a profoundly workmanlike example of its type of thing–thoughtful medium-hard military-ish sci-fi that has something to say about some stuff–if you like this sort of thing. I can easily imagine this being a book that lots of other people love, but I can’t muster any very strong feelings about it, myself.

The story is told in first person from the point of view of one of the most unpleasant characters I’ve had the misfortune to read about in some time. Ronaldo Aldo was raised on Earth and attended a military officers’ school, after which a copy of him (not really a clone, despite what the cover blurb says) is made and stationed on a remote military base at the far end of the galaxy, where he finds himself lonely, bored, and with few opportunities for success or advancement. While the book seems intended to explore the banality of that sort of everyday experience–not everyone can be a Captain Kirk, natch–I found Aldo so unlikable that it was difficult to root for him at all. For me, this is primarily because Ronaldo Aldo is a man who really doesn’t care for women, in spite of being straight and wanting to fuck/possess one (or more) of his own.

The first introduction to Aldo is his attempt to flip a coin with a friend of his over who gets to fuck a woman they are both hanging out with, only to find out that his friend and the woman are already a couple. It speaks to Aldo’s self-centeredness and obliviousness that he didn’t know that the people who are supposed to be his two best friends are in love, and it speaks to Aldo’s deep-seated misogyny that he ever thought it was appropriate to flip a coin for access to a woman’s body. McDermott doesn’t portray this behavior favorably, and I think that it’s intended to make Aldo unlikable from the start as well as set a baseline for his behavior towards women from which we can measure change over the course of the rest of the book.

However, Aldo’s subsequent arc never actually improves his attitudes towards women very much. Throughout the book, Aldo thinks of every woman he meets (and there are few enough of them) in terms of sexual attractiveness, which is consistently gross and off-putting, specifically because there are so few female characters in this book. Aldo’s championing of women at the Citadel feels hollow, and his “romantic” relationships are dysfunctional, with the dysfunction almost entirely on his side. Aldo continues to be slightly obsessed throughout the book with the girl from the very beginning; then he almost immediately becomes infatuated with the beautiful wife of one of the other officers at the Citadel, who he later has an affair with.

Aldo magnanimously gets involved with a young trans woman, but he primarily thinks of her in terms of her beauty and her transness, which is in turns almost fetishized and slightly vilified. Amanda’s transness is suggested to be a ploy to be able to marry a man and thus gain more land on the surface of the planet, and this plays off of some extremely negative tropes about duplicitous trans women who want to “trick” good men into being with them. I’d say that the treatment of this in the book falls in depiction rather than endorsement territory, but I’m not sure it’s handled as well as it could have been. There is quite a lot of time spent on talking about Amanda’s transness, in general but especially about her lack of childbearing ability (Future people can replicate whole people but can’t give a trans woman a uterus yet? Okay.) and there are several times where characters misgender and deadname her in ways that are derogatory and unpleasant to read.

Still, thematically, The Fortress at the End of Time is moderately ambitious, and McDermott does a good job of staying on target with the story he’s trying to tell. There’s not much fat that could have been trimmed here, and the deliberately slow pacing works nicely to highlight McDermott’s theses. The interplay between the planetside monastery and the Citadel could have been given somewhat more page time, but I may only feel that way because I could have done with less of Aldo’s feelings. All in all, though, The Fortress at the End of Time is fine. It’s not great, but it’s good, and sometimes that’s plenty. This isn’t a book that was perfect for me, but if you like this sort of retro-styled sci-fi or if you have a thing for unlikable protagonists and likely unreliable narrators, it’ll be right up your alley.

This review is based on a copy of the title received from the publisher through NetGalley.