Read some books with aliens this month! Had a great time! Also read a charming portal fantasy short story; overall a great month for reading!
Books: (My reviews have spoilers in them.)
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – This was my first foray into Okorafor’s work. Aliens land in Lagos, and three people with powers work to protect one of the aliens as she tries to make contact with the Nigerian government.
This is such a tightly woven story, with a tremendous array of characters. Animals, gods, and living roads get their own chapters, as do various citizens of Lagos, interwoven with the core characters of Adaora, Anthony, Agu, and Ayodele. I loved the chapter about the most enlightened bat, and the chapter of the family trying to escape the living road with the help of one of the aliens. All of these small narratives lend themselves to a bigger narrative, and to a theme of inter-connectedness, which also comes across in the use of technology and the celebration of the land throughout the story. The internet and screens are important in the aliens’ first contact with humans, but even before they interact with humans, the aliens make contact with the sea creatures around Lagos. At times darkly funny, Okorafor still affords a level of compassion and depth to all the characters, even when they show up to die. I felt genuine grief for Fisayo, and wanted to know what happened to the Black Nexus, even as I was sucked into the rapid movement of the main plot and the arcs of the core characters.
Star Trek Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions by Geoff Trowbridge, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Chris Roberson – Over the last two years, I’ve been slowly making my way through all the Star Trek series and movies. I’d never seen Next Generation or the Original Series before, and am almost done with my third re-watch of Voyager, which was the series I grew up watching. Now that I’m almost out of Star Treks to watch, I’m branching out into Star Treks to read. Echoes and Refractions is one of a couple of Star Trek novels that I’ve bought to try out, and is made up of three alternate universe/what if? stories.
I thought the first story “The Chimes at Midnight” didn’t quite work for me. It’s pitched as “what if Spock died as a child, and an Andorian became Kirk’s first officer” which is an interesting premise, but the story barely focuses or develops the Andorian character, with a lot of its time instead focused on a David Marcus who does not die, given that “Search for Spock” doesn’t happen. So the Andorian feels underdeveloped, and David Marcus, who the author is clearly invested in gets most of the story’s time. I’m not super invested in David, so I kept drifting away from the page. At the end, the Federation commits war crimes against the Klingons, wiping out Praxis with the Genesis device, and the Andorian offers himself up as a scapegoat for it, a sacrifice that feels flat because we don’t know enough about him for it to matter. Refocusing solely on David might have been a better move, allowing more breathing room for his internal conflict about having created the Genesis device. It reads almost like the author was more interested in David than in the hypothetical angle of the story. But I’m not one to fault someone’s love of a minor character, as I did buy this book solely for one chapter in the next story, where one of my favorite minor characters shows up.
“A Gutted World” is an alternative version of the Dominion war, where the Founders successfully infiltrate top levels of government across the galaxy. Stadi shows up in exactly one chapter, and I bought the book for that. You know, Stadi, the betazoid pilot who shows up for maybe two minutes total in Voyager’s first episode, before dying when her console explodes? Love her. You show me a glimpse of a cool lady betazoid pilot, and then expect me to care about Tom Paris for seven seasons? No way.
Anyways, Stadi gets to be a cool pilot for one chapter, with a genuinely lovely line about her piloting skills. Then she dies (once again), along with the rest of Voyager. Absolutely everyone dies in this story. It’s kind of delightful in how dire and over the top it is. However, even for all that, it does afford most of the deaths a level of gravitas that Chimes didn’t quite nail for the death of Praxis. This story moves along at a great clip, and the stakes are super high. The characterization and dialogue are all really well done. Loved seeing all the characters from the different series interacting together in one story.
The last story “Brave New World” is about Data having left the Federation without a trace, to go found a planet of androids after the Federation failed to grant them full rights. The concept for this one was a lot of fun, as were the different androids who make appearances. The stakes seemed a little weird – everything was treated as almost world ending, but the biggest immediate threat was a single Romulan ship. Geordi was somewhat sidelined, even though the story at first seemed like it was setting up for a big emotional payoff for him. There’s a reveal at the end that androids had infiltrated top levels of government in order to push the galaxy towards peace that was interesting, but was granted very little time in the story.
In terms of minor characters who I love, Sito Jaxa and Ro Laren are both in this one, and get a couple of really charming scenes together. I also loved the epilogue; it felt like very classic Trek, musing about what the future will be like when the present has been so radically altered as to be unrecognizable from the recent past. It was very hopeful and gentle, and hinged on a nice interaction between Data and Picard.
Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math by Aimee Picchi – This is a delightful reinvention of a portal fantasy. The young girl Penny looks for portals to new worlds throughout her life, dissatisfied with the bounds of this one. My heart yearns for an escape for Penny, for her to find something better. The framing device of the word problems at the end of each section is extremely fun, and I love the way they’re used in the payoff at the end. I think the way in which the ending can be read differently by the solution to the word problem and whether the reader is a pessimist or an optimist is so clever.